On a break from an almost X-rated scene, the star slips into a bathrobe and sits down with her director for some lighthearted handicapping of male members of the cast and crew for sexual desirability. Both women tab the same men as Nos. 1 and 2. “But Joan, dear,” Susan Dey joshes director Darling, “you have to wait until shooting is over to work your way through the list!”
It’s thoroughly modern woman’s talk, but it seems shocking only to fans who think Dey is still frozen in her 1970-74 role as the vestal older daughter, Laurie, on ABC’s Partridge Family. In fact Susan’s first big feature, a campus drama called First Love, isn’t the first time Susan has fantasized a fling with another cast member: it was—gasp—with David Cassidy, the adolescent heartthrob who played Laurie Partridge’s elder brother. “I loved David,” Susan reveals, “and we were faced with the question, ‘Should we have an affair?’ But by then David had slept with a lot of girls in town, and I decided it wouldn’t be cool.”
If keeping it cool on G-rated TV was a problem, playing it hot in her first nudie movie was a bigger one. “We were tense and nervous,” says Susan of the weeks she and co-star William (Carrie) Katt spent in bed. “If it’s not real, moaning and groaning can sound pretty darn silly.” Then there was the real No. 1, husband Lenny Hirshan, to worry about. “I knew she could do the sex scenes,” says Susan’s agent-cum-spouse. “I didn’t really know how well I could handle the situation.”
Oddly, the First Love scenario has Susan torn between a classmate and a father-figure lover twice the girl’s age. Susan’s real-life husband is 50 to her 24. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” says she, though at first she had fretted, “I don’t want to just sleep with you and then lose your respect as an actress.” When he proposed a year later, she recalls, “I almost died from fear. I went into deep depression and kept asking myself, ‘Am I going to be OK as a wife?’ We ended up getting married over Thanksgiving last year in a French restaurant in Banksville, N.Y. All our families were there. It was a scene out of Cousin, Cousine.”
One of Susan’s worries was Hirshan’s daughter, 12-year-old Karen, from a previous marriage. “Will she accept me?” Her own mom had died of walking pneumonia—”which is strange, since she was an RN,” says Susan, who was 8 at the time. Her dad, a suburban New York editorial executive, remarried two years later, and neither Susan nor her two sisters and brother took to a new mom. “We were all horrid, very cruel, to my stepmother,” she laments now. But it was that “remarkable lady,” Susan reports, who took her at 15 and sister Leslie, then 17, to a modeling agency, where “we paraded our skinny bodies and smiles”—with instant success. After two years of modeling Susan was tapped for the Partridge pilot, a singalong sitcom starring Cassidy’s stepmother, Shirley Jones.
“David was wonderful at the beginning,” she recalls. “Then after he got to be a rock star he just didn’t care. He was just walking through the last couple of years, and we all tried to carry him.” Yet she adds knowingly, “I laugh when stories picture David as a washed-out has-been and his half brother Shaun as a rising superstar who has it all together. Shaun is on the phone constantly with David finding out how he managed certain things.” As for David: “He went into hiding because it suited his purposes. When he decides to make a comeback, he is going to blow everyone out of the water.”
Susan herself was “sitting out in Hollywood wondering what was going to become of me” when producer Joanna Lee cast her in a couple of made-for-TV movies (Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night and Cage Without a Key). After good notices, guest spots and a Roger Corman quickie, Lee was saying, “In five years I will be known as the finder of Susan Dey.” As Susan read for First Love, Joan Darling, director of Mary Hartman and many MTM productions, remembers saying to herself as she made her feature-casting debut, “Oh, God, I hope that girl can act.” She says now, “I wanted her so much my teeth ached.”
A lot of critics’ molars ground over the bathetic result, but Susan is already looking ahead. “I want everything,” she dreams. “Success as a wife and stepmother, recognition as an actress—and children.” When not working she sticks close to their Benedict Canyon home, where she drinks cinnamon-flavored coffee and whips up seafood dinners for her husband (who also represents Clint Eastwood and Walter Matthau). “I don’t care for meat,” she explains, “so I tend to mess it up when I cook it.” Susan also offers a beauty tip, which sounds like something she might have learned in that disheveled Partridge household. “To keep my teeth white,” she says, “I eat Milk Bones for dogs.”