“I think he had a little show called Joe the Zoo Man,” Danny recalls hazily. The world changed when Joe sold a script to The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the family moved to California, where Joe Bonaduce became a prolific sitcom writer. “A goddamn genius,” Danny says. “He was writing One Day at a Time or Good Times — he’d go into the bathroom with a manual typewriter and write Emmy-nominated sitcoms in one sitting.”
But Joe Bonaduce was an angry, violent genius who frequently took it out on his three boys, Danny says. In his 2001 autobiography, Random Acts of Badness, he describes a brawl between his father and his big brother Anthony in which Joe smashed a wooden dining room chair over Anthony’s head, and Anthony responded by handing his father a “dog-with-a-rag-doll type of beating.” Danny, the youngest, seemed to get it less than the others, even though his father once called him “an asshole who got a lucky break that would eventually amount to nothing.”
“Today, they would call it abuse,” Danny says. “When I was a child, I got punched in the face. By a grown man. And you’d go, ‘That is abuse.’ Well, no it’s not. It makes for a very tough grown-up. … I took less than anybody. I moved out very young. Fourteen, 15 years old. I actually asked my dad when he was still healthy why John was his favorite and he beat him the most. And he said, ‘I never liked you enough to hit you.’”
In 2004, Danny was on the air in L.A., and “They came in and told me, ‘When the song is over, just let another song play. Your father has passed away, and you need to go there and collect the body.’ I said, ‘Why? He’s not going anywhere. I’ll finish my shift.’ I always finish my fuckin’ job. And I finished my job, and I went over and got the body.”
Bonaduce will tell you that his descent into death-taunting recklessness after 1974, when The Partridge Family ended, had nothing to do with being a former child star. He’ll point to Ron Howard and Jodie Foster, child actors who grew up well enough adjusted. Of course, they didn’t lose the cheers, and never had to replace the rush with something else. He did try to make it work. He did a Fantasy Island. He was in the movie Corvette Summer in 1978, but was neither shown nor mentioned in the theatrical trailer. In H.O.T.S. (1979), he made out with a sea lion. But acting parts grew scarce, and he did what it took to squeeze cash from his fame.
“Has-been is an interesting occupation,” he says. “Because how many llamas have you ridden? How many times have you been hung on a swing beneath a motorcycle on a high wire? At Christmastime I’d always make money. They’d open a new Kmart in Wichita and put a tree outside, and I’d sit in it and be Danny Partridge in a pear tree for $500.”