Then Came Bronson

Then Came Bronson (1969–1970) was an ambitious dramatic series from M-G-M that aired on NBC for only one season. Michael Parks starred as Jim Bronson, a San Francisco journalist who “drops out” of mainstream society, hitting the road on a motorcycle to discover America—and himself—in the process. Beautiful location photography and an ambitious attempt at personal storytelling unfortunately could not sustain viewer interest—the show was ahead of its time.

M-G-M produced a two-hour pilot movie (airing March 24, 1969) and 26 one-hour episodes of Then Came Bronson. Disc four presents with the pilot score by the series’ primary composer, George Duning (tracks 2–18). Duning was familiar to Bronson producer Robert Justman from the original Star Trek (1966–1969), for which Justman hired Duning to score some of its most romantic, emotional episodes (such as “Metamorphosis” and “The Empath”)—having been impressed by Duning’s landmark feature film scores, such as Picnic (1955).

Duning brought a flowing, evocative style to Bronson—eschewing an attempt to replicate the musical tastes of the 1960s counterculture (that a character like Jim Bronson might have listened to) in favor of a traditional symphonic approach. The series’ main theme is a yearning, soaring blue-note melody that captures the romantic, quintessentially American idea of self-discovery by solitary exploration. (Star Trek fans may be amused to hear the similarities between Bronson and Trek: for instance, compare “Enter Temple” with the mysterious textures for the alien entity in “Metamorphosis.”)

Michael Parks had an aspiring career as a singer and often performed folk songs in Bronson episodes; the end titles of the series utilized his performance of “Long Lonesome Highway,” and MGM Records released his LP Closing the Gap as a tie-in to Bronson. FSM’s initial release of Bronson music includes Parks’s vocal (joined by guest star Bonnie Bedelia) of “Wayfaring Stranger” as heard in the pilot movie (track 13) and repeated for the telefilm’s end credits (track 18).

Two versions of Duning’s “Main Title” for Bronson are included on disc four: track 1 is the version heard in the episodes as broadcast, in which the first half was taken directly from the pilot cue “Bronson Away”; track 19 features an alternate in which the first half is musically similar, but re-recorded by Duning with a smaller orchestra for the first weekly episodic score—this version was never used during the series.

Nine composers wrote original scores for 21 out of the 26 weekly Bronson episodes: Duning (6 episodes), John Parker (4), Richard Shores (3), Gil Mellè (2), Stu Phillips (2), Elliot Kaplan (1), Dean Elliott (1), Tom McIntosh (1) and Phillip Springer (1).

The second half of disc four features the two Mellé efforts, both excellent albeit quite different from one another: “The Circle of Time” is a relatively traditional and acoustic score (by Mellé’s standards) for an episode involving an old woman (Elsa Lanchester) who lives alone in the Colorado mountains. “The Forest Primeval” is a more experimental jazz score for an unusual episode in which Bronson gets lost in Los Padres National Forest: scored for just eight musicians, Mellé reworked the score into a two-part, 14-minute jazz suite (“Waterbirds”) on his 1970 album by that name.

Following is a list of weekly Bronson episodes and their composers:

Ep.TitleComposerRec. DateAirdate
1The RunnerDuning8/1/699/17/69
2The Old Motorcycle FiascoDuning8/15/699/24/69
3A Famine Where Abundance LiesParker8/7/6910/1/69
4The Circle of TimeMellé9/11/6910/8/69
5Where Will the Trumpets Be?Kaplan9/4/6910/15/69
6Amid Splinters of the ThunderboltDuning8/28/6910/22/69
7The 3:13 Arrives at Noonlibrary10/29/69
8Old Tigers Never Die—They Just Run Away Parker9/25/6911/5/69
9Your Love Is Like a Demolition Derby in My HeartDuning10/23/6911/19/69
10Two Percent of NothingPhillips11/6/6911/26/69
11All the World and GodDuning9/18/6912/3/69
12A Long Trip to YesterdayParker11/3/6912/10/69
13The Spitball Kidlibrary12/17/69
14Against a Blank Cold WallElliott10/2/6912/24/69
16A-Pickin’ an’ a-Singin’library1/14/70
17The Gleam of the Eagle MindPhillips12/16/691/21/70
18That Undiscovered CountryDuning1/2/701/28/70
19Lucky DayShores1/8/702/4/70
20Mating Dance for Tender GrassParker12/18/692/11/70
21The MountainMcIntosh1/15/702/18/70
22Still Waterslibrary2/25/70
23The Forest PrimevalMellé2/5/703/4/70
24The Ninety-Nine Mile CircleShores2/16/703/11/70
25The Mary Rlibrary3/25/70
26What’s an Ark Without Centaurs?Springer1/21/704/1/70

FSM has access to the entire underscore recordings for possible future release (although not necessarily the Michael Parks songs)—send your requests to Lukas Kendall at the e-mail address on the FSM contact page. —