Then Came Bronson
Then Came Bronson is an American adventure/drama television series starring Michael Parks that aired on NBC. It was created by Denne Bart Petitclerc, and produced by MGM Television. Then Came Bronson began with a television film pilot that aired on NBC on March 24, 1969; the pilot was also released in Europe as a theatrical feature film. This was followed by a single season of 26 episodes airing between September 17, 1969 and April 1, 1970.
|Then Came Bronson|
European pilot poster
|Created by||Denne Bart Petitclerc|
|Theme music composer||George Duning|
James Richard Hendricks (end theme)
|Opening theme||"Then Came Bronson"|
George Duning, composer-conductor
|Ending theme||"Long Lonesome Highway"|
James Richard Hendricks, lyrics writer/music composer
Performed by Michael Parks
|Composer(s)||George Duning, Gil Mellé|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||26 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Herbert F. Solow|
|Producer(s)||Robert H. Justman, Robert Sabaroff|
|Running time||50 mins.|
|Production company(s)||MGM Television|
|Original release||September 17, 1969 –|
April 1, 1970
The series features Parks as the protagonist, James "Jim" Bronson, a newspaperman who becomes disillusioned after the suicide of his best friend Nick (Martin Sheen), and with "working for The Man" after a heated argument with his editor.
In order to renew his soul Bronson becomes a vagabond searching for the meaning of life and seeking experiences that life has to offer (as revealed in the series pilot). During his travels, he shares his values with the people he meets along the way and to whom he lends a helping hand when possible. Bronson rides a Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle and, as such, he was viewed by some as a modern version of the solitary cowboy wandering the American west. The motorcycle had previously been sold to Nick by Bronson. After it is left at the scene of the suicide by his friend, Bronson buys it back from the widow.
Curiously, though the opening promises a journey of self-discovery, the premise of each episode is that Bronson enters someone else's life at a crucial point and acts as a catalyst for change. When Bronson encounters an Amish community, for example, a local boy becomes enraptured by the outside world and steals Bronson's motorcycle to run off to Reno, Nevada. In another episode, located in Reno, Nevada, Bronson meets his cousin Eve on her wedding day and lends her money for the wedding service, but she runs off to the casinos and gambles it away.
The first three episodes, including the end credits scenes, were shot in and around Jackson, Wyoming. The premier pilot film was also shown at the town's (then) only theater to give the locals a sense of what the series was going to be about, since they were shooting in town and at popular local area locations.
Bronson is committed to pacifism and often redirects an antagonist's anger into self-examination. Always, like a true catalyst, Bronson rolls out of every episode unchanged.
The show had obvious similarities to the early 1960s series Route 66; Michael Parks guest-starred in one episode of that series. It was also sometimes erroneously described as a knock-off of Easy Rider.
The opening of the show served as a metaphor for the premise of the show: getting away from the "big city" and leading a simpler life. The opening begins with Bronson riding up to a red light in San Francisco and he briefly chats with a commuter. The scene also introduces Bronson's signature-phrase, which he often used in the episodes, "Hang in there".
- Driver: "Taking a trip?"
- Bronson: "What's that?"
- Driver: "Taking a trip?"
- Bronson: "Yeah."
- Driver: "Where to?"
- Bronson: "Oh, I don't know. Wherever I end up, I guess."
- Driver: "Man, I wish I was you."
- Bronson: "Really?"
- Driver: "Yeah."
- Bronson: "Well, hang in there."
Michael Parks, who starred as James Bronson, had acted on television and starred in three anti-establishment films, Wild Seed, The Happening, and Bus Riley's Back in Town. He went on to have a steady career in drive-in horror movies and TV shows. Also a talented singer, Parks recorded three pop/jazz albums: Long Lonesome Highway, Closing the Gap, Blue, and several gospel albums. Long Lonesome Highway and Closing the Gap were connected with particular strength to Then Came Bronson. Parks performed the former's title selection over the closing credits of each episode, and it and the latter both featured other music from the series. (See below.)
The series was filmed and broadcast in color.
Bronson's motorcycle, a 1969 XLH 900cc Harley-Davidson Sportster, figures in many episodes. In one episode he enters several motorcycle races; in another, he makes an emergency run to fetch a doctor, but in some stories, the motorcycle serves merely as his transportation.
The fuel tank is illustrated with the Eye of Providence.
Several of Bronson's production staff and cast members had previously worked on the original Star Trek series, including executive producer Herbert F. Solow and producer Robert H. Justman, and writers D. C. Fontana and Robert Sabaroff.
The opening instrumental theme song was titled "Then Came Bronson" and was composed and conducted by George Duning. The closing vocal theme for the series, titled "Long Lonesome Highway", was sung by Parks and written and composed by James Hendricks; it was a Billboard Magazine Hot 100 hit that reached #20 in 1970.
Parks released two albums on the MGM label that featured music from this series, Closing the Gap (1969), and Long Lonesome Highway (1970). In addition, other artists such as John Bahler, Kiel Martin, Gary Jayson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Tom Paxton sang songs that appeared in the series. Actress Bonnie Bedelia in the pilot sang gospel song "Wayfaring Stranger" with Parks.
In 2010, Duning's score for the pilot and two episode scores by Gil Mellé were released as part of Film Score Monthly's TV Omnibus: Volume One (1962-1976). In 2013 Intrada Records released a two-disc set of music from the series, featuring Duning's six episode scores on disc one and selections from the other scores on disc two by John Parker, Elliot Kaplan, Stu Phillips, Dean Elliott, Richard Shores, Tom McIntosh, and Philip Springer.
|No.||Title||Original air date|
|0||Then Came Bronson||March 24, 1969|
Pilot: Nick (Martin Sheen), a friend of Jim Bronson, commits suicide after asking Bronson to buy back his motorcycle from his soon-to-be widow Sheree North. Bronson had originally owned and customized the bike, then sold it to Nick when he became a reporter. Nick's tragedy makes Bronson think about the meaning of his life and soon decides to quit the "rat race." He then takes to the road on the motorcycle to discover what life would put in his path.
Song: "Wayfarin' Stranger" (sung by Michael Parks and Bonnie Bedelia).Note: Aired as a 2-hour television film. An alternate version, featuring nudity, was released to theaters on April 1, 1970.
|1||"The Runner"||September 17, 1969|
Jim Bronson takes a temp job at Hanrahan School, a summer camp for disturbed children run by noted therapist Edward Hanrahan (Jack Klugman) and his daughter Doris who is an old girlfriend of Bronson. He becomes interested in an autistic student John (Mark Lester) known as "the runner" because to his penchant to flee. Edward Hanrahan gives Bronson wide latitude in dealing with John.
Other actors: Penny MarshallSong: "Softly And Tenderly" (sung by Michael Parks).
|2||"The Old Motorcycle Fiasco"||September 24, 1969|
When Bronson's motorcycle is inadvertently damaged by a careless gasoline attendant, a grizzled old-timer named Alex (Keenan Wynn) lets Bronson use his ranch to make repairs. Alex shows Bronson his old bike, a 1937 Rudge Ulster, that had been in storage for years. Soon, both are riding again and, since Alex had promised his wife Nora to abandon motorcycles, it leads to complications in his marriage.
Other actors: Meg WyllieSong: "Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again" (Parks).
|3||"A Famine Where Abundance Lies"||October 1, 1969|
Bronson is hired by lonely widow Monica to work on her ranch. Her teenage daughter Lori soon becomes smitten with Bronson and Monica finds Bronson's demeanor captivating as well. Bronson's dilemma: how to deal with the attention of both women without causing them emotional injury.Songs: "Sunshine Showers", "Ride 'Em Cowboy" (Parks).
|4||"A Circle of Time"||October 8, 1969|
Bronson ends up in a ghost town whose sole resident is Hattie Calder (Elsa Lanchester). She piques Bronson's interest with her vitality and tales of surviving the Titanic disaster. Hattie has an ongoing quarrel with Abner Hotchman who is secretly looking for a silver vein in the area. Her one remaining wish in life: to be buried next to her husband in a nearby plot.
Other actors: Dabney ColemanSong: "I Think Of You" (Parks).
|5||"Where Will the Trumpets Be?"||October 15, 1969|
|Bullfighter Miguel (Fernando Lamas) approaches motorcycle riding using the same aggressive methods that he uses to fight bulls. Bronson is reluctant when Miguel tries to imbue Bronson with his same values and suggests that he use similar methods. In the meantime Bella (Lane Bradbury) and Morgana (Jessica Walter), two beautiful sisters, compete for the attention of both men.|
|6||"Amid Splinters of the Thunderbolt"||October 22, 1969|
Bronson travels to Colorado to find an old friend named Bucky O'Neill (Bruce Dern): a priest with a crisis of conscience. Bucky has fallen in love with Mary Draper and yet leaving the priesthood torments him. Mary is tortured as well and blames herself for Bucky's problem. She believes she's destined to die giving childbirth. When she refuses medical help Bronson is forced to make a decision.
Other actors: James DoohanSong: "Wayfarin' Stranger" (Parks).
|7||"The 3:13 Arrives at Noon"||October 29, 1969|
|Clay Turner is a bank robber and former local hero who has been imprisoned for years. After being paroled he returns to his hometown and it causes three people anxiety. The reasons: Turner had made revenge threats to Ed Hemmings for turning him in many years ago and Earl Braeden is now married to Turner's former girlfriend Charlene Braeden. Charlene (Gloria Grahame) preens herself for Turner's return as if she were his current paramour. Amongst all this anxiety, Bronson finds Turner's return affects him as well in this modern age Western confrontation.|
|8||"Old Tigers Never Die—They Just Run Away"||November 5, 1969|
Bronson stays at the home of Oliver (Will Geer) a retired pressman who loves to talk. Russ Faber learns that Bronson plans to enter a local motorcycle race and becomes obsessed with defeating Bronson in the race.Other actors: Diane Ladd, Iron Eyes Cody
|9||"Your Love is Like a Demolition Derby in My Heart"||November 19, 1969|
Bronson arrives in a small town and asks Leona out on a date. She has a brother, Darryl, whose excessive protection of her causes her dismay. Bronson helps Leona enter a demolition derby that puts Bronson in a predicament with her brother.Other actors: David Huddleston
|10||"Two Percent of Nothing"||November 26, 1969|
Bronson accepts a percentage of an oil well that is possibly ready to blow, in lieu of cash for work done for Royce MacLeod (Steve Ihnat). MacLeod faces foreclosure on the land if he can't beat the target date specified on a promissory note owned by Mac Keller.D.C. Fontana, was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award.
|11||"All the World and God"||December 3, 1969|
|Bronson befriends a nurse, Barbara Timmons (Lois Nettleton), who mourns the death of a doctor she worked for. Timmons considers quitting her job because of her grief but is uncertain because she worries about her patients care. Bronson admires Timmons' work as a nurturing caregiver, yet finds helping her a challenge.|
|12||"A Long Trip to Yesterday"||December 10, 1969|
Bronson helps a reluctant biker in distress, Henry Tate, with a loan when his bike breaks down on the road. In order to repay him Tate takes Bronson to his family's home where he has not visited since he left many years ago. Tate's homecoming causes tribulation for all.
|13||"The Spitball Kid"||December 17, 1969|
|The arrogant William Lovering (Kurt Russell) is regarded as a great pitcher in a local bush league baseball team. When Bronson rides into town and takes a job as a ball player he soon finds he's able to hit the ball off Lovering at will. Bronson tries to prepare Lovering for a try out with major league scout Art Gilroy (Don Drysdale).|
|14||"Against a Blank Cold Wall"||December 24, 1969|
Native American Tony Wade (Robert Loggia) has taken his family into bleak country to perform his Vision Quest in order to reclaim his spirit. Bronson, an old friend of Tony, locates him and his family and finds them in dire straits. Even though Tony, his wife Linda (Pilar Seurat) and son, are underfed and malnourished, Tony still demands that Bronson leave. Linda urges Bronson to stay and reveals a secret she has not told Tony.Song: "Oklahoma Hills" (Parks).
|15||"Sybil"||December 31, 1969|
Bronson is charmed by Sybil who fancies herself a witch and is part of a band of occultists led by cult-leader Hermes. Bronson at first is entertained by her beliefs but later recoils at her lifestyle. Ultimately, Sybil has to determine the greater meaning of the supernatural, and in the process, life.Song: "Sunshine Showers" (Parks).
|16||"A-Pickin' an' A-Singin'"||January 14, 1970|
Bronson becomes part of a singing duo with Billy Mulavey in order to compete in a song contest and land a job at a highway honky-tonk. Johnny Dell (Skip Homeier), a greedy local disk jockey, signs songwriter Billy to a restrictive contract, but Billy has running on his mind. Betty, the waitress who loves Billy, and Bronson wonder about Billy's veracity when Mickey Rand claims ownership of the songs written by Billy.Songs: "Big T Water", "Summer Days", "Mountain High" (Parks).
|17||"The Gleam of the Eagle Mind"||January 21, 1970|
|When eccentric painter Juan Longorio (Jay Novello) paints a mural of a naked woman on the side of a barn it places him and Bronson in trouble with the owner, Sid Casper, and the city locals. Still, more problematic than defacing private property, the painting causes emotional anguish to Sid, the deputy sheriff Hud McCarver, and Will Hudson, because they all think the painting is a picture perfect representation of their respective wives.|
|18||"That Undiscovered Country"||January 28, 1970|
When Bronson arrives in an Amish community his tales of the "outside world" captivate a young man and woman, Harold Mueller and Dorothy Hofer, who are betrothed. Soon, Harold becomes jealous of Dorothy's attraction towards Bronson and heads out to see the world he has been missing. In the city, Harold meets the model Jan and, in the meantime, back in the Amish community, Dorothy ponders about love and the future.
Other actors: Rance HowardSongs: "Wonderin' Where I'm Wanderin'", "I'm Bound For The Mountains And The Sea" (both sung by Keil Martin).
|19||"Lucky Day"||February 4, 1970|
|Bronson travels to see his cousin Eve Bronson in Reno, Nevada. Eve (Lynne Marta) is engaged to Len (Barry Brown) and both decide to marry while Jim Bronson is in town. Jim gives his cousin money to buy a wedding dress but Eve impetuously chooses to gamble with the money at a nearby casino and catches "the fever". Eve's absence delays the wedding plans and Len confides to Bronson about his upcoming marriage and life.|
|20||"Mating Dance for Tender Grass"||February 11, 1970|
Bronson and Native American Boise Idaho both vie for the attention of beautiful Tender Grass (Buffy Sainte-Marie) by entering a cross-country motorcycle race. At first, Bronson is against the idea, but after constant provoking by Boise Idaho and his nefarious accomplices, Spare Parts One and Spare Parts Two, he decides to prove his courage and impress Tender Grass in the process.Song: "The Piney Wood Hills" (sung by Buffy Sainte-Marie).
|21||"The Mountain"||February 18, 1970|
|The elder Wilson Ford (James Whitmore) is a renowned novelist with a secret that motivates him to act with abandon. In order to hone his writing skills and to prove his mettle, he constantly puts his courage to trial by performing daring, bold, and often foolish acts. Against his wife's wishes, Ford cajoles Bronson into a mountain hike that pits Ford against a youthful Bronson in a dangerous trek.|
|22||"Still Waters"||February 25, 1970|
Harve Traine (John Colicos), publisher of The Pacific Grove Press, warns his community in a series of editorials about the ecological havoc industrial pollution is causing the local bay and surrounding ocean. Parochial financial concerns who advertise with Harve's newspaper cause Harve emotional hardship and possible financial disaster. His daughter, Petey Traine (Veronica Cartwright) and Jim Bronson both believe in Harve's cause. Does Harve stick to his editorial guns and face monetary ruin, or does he acquiesce to the wishes of his advertisers and in the process lose the respect of his daughter and Bronson?Songs: "Softly And Tenderly" (Parks), "Still Waters" (sung by John Bahler).
|23||"The Forest Primeval"||March 4, 1970|
|In this environmental narrative, Bronson takes a ride in the Los Padres National Forest and runs into trouble after his motorcycle falls down an embankment. Bronson decides to ride out of the forest by following the contour of the terrain. In the process, the trip imbues Bronson with a deep respect for nature and the environment.|
|24||"The Ninety-Nine Mile Circle"||March 11, 1970|
Much like the vagabond Bronson, widower Isadore Katz (David Burns) left his business in New York City and took to the road in a camper to experience new realities and meet new people. Bronson helps Isadore when he runs out of gas but later it is Isadore who helps Bronson after his bike needs repairs. In the process they share the beauty of the terrain and a friendship develops.Songs: "Every Time", "Tomorrow Calls My Name" (both sung by Gary Jayson).
|25||"The Mary R"||March 25, 1970|
Bronson helps his uncle Herman and his cousin Carl repair and restore a fishing boat. Carl is passionate about restoring the boat because it reminds him of his late mother yet Uncle Herman would prefer to sell the boat. When Beth (Beverly Garland), Herman's fiancée, demands that Herman choose between the boat or her, it forces Herman to make a decision.Songs: "Mary R", "Sail On" (both sung by Gary Jayson).
|26||"What's an Ark Without Centaurs?"||April 1, 1970|
Gus Samos (Morgan Woodward) hires Bronson to work on his yacht. Samos and his daughter Vhea (Anjanette Comer) are not communicating well because of their conflicting lifestyles and values. When Vhea leaves to see friends in a Buddhist community Bronson follows her. In the process both father and daughter question his motivations.Songs: "My Lady's A Wild Flying Dove" (Parks), but never released by him on any single, LP or CD.
The pilot telefilm was made available on DVD as a part of the Warner Archives collection from Warner Bros. on November 17, 2009. There have been no announcements on whether the 26 episodes will be released.
Three tie-in novels with original stories were published during the show's run: Then Came Bronson by William Johnston, and Then Came Bronson #2: The Ticket and Then Came Bronson #3: Rock! by Chris Stratton.
In popular culture
The series was also satirized by Mad magazine in a piece titled "Then Came Bombsome", which portrayed Parks smoking atop his Harley in the iconic opening scene at the San Francisco stoplight: "Takin' a trip"? "No, this is a regular cigarette I'm smoking."
Then Came Bronson has also been referenced numerous times on the film-mocking TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, usually in a scene featuring a lone figure riding on a motorcycle. MST3K writer Frank Conniff, who portrayed TV's Frank, is said to be a big fan of the short-lived series.
- Thomas, J.T. (2003). Riding in the Wind: A View from Behind Handlebars. iUniverse. p. 13. ISBN 0-595-26933-8.
- "Then Came Bronson DVD news: Announcement for Then Came Bronson - The Pilot". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2014-07-31.
- Biker Hotline | http://www.bikerhotline.com/pr/2014/14_bronson/
- "Pat Paulsens Half A Comedy Hour The Complete Series DVD with Pat Paulsen". swapadvd.com. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
- "Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site - Mad #135". Doug Gilford. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. Bantam Books. 1996.