Friday, March 29, 2013

Here Come the Brides - part I

I’ve been working on this analysis for quite a while and it’s grown very lengthy as I uncover more and more insights to (and from) this mostly-forgotten TV show. Remember, I work best on non-fiction when I’m 1) in edits, 2) have too many outside, real-life events that keep me from entering the world of my book.  As a result, I’m breaking this up over several blog posts and will publish each section separately over the next few weeks.

One of my must-see TV series as a young teen was Here Come the Brides. It aired for two seasons (1968-69 and 1969-70), each episode airing again during summer repeats and then forgotten. It didn’t even hit syndication until January 2011. By then, the first season had already been released on DVD for five years; the second season didn’t release until April of 2012.

I, of course, bought both seasons.

So what it is like, watching a beloved favorite of one’s youth, through the prism of time? Both fun and embarrassing. The show promoted the drinking of whiskey (often), gambling (occasionally) and fighting as a way to solve one’s problems (once in a while). It also promoted no sex before marriage, racial equality and women’s rights at a time when all the norms of modern American society were in flux.

Today I’ll cover the inspiration for the show, the show’s creators and the brothers (each of whom could get a post all by himself – and may yet!).

The Basics

Jason, Joshua and Jeremy Bolt (played by Robert Brown, David Soul and Bobby Sherman, respectively) own a logging camp just outside 1860’s Seattle, Washington. The small town has an overabundance of men, so these three stake their family property, Bridal Veil Mountain, as collateral on a bet that they can go East and bring back a hundred women as brides. Aaron Stemple is set up as the “villain” – the man on the other side of the bet who will gain the mountain if they don’t succeed.


This part began as a sidenote but I when I went to cite my sources, I discovered there was far more to where this show came from than a casual glance revealed. Hence, it deserves it’s own section.

There seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not this premise was taken from the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. IMDB says it was and I’ll admit, I worked from the same idea for years. Then I read Gangway, Lord! (The) Here Come the Brides Book by Jonathan Etter and discovered not everyone believed that.

Bridget Hanley (who played Candy Pruitt, the spokesperson for the brides) is originally from the Seattle area and makes mention of the “Mercer Girls” (Etter 180). A little further digging tells us about real-life Ada S. Mercer who went to Lowell, Massachusetts and brought back eleven ladies to level-out the male/female ratio in that part of the Washington territories.

So the show was (loosely) based on historical facts. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers also used the Mercer girls as inspiration. So did Calico Cargo, another musical treatment of the same event (Etter 419 and Kitsap Forest Theatre). It is also worth noting that the more famous musical spun off its own television series that aired in the early 1980’s (IMDB). Something tells me Hollywood is not done with this idea yet!

(Note: There is a website devoted to the stories of these individual women. Unfortunately, many of the links off that main page are broken.)


So who was it who said, “Let’s take the idea of the Mercer girls and turn it into a TV series? Well, that’s harder to answer than you might expect.

The credits in the opening for the show feature a slide with two statements: “Developed for television by N. Richard Nash” and “Based on a story by Alan Marcus”. Jonathan Etter makes note of the fact that Mr. Nash was working on a made-for-film musical of Here Come the Brides as early as 1960 with some of the same characters that later appear in the television series (although the musical was much rougher in both characterizations and language) (Etter 49-50).

So at first glance, one would assign Mr. Nash the lion’s share of the credit, especially when, according to IMDB, Mr. Nash worked on all 52 episodes as writer (developer), if it were not for one thing: neither Mr. Nash’s official biography page, nor his Wikipedia page mention this television series at all. Why? Was he ashamed of it? Or did he really only come up with the idea and then turn it over to others for implementation?

I then turned my attention to Alan Marcus, who, according to that title slide, wrote the story the series was based on. I first found him as a member of the Board of Directors for the Duende players, an acting company that brings theatre into schools. His biography refers to him as the creator of Here Come the Brides.

Wait. Creator? Two creators? Knowing Hollywood and how convoluted writing credits can get, I almost stopped there. But I persisted, returning again to Etter’s history of the series for information.

There wasn’t much. Two references only. One in a story told by Robert Brown (Jason Bolt) who was friends with Mr. Marcus. According to Mr. Brown, he told Alan Marcus to make sure he put his name on a story he’d written and still had rights to. As a result, Mr. Marcus received royalties each time Here Come the Brides played on television (Etter 138).

The second reference was one made by Bridget Hanley basically stating that she thought it was Nash who came up with the character of Jeremy (Etter 180), not Mr. Marcus.

Two sources now claiming Alan Marcus as the creator, two sources claiming N. Richard Nash as creator, with Etter’s book as a source for each, giving credit to both (although Nash gets an entire chapter to himself and Marcus only gets two one-liners*).

My conclusion? As often happens, two separate people came up with the same idea pretty much at the same time. This time, instead of making competing projects (which often happens), both men ended up at the same studio, working on the same project.

And I, for one, am glad they did. :)

The Brothers

You’ve got to love the very names of the characters, starting with the Bolt brothers. The strong alliteration formed when they are referred by that moniker (and they often are) immediately plants the idea that these are powerful men. Their surname sounds similar to the word “bold” and, when spoken quickly, the words can be jumbled together, further deepening our understanding that these are men to be reckoned with.

In addition, the word “bolt” stands for an object that holds things together, that’s dependable; its a fixed point in a moving world. Giving the brothers this surname gives them all those same traits. Remember, in the late 1960’s, America was a country in turmoil with an unpopular war, sexual and drug experimentation gone rampant, and feminists pushing for more equality. The Bolt brothers serve as a constant amid the chaos; they are strong men of principle the people of Seattle (and the viewers) can count on each and every week.

The brothers’ first names, however, provide a contrast to all that testosterone: Jason, Joshua and Jeremy all start with a soft sound. The “J” sound makes them human, willing to listen. It brings out the side of men many women want to see: the sensitive, caring side.

Jason Bolt is played with gusto on the part of Robert Brown. The character is larger-than-life, bold, a leader of Seattle as well as of his brothers. Other characters warn of his honey-tongue that can charm the birds out of the air and the fish out of the sea.

Unfortunately, his strength becomes his brothers’ weakness. Neither Jeremy nor Joshua can make a single decision without running to big brother Jason. Small problems or large, off they go, tracking Jason down and asking, “What do we do?”

Jason, of course, has the answer. He always does. He’s wiser, more experienced, trusted.

That’s not to say he doesn’t make mistakes. He does that, too. But he always owns up to them, taking blame when it belongs to him, showing everyone (including the viewers) what it means to be a Real Man.

Apparently, being a Real Man doesn’t include taking a wife. While Jason has his share of romances throughout the two seasons of the show, each time the two part (with regret, of course), leaving Jason free to flirt again in the next episode.

Joshua Bolt is played by David Soul (who would go on to play Hutch in the cop show, Starsky and Hutch). As the middle brother, Joshua has trouble fitting in and finding his place. Eventually, he’s established as the financial wizard of the brothers Bolt. Jason occasionally bows to Joshua's expertise on buying and selling, but, even here, the hierarchy is firm. Joshua gives input to the decision—Jason, however, is the ultimate decider, Joshua is simply a giver of information. He is, after all, the ultimate middle child.

Like Jason, Joshua has his affairs of the heart that come to a close by the end of the episode. Unlike Jason, Joshua wears his heart on his sleeve and love often makes him rash and foolish. He’s the quintessential Man in Love, which works because of David Soul’s real-life heartthrob status. Female viewers want to be on his arm and looking into those dreamy blue eyes as they walk into the pines together.

Which brings up his physical appearance. David Soul has the stereotypical Aryan look: blond hair and blue eyes. The producers knew they had to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so cast the part of Joshua to pull in a specific segment of the population: women who like tall, blond men and gentle blue eyes. He certainly wasn’t cast for any physical resemblance to the other actors playing Bolt brothers (both of whom have dark hair although one does have blue eyes).

Jeremy Bolt is played with coyness by Bobby Sherman, a singer who brought with him a built-in fan base of teen-age girls. Jeremy is the youngest brother, the one who never seems to do things right, the one the other two are afraid to trust because of his age and inexperience. That said, the older brothers are very protective of Jeremy, and are leery of putting him in harm’s way—because they understand harm often comes for the youngest and smallest.

Jeremy has another trait that sets him apart from the others, not only his brothers, but from the others in town—he stutters. This was an interesting choice on the part of the writers because recurring characters with disabilities were mostly ignored by American TV in the 1960’s (Ironside being the notable exception). What is laudable about this choice for the character is that the disability wasn’t played for comedy. No one laughed at Jeremy when he had trouble speaking. Instead, they showed patience and understanding – one of several ways this show bridged the roles of TV as pure entertainment and of social responsibility.

Jeremy has something to prove to the world. He occasionally whines when Jason chooses Joshua over him to go on an errand or do something dangerous and so, when he does get the opportunity, he is determined to make sure it goes right so Jason will see he’s a grown man and can handle the responsibility. Of course, whatever the task, it usually does not go right and big brother Jason has to get him out of the scrape.

Jeremy, however, the only brother who has a steady romantic relationship. While he and Candy have their share of arguments, the two always make up and serve as role models to American traditional marriage. There is no hanky-panky before the wedding (which we never get to see—the series was cancelled before the writers could get to that point).


I cannot end this discussion of the brothers and their roles without a nod to their respective heights.

An actor’s height often influences the way an audience reacts to the character he/she plays. While we all know, for example, that Tom Cruise is on the short side (5’7”), he is often filmed in such a way that he appears taller. Taller men get more respect and the casting directors of Here Come the Brides were well-ahead of the studies that prove it (you can read those studies here, here and here).

Until I started writing this paper, I truly thought Jason was the tallest of the brothers, followed by Joshua in the middle and Jeremy as the shortest. While that is true of the real-life actors, it isn’t true by as much as you might think.

As the eldest brother, Joshua tends to tower over the other two and Robert Brown, the actor who plays him, is broad-chested and six-foot two, a respectable height for any man. Joshua, as the middle brother, is the middle height—but David Soul, who plays him, is six-foot one—not a whole heck of a lot shorter than his character’s older brother.

Yet look at publicity stills from Here Come the Brides and you will see, in every case, Joshua appears MUCH shorter than Jason. For one thing, Soul is thinner than Brown, which helps force the perspective. For another, he’s often shown seated when next to the eldest Bolt brother, or when filmed, standing lower on the hill. The viewer is helped along with the idea that Jason is the more powerful by use of height.

Jeremy, of course, is the youngest brother and therefore, the shortest. Bobby Sherman clocks in at a respectable 5’9” tall – a scant three inches shorter than David Soul. Yet here, too, the filmmakers “force” the idea that younger is smaller with camera angles and actor placement.

The second season DVD has a publicity shot on the cover that perfectly shows this artifice: Jason stands tall in the center between Candy and Lotte, his arms crossed and his body leaning back as if he is the master of his domain. Joshua and Jeremy are seated below, Joshua to the right with his shoulders slightly slumped and Jeremy to the left, leaning in. The positions of these two imply a height difference closer to a half a foot rather than a scant three inches.

LOL! Okay, okay...I'll stop here for now. I could write on this forever, but will settle for this much today. Look for more Here Come the Brides posts in the future!

*I have some issues with the balance of reporting in Etter’s book that I’ve blogged about here. He has definite biases toward some of the characters and actors and favors them with more detailed accounts and a more thorough investigation. Because his book shows favoritism in some areas, I cannot be sure that the matter here between Nash and Marcus isn’t more of the same.

Edited to make correction: Bobby Sherman has gorgeous blue eyes as well. See here if you need proof.

Part II can be found here.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Nice analysis...looking forward to the next installment!