A NOTE FROM THE PASSIONISTAS: In 2009, while working on a retro pop culture website called GetBack, we were given our first interview assignment to visit the set of a new show called "Ruby and the Rockits." Imagine how excited we were to discover that we would be interviewing ALL of the Cassidy brothers — David and Patrick, who starred in the show, Shaun, who was the Executive Producer, and Ryan, who was working in the Art Department. Parts of it are especially poignant today. In honor of David's passing, we wanted to share the day with all of you. RIP David Cassidy.
As young girls we would sit up close to the TV set every Friday night and watch The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family back to back. Then a few years later we swooned over Shaun Cassidy on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Heck we even saw David and Shaun together on Broadway in Blood Brothers. So when we were given the opportunity to visit the set of the new Cassidy family project Ruby and the Rockits, how could we say no?
And so began our journey. Last week we spent a day on the set watching the actors rehearse and tape a few scenes, and in between got a chance to chat with each of the brothers and their castmates. Ruby marks the first time the four Cassidy brothers (David, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan) have EVER worked together, and the show's premise seems like a parallel universe played out by the real life Cassidy family.
The ABC Family series stars David and Patrick in a show about two past-their-prime teen idols who discover one of them has a teenage daughter, played by Alexa Vega (Spy Kids). Shaun is the Executive Producer and writer, and youngest brother Ryan is the show's set dresser.
Since we are sisters and business partners, we were particularly interested in the family dynamic. Four brothers working together day in and day out on a semi-autobiographical sitcom — we figured there had to be some interesting emotions flying around that set. We asked each brother what it was like working with his siblings and not one of them had anything bad to say. Their mutual admiration actually did seem genuine.
Shaun admitted that at first he "was really scared" about working with his family. He and David had done Broadway together in 1993 and Shaun said they had a great time doing the show and had always wanted to work on another creative project together. David approached him about a year and a half ago with a germ of an idea to do a family sitcom and said, “What about doing something before we die?"
They got Patrick involved and the three of them pitched the series to the network who picked up the show with one minor change. They wanted David to play the rocker brother and Patrick to play the settled down family man brother (the Cassidys had originally conceived the idea with the opposite casting). Then David had another brilliant idea, "You know, it’d be great if we could get Ryan as well. Then the four of us can work together for the first time.” Ryan signed on as set dresser and the Cassidy brother mega team was off and running.
Patrick (in between ducking the candies that older brother Shaun was hurling at his head — boys will be boys, no matter how old they are) said of the sibling experience, "I feel like I’m walking around in this little dream bubble... The writing is at the highest level. It’s such a great group of actors. And I’m getting paid to do all of that with the people I love the most in the world... I can’t think of a greater, greater blessing."
David also had high praise for his fellow family members, cast and crew. "Every single person is fantastic. Every person on this show can deliver the punch line. You know, bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, you’re down three runs, pop, boom. And it feels so good to have that kind of support and to genuinely like all of the people you work with."
Youngest brother Ryan, who appeared to be enjoying himself the most on set, added, "I love working with my brothers. I come every day and it’s great. It’s been such a joy to do. So, I’m having so much fun. And I’m very grateful for it because it’s a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity." Patrick then joked, "And he had already worked with the Osmonds and the Gibbs, so he needed to try the blood."
As Executive Producer, Shaun is the boss. He's in charge on the set and has the final say. We sensed that his position had led him to a more cautious approach to talking about working with his brothers. He said, "We need to be very careful about boundaries. You know, it’s easier for him (pointing to his partner and Co-Executive Producer Marsh McCall) to give David an acting note than it is for me to give David an acting note, and Patrick too."
Ryan had this to day about his big brother and boss, Shaun, "He’s a very bright guy and has a lot of great ideas and a lot of integrity. He’s a really nice guy to work with."
But it's not just the Cassidy brothers that feel the familial love on the set. The other members of the acting team said they were immediately comfortable surrounded by siblings.
Alexa Vega, who plays Katie Gallagher, said, "When you work with a family, you can have two things happen. You can either go in there and they have their kind of group and they kind of keep everybody out, or you go in and you suddenly become a family member right away. And that's kind of what happened… It was really nice to feel very welcomed into the Cassidy family."
She went on to describe the diverse personalities of the four Cassidy brothers. "They all have different really great things that kind of separates them all. Patrick has this really, really fun athletic quality. We always go to the gym together… Ryan's a little bit more reserved and quiet. I really value that because the rest of the Cassidys aren't that way at all, so it's really nice to see that brother and wonder how he survived in that family, being so quiet… Mr. Shaun is really fathering and really nurturing… He kind of sets the tone. And then we have crazy, wild David who just makes everything really exciting and fun."
Austin Butler, who plays Patrick's oldest son Jordan Gallagher, had a similar sentiment about the family. "They've all got their things that I love about them. Patrick and I, we'll work out together… David will show me things on the guitar… And then Shaun gives the best advice... and Ryan, he's like the nicest guy in the world… They're a wonderful family."
12-year-old Kurt Doss, who plays Patrick's youngest son Ben Gallagher, adds his two cents about his boss Shaun saying, "Shaun's cool. He's almost like a Ninja. If it wasn't for that baby face, he'd be a Ninja."
Katie Amanda Keane, who portrays Patrick's wife Audie Gallagher, was a bit intimated during her first meeting with the brothers while trying out for the show. "Can you imagine walking into a room of all Cassidys? But my first audition I walked in, there was all these guys sitting on a circular couch just staring at me...and they were so welcoming and so open and friendly and just made me feel at home instantly. I had the best time with these guys."
She said on set the brothers are very close and loving but she can still see the little boys in all of them. "I mean they will definitely do the brother thing. And they kid each other constantly. I mean it’s constant jokes about height, age, intelligence, you know, other physical things. But it’s all in good fun."
Still she says watching them interact is a joy. "Every morning at the table read, to see these guys come and sit down and say, 'Good morning, babe,' and give each other kisses, you want to talk about grabbing your heartstrings, it’s lovely to watch and it’s so real. How lucky are we to be able to work with this kind of family, that the love is just totally there? It’s lovely."
And as we suspected, sometimes the family dynamic makes certain parts of the job difficult. Katie Amanda says, "Well, it’s interesting... with Shaun being kind of the boss man. Seeing not only the family dynamic played out but also the producer/actor relationship played out and where those lines cross — and it gets blurry. But at the very root of it all, there is so much love and respect that it’s really nice."
One big happy family or not, there's no denying the past successes of two individual members of the Cassidy clan — the pop idols. We asked Kurt if his mom was a fan of David or Shaun Cassidy when she was growing up. His answer will be devastating to Cassidy fans who still picture themselves in their hip-hugging, elephant leg jeans, "My mom wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of David. Her mom, on the other hand, was a fan of David Cassidy — my Grandma."
Grandma? How did that happen? Well, we suppose it has been 39 years since "I Think I Love You" and 32 years since "Da Doo Ron Ron" made 'tweens scream. Think about it, they weren't even called 'tweens back then. But we digress.
Even though it's been a while since David and Shaun made the girls swoon, they clearly haven't forgotten what it was like. That's why they're standing by to guide Ruby and the Rockits young heartthrob, Austin, who said, "They're really wanting to give me a lot of advice, and Shaun says to take his advice and David says to take his advice. But supposedly David was the crazier of the two. So Shaun I guess is more mature in that aspect. He handled himself better." Time will tell whose words of wisdom Austin embraces.
The brothers' nostalgia trip isn't lost on their adult cast mates either. Katie observed, "I think there’s a little bit of reminiscing maybe on David and Shaun’s part about the good old days."
But the brothers also know that those good old days can turn bad really quickly if a young star doesn't make the right choices. Alexa told us that the Cassidy's are constantly making sure the kids are braced for the spotlight that will likely shine on them when the show becomes a hit, "I think they probably sat me down about eight times and they just kept saying, 'Now, if the show does well, I really want to chat with you because there are so many roads that you can go down.' So I've gotten that talk a lot."
And if anyone knows about the many roads teen stardom can take you down, it's the Cassidys. We asked Patrick how they all managed to stay so grounded and didn't take the path of other contemporary teen idols of their era like Danny Bonadue or Lief Garrett. Patrick replied, "I think it was a combination of a few things. I think losing our father at the age that we lost, all of us, that was I think the first moment where we all really bonded together, just like I think any family would if they lost a parent at that age. It forced us to have to rely on one another, even though our personalities are very different and we see things in terms of how we were brought up... But that was, I think, the defining moment where we all thought we had to pull together for, not just for my mother’s sake, but for ourselves... So, we all stayed close to my mother, which I think was also a real foundation and a real support system... And I got to learn. For me personally and Ryan, my younger brother, I got to learn when I went into the business from two brothers that had been in the business, all the mistakes and things not to do. It was a great learning process for me."
Patrick discovered some of those lessons during step-brother David's time playing teen heartthrob Keith Partridge. And while Shirley Jones may have played David's mother on The Partridge Family, she's his stepmother in real life and birth mother to David's half-brothers Shaun, Patrick and Ryan. As the TV lore goes, David didn't even know Jones would be playing Shirley Partridge until he was cast on the show. And while she may be a megastar of classic musicals like Oklahoma! and The Music Man that doesn't mean she's not a supportive mother/stepmother. In fact, like any good mom, she goes to the set every Friday night for Ruby and the Rockits tapings. Ryan noted, "She comes as if it was a baseball game we were all in."
But will their famous mom make an appearance on the show? According to Patrick she will, "If Florence Henderson isn’t available." All joking aside, the brothers confirmed that Shirley will be on the series some time this season. No one would tell us what her role will be but we're hoping she's going to play Ruby's grandmother.
The references to real life family members are everywhere on this show. Patrick is married to an ex-music video vixen and has two sons — on and off screen. Even Ruby's storyline springs from real life. In the pilot episode David's character David Gallagher is stunned by the appearance of a 15-year-old daughter he didn't know he had. In real life, it was Cassidy's brothers that were caught off guard when introduced to a mysterious dinner guest with David one night.
Here's how Shaun recalled the fateful meeting, "We go out to dinner and there’s this beautiful fifteen-year-old girl with [David], which we were a little creeped out by. And literally as he’s ordering he says, 'Oh, and by the way, this is my daughter, I’ll have the chopped chicken liver and the—.' Just like that. And Patrick and I and Ryan look at each other, 'What? What?' 'Oh, yeah, so a few years ago, there was this thing, did I not mention?' 'No!' And she’s become part of our family and she’s a lovely girl, but, you know, David is a character and so that aspect of it is pulled from life."
We hope for everyone's sake there are no more surprises in store.
NOTE: Since this article was written, David's daughter has gone on to have success of her own. Katie Cassidy. She is best known for playing Laurel Lance / Black Canary on The Arrow and The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow TV series.
But according to the brothers there are a lot more real life stories to tell. Patrick's hoping there will be a very special episode of Ruby and the Rockits where the Cassidy boys recreate an infamous brothers only road trip they took a few years ago.
As he recounted it, "It was four brothers that drove on the road for nine days. Let me tell you, it was the most unique, wonderful, cathartic, insane experience that anyone could ever have. And we have sibling moments just like the rest — one moment at Disney World where I actually punched Shaun for saying something one time too many to me." The happiest place on Earth, indeed, but it sure would make a good Ruby and the Rockits episode.