Pilot movie: then came BRONSON

The pilot movie was aired by NBC on Monday, March 24, 1969, at 9 p.m., and was rerun on Saturday, August 2, 1969, also at 9 p.m. It starred Michael Parks as James Bronson and co-starred Bonnie Bedelia as Temple Brooks.
In the beginning of the movie, Bronson is called away from his desk at a newspaper office by a friend on the police department. There is a jumper on one of the San Francisco bridges who has specifically asked for Bronson. When Bronson arrives there, he recognizes a red motorcycle, parked underneath the bridge - he had once owned it and later sold it to a friend. He realizes it belongs to this friend, Nick (played by Martin Sheen), and goes over to try to talk him out of his suicide plan. When he feels Nick really is going to jump - "going over the high side," as Nick called it - Bronson lunges to grab him but Nick evades him and jumps to his death.
Bronson goes to Nick's widow, Gloria, to comfort her and, at Nick's last request, to buy back the motorcycle so that she will have some money.
When Bronson, who writes obituaries at the newspaper, submits one on Nick (before jumping, Nick had asked him to write about his life and death), his editor rebuffs him harshly, and Bronson quits.
Soon he is on the road wearing his trademark navy blue watchcap (which was given to him, as he rode off, by one of his "Stompers" motorcycle club friends) and leather jacket.
After settling his own affairs and saying some goodbyes, Bronson heads out of town on the Harley. Enjoying the exhilaration of his new-found freedom, he rides his bike along a beach until his recklessness spills him onto the sand. He rests for a moment, then gets up and walks down the beach, but comes upon a woman in a wedding dress who seems to be intent on suicide by drowning herself in the ocean. Having covered too many deaths while at the newspaper, and remembering Nick's suicide just a few days ago, he starts to run toward her, but she sees him and runs off. Later, while he is motorcycling down the coast highway, she runs him off the road, perhaps for thwarting her suicide attempt. He recovers and catches up with her, and kicks her car door in revenge. Their paths cross again at a gas station, and she looks to him for rescue after the police notice the car (apparently stolen from her jilted husband). They set off on the journey, camping in the woods by night, traveling and working by day, and eventually ending up at the farm of Bronson's widowed friend and mentor, Papa Bear (played by Akim Tamiroff).
Early in the trip, she refuses to help Bronson at a brick yard, where he has stopped to earn some money. She is spoiled and shows it, leading to the memorable quote by Bronson, "You don't work, you don't eat!"
Later, Bronson, tired of her selfishness and her distrust of him, takes her to a train station, where he buys a ticket for her to Los Angeles, after she refuses to go back to San Francisco. He leaves, but then returns, perhaps forgiving her and giving her another chance at friendship.
One evening, while setting up camp, she starts to open up a little. She asks where he is from, and he replies, "East Oakland. Alot of little ugly houses." She tells him she is from Hillsborough [a suburb of San Francisco], "alot of big ugly houses." Then she says that the two towns aren't that far apart, but he replies that there's quite a bit of distance between the two, implying aspects other than geography. After a moment, she says, "There's alot of distance between us, isn't there?" Later, they try closing the gap with a kiss, but it seems too hesitant, as if the distance is too far to bridge that easily.
They continue traveling toward New Orleans until one night they crash while trying to avoid a truck that has overturned and caught fire. Bronson is knocked unconscious, and later wakes up in a hospital bed, not quite able to continue on the trip, but thankful they didn't "go over the high side." When he has recovered, Temple walks him out of the hospital and he finds she has had the motorcycle fully repaired. Even though they know it is time for him to move on alone, they leave their goodbyes unsaid.
During the entire trip, she refused to tell Bronson her name, which eventually led to a feeling, on his part, that, without trust, they could never really find something lasting. Just before he rides off, he tries one last time, quietly saying, "You know, I don't even know your name." She finally says, "Temple." His head falls slowly, perhaps from a feeling of still being distrusted - because she only gave her first name. Her smile disappears as she realizes her mistake, and quickly says, "Temple Brooks." Bronson silently says her name once or twice, as if committing it to memory, and then says, "Hello, Temple Brooks." Smiling again, she replies, "Hello, James Bronson." He asks her if she needs a lift, but she says, "No. I've gone as far as I need to." Bronson starts the bike and rides off, with the song, "Poor, Wayfaring Stranger," sung a capella by Parks and Bedelia, playing over the credits.

The pilot movie was shot entirely in California (according to Bud Ekins, the stunt coordinator, cycle customizer and Michael Parks' stunt double for the movie and the series) - around San Francisco, Big Sur, Stockton and Sacramento. The scene at the train station was shot at the Holt train depot (west of Stockton). The scene where the lowlife drives Bronson's cycle into the water was shot at the Sacramento River (the sign over the diner says "King Island Resort").

From the TV Guide write-up in the March 22-28, 1969, issue:
"Then Came Bronson" (1969), the adventures of Jim Bronson, a man leaving his San Francisco past to search for meaning in life. On his motorcycle, Bronson heads south, joined at Big Sur by another searching soul - a runaway bride who elects to share his wandering quest. Filmed on location, this is the pilot for a fall series. (Two hours)

Cast and Credits (from the movie, TV GUIDE, and the International Movie Data Base [IMDB])
James Bronson - Michael Parks (Star)
Temple Brooks - Bonnie Bedelia (Co-star)
Papa Bear - Akim Tamiroff (Co-star)
Inspector Otis - Gary Merrill (Co-star)
Gloria Oresko - Sheree North (Co-star)
Nick Oresko - Martin Sheen (Co-star)
Editor Carson - Bert Freed (Co-star)
Troy - Bruce Mars
Diner Owner - Ted Gehring
Petty - Michael Bell
Boots - Gene Dynarski
Stationmaster (Railroad Clerk) - Peter Brocco
Deputy - Stanley Schneider
Businessman - Stu Klitsner
Eddie - Lawrence Hauben (IMDB, and TV Guide, March 22-28, p. A-34)
Ean - Woody Chambliss (IMDB)
Barker - Art Metrano (IMDB)

Written by Denne Bart Petitclerc
Produced by Robert H. Justman
Directed by William A. Graham
MGM Executive in charge of Production: Herbert F. Solow

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This page updated March 31, 1998 . . . . . . . . . this web page copyright 1998, except for the TV Guide write-up