About Christmas TV History

Monday, January 27, 2014

Partridge Family Christmas (1971)

Did you know that the title of this 1971 Christmas episode is a reference to the 1958 hit song "Don't Bring Your Guns to Town," sung by country music icon, Johnny Cash?
Although I blogged about this Christmas episode before, it was four long years ago.  I thought I'd update the essay and add some photos.  This classic episode deserves more attention anyway--did you grow up watching The Partridge Family on television, like I did?  Do you remember the second season episode "Don't Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa?"

The children are devastated when they realize they may have to spend Christmas stranded in the desert.

In this holiday episode, the family's tour bus breaks down on Christmas Eve in the desert on the way home after a performance in Las Vegas.  The Partridges take shelter in a nearby ghost town where an elderly prospector named Charlie entertains the children with a Christmas story about this once well-populated town, 100 years ago.

Luckily, they aren't alone.  A friendly resident of the town offers the family shelter until they can get the bus fixed.

After hearing Chris remark that he's worried that Santa Claus won't be able to find them in the desert, Charlie begins to share a story to address Chris' fears.

This western fantasy features the cast in the roles of the story told by Charlie, with Reuben playing Mean Sydney, the villain in a black hat who steals the town’s silver Christmas bell, Laurie as the schoolmarm, Shirley as the saloon girl, Danny as Little the Kid--a wannabe hero, and Keith as Sheriff Swell, who carries a guitar instead of a gun.

Keith (David Cassidy) plays the role of Sherrif Swell.  He wanders around the town, singing to its residents--much to their chagrin.

Laurie (Susan Dey) plays the role of the town's schoolmarm.

Mother Shirley (Shirley Jones in center) plays Belle, the town's saloon owner--she sells only lemonade and lollipops!  And, Chris (Brian Forster) and Tracy (Suzanne Crough) play young townsfolk.

The story's villain is Mean Sydney who is so rotten, he steals the town's bell.  This role is made even funnier when it's played by the push-over Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden), the band's manager.

As Charlie tells it, this town was once afraid that Santa Claus wouldn't be able to find its residents in the desert.  They purchased a shiny silver bell and rang it every midnight on Christmas Eve.  Until one year, the dastardly Mean Sydney stole the bell.  After several attempts by Belle, the schoolmarm, and the Sheriff fail to convince Mean Sydney to give back the bell--a hero arrives in town to save the day.  Little the Kid offers to play cards with Mean Sydney in order to win back the town's silver bell and hopefully save Christmas.

You guessed it!  Danny (Danny Bonaduce) plays the hero Little the Kid.

Little the Kid challenges Mean Sydney to a poker game for the town's silver bell.
 The silly story ends with Little the Kid unable to win back the bell by midnight Christmas Eve.  However, when the townsfolk walk into the city's center, they discover that Santa Claus (and Christmas) had arrived despite their fears.  Someone suggests that it may not have been the bell that brought Santa to the town each year after all but perhaps the residents' holiday spirit.  And, Mean Sydney learns a lesson about giving.

Santa Claus didn't forget about the town even though they didn't ring the bell.

Any summary can't capture the silliness and word-play in the dialogue that makes this episode so special.  I'm not the only one who thinks this episode is out of the ordinary.  According to Joey Green's book The Partridge Family Album, Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Brian Forester, and Dave Madden all name this Christmas episode as their favorite one.  (Most of them explaining that it was fun to do a fantasy episode outside of their regular characters). 

Mean Sydney taking on Little the Kid.

This episode also includes the song "Winter Wonderland" by the Partridge Family performing in Las Vegas.

I have to admit, I still love the music from this series.  Every episode in the series includes music--this one opens with the Christmas classic "Winter Wonderland" and ends with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Making these songs even more special--they both appear on the 1971 album The Partridge Family Christmas Card.

I own this album on CD and on vinyl--but sadly, I've lost the original pull-out Christmas card.

Interestingly, this episode also includes another song--one Keith as Sheriff Swell repeatedly sings throughout the episode.  Although it is not usually considered a Christmas song, this classic western tune adds more flavor to the western fantasy storyline. Used as a humorous running gag, Keith annoys everyone around him by singing his dialogue to the tune of the theme from the Western movie High Noon, the 1952 Oscar-winning song “Don’t Forsake Me, Oh My Darling.”

Actor Dean Jagger as Charlie.

Do you recognize the actor who plays Charlie the storytelling prospector?  He’s actor Dean Jagger who also plays General Waverly in the 1954 movie White Christmas.  How’s that for holiday provenance?

The entire family sings the holiday greeting "Merry Christmas" to the tune of "Don't Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" one last time, as they break the fourth wall, addressing TV viewers at home.

In the story’s end, the Partridges break the fourth wall to wish the audience a Merry Christmas.  What's your favorite TV sitcom or drama that includes holiday music?  Is your favorite mentioned in my latest book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1: The Best Christmas Music in TV Sitcoms and Dramas?


  1. I love watch The Partridge Family. Were there any other Christmas episodes?

  2. Thanks for your question. This is the only Christmas episode in the Partridge Family's four year run.

  3. It's certainly a unique and fun episode - but I wish they had performed the full version of "Winter Wonderland," or better yet "A Christmas Card to You," which is one of my favorite holiday songs.

  4. Thanks for your comment, David. Yeah--this holiday story shortens the musical portions of the episode. Maybe it was created as more of a teaser to sell the album? It certainly worked on me!

  5. "He's bluffing with a pair of sevens."
    "I think I'll eat my lolly later."
    "Nothing beats a loaded pistol."
    The only thing I remember about the episode is Keith and his singing narration. I'm a poker player and anytime I see a pair of sevens on the board, I remember this tune.

  6. I love The Partridge Family! Wish there had been more episodes. <3

  7. Partridge Family was definitely one of my favorite shows

  8. The set they used for the ghost town looked very familiar
    Was it possibly the set for Bonanza or Gunsmoke?

  9. Thank you for having this website. You just made my Thanksgiving 2020 a lot better.

  10. Merry Year-round Christmas!
    BTW my favorite tune is FOREST GREEN, the English melody in O Little Town of Bethlehem. It's also used in a folk song, "The Ploughboy's Dream". IMO it's the best melody ever composed. And it's also why my nickname is "Forest Green Organ Geek".