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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Column: Biopic tells dark story behind Cowsills

Now showing on the Showtime cable network is the documentary “Family Band: The Cowsills Story.” A 1960s band, the Cowsills grew famous, in part, because their mother and little sister sang with them. The show “The Partridge Family” was later based on this family band.

Older boomers will recognize many of the Cowsills’ hits, including “Hair” and “Love American Style.”

Those more popular tunes were written by others, but the Cowsills wrote many of their own songs with darker, richer lyrics, perhaps reflecting the darkness of their family life.

The band fell apart in the early 1970s, undone by changing music styles and an abusive, controlling father who managed the band.

As the documentary details, the father of the seven Cowsills was an alcoholic who beat his children and verbally crucified them. He refused to let one son in the band just because he didn’t like him. He disowned another son when the son crossed him.

The father spent the fortune his children earned. Most of the Cowsills have experienced hard adult lives; two died in their 50s.

The family performed on all the top shows of the time, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and “The Tonight Show.” To the world, they presented a wholesome, happy front. The house of horror they grew up in is finally revealed in this excellent 2011 documentary.

The documentary is hard to watch at times. Some boomers might remember friends who lived in households where everyone walked on eggshells because dad (or mom) could explode in violence toward their children at any moment.

I’m hopeful that it’s harder to be a terrorist parent in these modern times. Hopeful that extended family members will stand up to abusive relatives. (The aunts of the Cowsills ignored the abuse; one aunt because she said she beat her kid, too.)

I’m hopeful that kids will tell a trusted grandparent, teacher or neighbor that a parent is beating them. Hopeful someone will report the abuse.

Hopeful but perhaps unrealistic to think parents cannot get away anymore with committing horrible acts toward their children in the privacy of their homes.

“Family Band: The Cowsills Story” has an interesting Inland Northwest connection. Ian Broyles, one of the producers and the director of photography on the documentary, is a 1999 Central Valley High School graduate.

THE RABBIT DIED: My sister, Janice, nearly followed in my mother’s motherhood footsteps by having five children. Mom had six. After she had all her kids, Janice would call Mom every April Fools’ Day and say: “I just found out I’m pregnant – again!”

Mom fell for it every time. It’s hard to remember when the calls stopped coming. Janice, now 61, hasn’t come up with a good substitute prank for Mom, now 92.

Suggestions welcome.

LADIES AND GENTS: Some older folks I know would be wonderful in community theater, but they all fear the same thing: Memorizing all those lines.

Budding aging actors, take heart. The very talented actor Patrick Treadway will present a workshop titled: “Where are the Words? Memorization Techniques for Seniors” April 10, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Interplayers Theatre in downtown Spokane. It costs $45 and registration is required by Friday. Go to or call (509) 455-7529.

HOW TOUCHING: April’s Psychology Today has a powerful story on the power of touch. A waitress who touches a customer’s arm gets a bigger tip, people buy more at stores if touched by a store greeter and one psychologist who studied NBA games found that teammates who engaged in head bumping, high fives and back slaps had more successful seasons.

Touching and being touched (appropriately, of course) boosts well-being. Yet as people age and lose spouses and close friends and live far away from grown children and grandchildren, opportunities for healthy touch decline.

So don’t be shy. Hug an older friend today.

SHOOT: Senior bashing is popular on Facebook, according to a recent AARP website report.

“Eighty-four Facebook groups had themes of something to do with older people, with a total membership of more than 25,000 users. The groups were created by younger users, mostly between the ages of 20 and 29, and all but one promoted some sort of negative stereotype of older people.”

One Facebook group titled its group “Old people to be shot at the age of 70.” The group’s description: “Old people do not contribute to society at all. Their single and only meaning is to nag and moan …You haven’t got much going for you, so my advice is take the bullet and enjoy your grave.”

I looked up the Facebook page. The spelling and grammar is atrocious, and the comments sophomoric, if that’s any consolation. The last post is from 2010. So this is, in effect, a dead Facebook page.

Who shot it?

THIS WEEK, A SAMPLING: Tai chi, a healing art that integrates body, mind and spirit, begins classes today and then meets every Monday, 7 to 8 p.m., until June 10. A second class begins this Wednesday and meets every Wednesday, 9:50 to 10:50 a.m., until June 5. Southside Senior Center, 3151 E. 27th Ave., Spokane. (509) 279-6027.

The Bodhisattva Buddhist Series, presented by Tibetan nuns from Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Wash., this Friday, 6:30 to 8 p.m., 1319 N. Government Way, Coeur d’Alene, (208) 664-5697.

For more events, go to