Suzanne Crough, who died on April 27 aged 52, was the little sister that America didn’t know it needed - but which it was certainly happy it had.
While her four televisual siblings… Keith and Laurie, Danny and the Christophers… could be relied upon for love, laughter, scrapes and scraps, Tracy Partridge was stoic, steady, a rock of tiny, carrot-topped stability within the chaos that otherwise enveloped primetime’s primo family.
While the others mugged and hammed and mimed, at least pretending to get to grips with the instruments they’d been handed, Tracy scarcely even grimaced as she hit her tambourine. Occasionally she might open her mouth to sing, but just as often, she’d change her mind. She didn’t strut, she didn’t pose, she didn’t have elaborate storylines created around her failure to wash before bed one night.
She was, simply, Tracy Partridge, and we would not have wanted her to be anything more.
Fellow family stars have been swift to offer tributes to the first fallen Partridge (second, if you count manager Reuben Kincaid).
Shirley Jones, the family's TV mom, spoke loudest for the Partridges' fans when she told TheWrap, "my sweet TV baby for five years… only 52 …never a sick day … two adorable children … a devoted husband …everything to live for … just fell asleep at the dining room table and left us forever. Dear God, take care of my baby.”
David Cassidy acknowledged that he really didn’t spend much time with her, owing to the age difference, but “always thought fondly of Suzanne and her family”; while Bonaduce suggested that most people would have expected him to be the first to join the Great Band in the Sky. "Sadly, it was little Tracy."
He continued, ”Suzanne was a wonderful lady and a good mom.”
But she was also one-sixth of what was, for a few years, the single most popular singing group in the country. Indeed, in an age when American pop was dominated by just three clans, the Partridges, the Osmonds and the Jacksons, Suzanne was also one-sixth of the best of them all.
The Jacksons never looked comfortable being fed through the Motown teeny machine; the Osmonds maybe looked too comfortable. The Partridges fit the bill just right, and the string of records which… okay, so David Cassidy (Keith) was the only one who appeared on them all. But the string of records which we pretended the Partridges made between 1969-74 include some of the most stellar of the age.
“I Think I Love You,” “It’s One of Those Nights,” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” and, of course, the signature “Come On Get Happy” sound, indeed, so happy that you need to be a really dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon not to at least crack a nostalgic smile when they crackle through the ether. Either that, or an Osmonds fan. Hiss.
Born in Fullerton, CA, on March 6, 1963, Crough was the archetypal child star, seventies style. She made her TV debut in a Barbie commercial, she was a keen equestrian, and she blazed brightly throughout the Partridge Family’s four season run, and that despite never really stepping out from behind the pot plant to which she seemed to retire whenever the other kids started to rock.
But she was the brains behind a brilliant (if doomed) scheme to open a hamster farm; she caused merry hell when she and brother Christopher decided to run away from home (and wound up at manager Reuben’s apartment); and when an itinerant Russian artist washed up at the Partridge family home, in search of a place to live and work, it was Tracy who welcomed him in.
She may not have written any songs or played any solos. She may not have sung lead, or really said that much. But she had a magnificent glare, a fabulous smile, and she did allow a stranger to paint a naked lady on the Partridges’ garage door.
And when, finally, she decided that Hollywood was not the answer to her dreams, she gracefully, gently, stepped away. Following the cancellation of the original Partridge Family, she voiced Tracy again in the hopefully hopeless Partridge Family 2200 AD; she starred in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (smoking dope with Jan Brady!!!) and in episodes of Mulligan’s Stew and The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.
One of her final roles, still in her teens, was in Taylor Hackford’s Oscar winning short Teenage Father in 1979; but already she was losing interest in showbiz and glitz. When she learned that Jackford’s wife had not been given a ticket for the Oscars ceremony, Crough happily handed over her own.
She graduated Pierce College and for many years she ran the Book Center bookstore in Temecula, California. She married police officer William Condray in 1985. The night they met, Condray told ABC News,"I asked her if she was a real actress, and she asked me if I was a real cop.”
She relished her new life. Although Crough made several returns to television in later years, it was only to look back at her years in the First Family of Pop, for the benefit of sundry "where are they now" type shows.
The most recent of these took place in 2010, when the Today show reunited her with the rest of her fictional family, and she made no bones about her post-network life. She lived in Laughlin, near Las Vegas, Nevada, and was an office manager for Office Max. “I have two daughters, I'm married, I have a normal job.”
Now she is gone, and reruns of The Partridge Family will be tinged with sadness as a consequence.
Sweet dreams, Tracy Partridge.