Sunday, May 26, 2013

Here Come the Brides Part II

Remember when I said, 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?  I should add a third reason: sometimes I like to procrastinate. Currently I have a cold and just can’t seem to get my clouded head into my work in progress. Instead, I’m coming back and finishing installment two of the promised Here Come the Brides analysis.  

If you haven’t read Part I yet, you can find it here.

This part will deal with the women of the series, starting with...

The Brides

The brides of the television show came from New Bedford, Massachusetts, not Lowell, MA where the original Mercer girls were from. Why the difference? I suspect it has to do with the fact that Lowell is land-locked and New Bedford is not. In the interest of storytelling, when you only have forty-eight minutes of time to use (remember, a “one-hour” show needs to leave time for commercials!), it is far easier to have the brides in a sea-side town where you can simply dock the ship rather than have to add in an overland journey.

While Ada Mercer brought eleven ladies to the west coast, the producers of Here Come the Brides needed more if they hoped to have a long-running series with lots of stories to be told. Therefore, Aaron Stemple’s bet with Jason Bolt is for a grand total of one hundred young women. If only ninety-nine arrive, Aaron wins the bet – and Bridal Veil Mountain, the Bolt brothers' treasured legacy (rest assured, all one hundred arrive and the mountain is secure, as are all future story lines).

Of the hundred brides the Bolt brothers brought (try saying that ten times fast!), however, only two are given regular status in the world of television acting, Candy Pruitt, played by Bridget Hanley and Biddie Cloom, played by Susan Tolsky. All the other brides are extras who serve as background scenery for various scenes. While there are a few semi-regular brides in the first season, many speaking brides are played by guest stars who have entire episodes built around their characters.

The two “permanent” brides, Candy and Biddie, like the Bolt brothers are also appropriately named (see Part I post).

Candy is sometimes short for “Candice” but in the TV show, however, she is never referred to by any other name other than “Candy,” so we can assume that is her full first name. It is not a period name for any time in the 1800’s, the first of many anachronisms we will find. “Candy” as a girl’s name doesn’t begin to appear on the lists of popular girls names until 1943, where it appears as #907 out of 1000 ranked names. It peaks at #267 in 1969 – the same year the series has its first season. It may not have been a popular name in the 18th century, but the TV series made it popular in the 20th. The 21st century, however, has a different take, with one baby-naming site calling it “too sugary sweet and inconsequential for a modern girl.” Hmmm...apparently we are all still girls...but again, another post for another day!

(Sidenote: Bonanza, another western from this era, also had a character named “Candy” – Candy Canadice – who was male!)

Candy Pruitt is among the first to become engaged. Her ongoing relationship with Jeremy Bolt (played by Bobby Sherman) is unique among the relationships in the series’ version of Seattle in that we never see them take the final step to the altar. We get to see other brides’ wedding ceremonies, but circumstances always keep Jeremy and Candy from taking that final step. This, of course, could be explained in two ways.

One, keeping them apart gave the writers lots and lots of story lines. Each time viewers thought the two might actually make it to the church, something would happen and they’d be split for at least another week. The writers must’ve had a lot of fun finding new reasons for the two of them never to get hitched. The season two addition of Candy’s young niece and nephew added even more plot lines and reasons to keep Jeremy and Candy from tying the knot.

And two, Bobby Sherman was a bubblegum pop star who brought a weekly audience of young girls to the show, all of whom wanted to be Candy Pruitt and get to stare into those dreamy eyes (full disclosure here: yes, I was one of those girls!). To marry him off to Candy would close the door on his character’s availability, therefore ticking off an entire segment of the show’s core audience.

No, better to keep the two of them apart and keep both the story lines flowing and the audience tuning in.

Biddie Cloom, the other recurring Bride character, is doomed to be a spinster from the start. Her first name refers to old, unmarried women who are more worried about their neighbors and the latest gossip than anything else. Modern day slang version isn’t much better: college-age girls who are air-headed and drunk most weekends. Her last name rhymes with “gloom” giving viewers a short-hand synopsis of her life. Based on her name alone we know this woman is an empty-headed female who gossips, likes her drink and will never find a husband, even among the most needy men of Seattle.

I remember being offended by how people treated Biddie when I watched it all those years ago and I was never sure if I was angrier at the people of Seattle (including all the leading players) or at Biddie herself. As an adult watching it now, that same feeling came to the fore again, a discomfort whenever she did something wrong and got scolded for it.

With the wisdom of age, however, I’ve figured out why I was offended – and it had nothing to do with Biddie’s actions or reactions. Time after time the people of Seattle tell her she’s “silly” or call her “addle-brained”. In general, they treat her shamefully. Yes, she is silly, she is an air-head who often gets things wrong and yes, those traits can be played for comedy (Lucille Ball, anyone?).

But Jason and Lottie and even Candy never find the humor in Biddie’s character, all they find is the irritation. Susan Tolsky saw Lucille Ball as a role model for comediennes (Etter 48) and Ball had those who scolded her (“Lucy! You got some ‘splainin’ to do!”). So why was it funny when Desi did it, but not when the characters of Here Come the Brides scolded Biddie?

I think the answer lies in love. For all their marital problems, Desi and Lucy were in love (at least publicly). He forgave her for every mistake, every problem she created.

But no one loves Biddie. She’s an irritant, a social mis-fit who gets passed over or passed around on the dance floor, pushed aside or worse, patted on the head like a little girl while they sigh at her incompetence.

Susan Tolsky had a great sense of comic timing and a wonderful aptitude for pratfalls and funny faces. It’s too bad the writers missed an opportunity to use her talents to the fullest. She could have made people laugh out loud instead of squirm in their seats.

(In the interest of keeping this post from growing too long, I will wait for a future post to talk about the other brides. Miss Essie, for example, was semi-regular in the first season, but we’ll save her for next time and, for now, continue with some of the other regular characters.)

Lottie Hatfield (played by Joan Blondell) is NOT a bride, yet she is the unmarried saloon keeper, a no-nonsense woman who runs a “clean” bar, meaning no dancing girls or hanky-panky allowed. Only good, old-fashioned drinking, although she also serves meals. Her first name is often the diminutive of “Charlotte” but again, since she’s never referred to as any way but by “Lottie” it’s fairly safe to assume that’s her full first name.

And that name, at least, fits the time period. “Lottie” is a top-100 name for girls at the end of the 18th century, when Here Comes the Brides takes place. In the first film treatment (when it was still going to be a musical), the character name was Lottie, but she had a different last name, so I’m going with Nash as being the namer of this character. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Alan Marcus’ wife was named Lotte – a similar enough name to cinch the deal.

As for her last name, Hatfield, I could find no reference that would make anything of it. The long-standing feud between Hatfields and McCoys was certainly common knowledge in the 1960’s when this series was created, but I can’t find any evidence that our good saloonkeeper was of any relation. It could be this name was chosen just because it sounded good.

Because, age-wise, she is among the older characters in the series, Lotte plays the role of the mother-character, not only to the brides, but to the Bolt brothers as well. She also serves as the town’s conscience, reminding them to do what is right, keeping the men in line even while serving them drinks. When the brides have a problem, it’s to Lottie they turn as their mother away from home. When anyone needs nursing, Lottie is there to take care of them. When Jason needs advice, it’s often Lotte he comes to, pouring out his troubles so she can offer a solution.

Of course, we cannot forget the last of the cast regulars, even if he isn't a woman, the loveable sot, Captain Roland Francis Clancey (played by Henry Beckham). I am amazed, watching through these second-season episodes, at how many he was in, not just as a side character, but as a lead, working himself up to one of the town councilmen by the second-to-last episode (“Absalom”).

Captain Clancy makes a regular run between San Francisco and Seattle, which is useful when the writers want to take the action outside of Seattle. He also serves as the town’s comic relief. He’s often drunk (on at least one occasion with Biddy Cloom), which allows for a great deal of physical comedy. Today’s mores do not often find drunkenness humorous, but 1968 is not now and I have enough of 1968 left in my soul to find myself smiling at the predicaments Clancy gets himself into.

It is worth noting that Captain Clancy and Lottie Hatfield have an off-again, on-again romantic relationship. More off- than on- to judge by the rolled eyes and ticked-off looks Lottie sends in Clancy’s way when he’s being particularly thick-headed. These are also the oldest two characters in the series, but where people turn to Lottie for advice and mothering, they see Clancy more as a buffoon than anything else.

These differing views of these two characters makes for some interesting by-play both between them and among the other characters. I’m sure this was done on purpose by the show’s writers as it gives ample opportunity for storytelling. Because these characters are older, it also gives the writers a chance to delve into their backstories, bringing up people from their past to complicate their current lives. A smart move on the part of the writers!

Where Lottie remains a static character, however, her essential personality never changing, Clancy cleans up his act in the second season. He still gets drunk, but less often, becoming a respected citizen of Seattle, even if he still makes his regular runs to other ports. It would’ve been interesting to see further changes in this character had the show run to a third season. Would Clancy have run for mayor? I’d like to think so.
Okay, stopping here. There are still a ton of topics (and characters) to explore and I’m still having fun, so you can be assured there will a third post somewhere down the line. If you haven’t read the first, you can find it here.

*You may also note I quoted Etter’s book less often in this post. That’s because his book deals more with the actors playing the roles than it does with the characters they played. I found the same problem with his episode guides. There are no synopses of the episodes, instead, each listing contains information on the actors and writers rather than detailing what happened in the episode. A good source for finding out how some of the people involved in the series felt about the series, but not a lot of discussion about the themes and mores the series represents.


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