If you’re here today, it’s a good chance that you came to this site due to the news that Michael Parks has passed away.
I’ve had this site for 15 years plus and it has long been a source of joy to me for lo these many years.. Its put me in touch with thousands of people from literally all around the world.
I remember vividly my first contact with “Then Came Bronson” on NBC-TV in the fall of 1969 when America was in a strange and dangerous state.
I was 22 years old, and waiting for that letter from the draft board which would announce “Greetings” from the selective folks which would mean a quick ticket to Asia to shoot people I didn’t know. I was at the time riding a BSA Lightning 650, working in a GM plant and married with a 2 year old son and going to college. As it turned out the letter never came.
But, I was always fascinated with the show’s opening. The guy on the bike interacting with the guy in the station wagon(who I was on the way to becoming - I actually had a station wagon then). “Man I wish I was you”, And man, I wished I was him. Crank up the Sporty across the Bixby Creek Bridge and leave it all behind. I knew I’d never become the guy in the station wagon.
Fast forward a few decades and a couple of wives and two more kids later and here I am on the interwebs running Windows 98 searching for “Then Came Bronson”. Long story short, I found it in various incarnations on VHS tapes. Watching them 30 years out was an amazing time trip. Went to the domain name seller and got the www.thencamebronson.tv name, which once I put it up resulted in an amazing response from people who were of the same mind. Over the years I also heard from many people who were directly involved in the production of the series and they all had wonderful things to say about what great experience it was to have worked on the show.
I also developed a deep respect for Michael Parks over time. No one hit wonder he. The more I learned about Parks the more I came to agree with Tarrentino that he was one of the greatest actors of our time. His body of work is right up there with the greats, and in my opinion is right there with Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck. Not many left who can speak of their relationships with Renoir and Lenny Bruce(Parks was a pall bearer at Lenny Bruce’s funeral). Though never reaching superstardom, Parks was certainly among the best of the best at his craft.
I’ll include obituary links below.
“Man I wish I was you.” “Oh really, well hang in there.”
GOD SPEED MICHAEL!!!
Michael Parks, Character Actor on TV and in Movies, Dies at 77
Michael Parks, a prolific character actor who found early fame in countercultural roles in the 1960s and later became a favorite of the directors Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 77.
His death was announced by his agent, Jane Schulman. She did not specify the cause.
Mr. Parks acted in more than 100 films and television series over six decades. Many of his early starring roles were in movies with anti-establishment themes like “The Happening,” a 1967 comedy about a group of hippies who kidnap a mobster played by Anthony Quinn, and “Bus Riley’s Back in Town,” a 1965 drama with Ann-Margret in which he played a man struggling to readjust to civilian life after three years in the Navy.
Mr. Parks starred as a disillusioned motorcycle-riding ex-reporter in the series “Then Came Bronson,” seen on NBC in the 1969-70 season. He also sang the show’s closing theme song, “Long Lonesome Highway,” a Top 20 hit in 1970. He recorded a number of albums throughout his career.
Mr. Parks found what were perhaps his most famous parts thanks to Mr. Tarantino, Mr. Smith and Mr. Rodriguez, all of whom turned to him again and again for meaty supporting roles.
Mr. Tarantino cast him in both parts of “Kill Bill” (2003 and 2004) and in “Grindhouse” (2007).
In 1990 and 1991, Mr. Parks played a Canadian drug runner in a few episodes of the David Lynch TV series “Twin Peaks.”
Sometimes Mr. Parks’s characters followed him from filmmaker to filmmaker. He played the Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Mr. Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996) and reprised the role in “Kill Bill” and “Grindhouse.” His son, James Parks, appeared in the “Kill Bill” movies as McGraw’s son, Edgar.
Mr. Parks was born in Corona, Calif., about 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, on April 24, 1940. Survivors include his wife, Oriana Parks, whom he married in 1997, and his son.
Mr. Smith gave Mr. Parks major roles in his horror comedy “Tusk” (2014), which also starred Justin Long and Johnny Depp, and “Red State” (2011), in which he played a murderous preacher. On Wednesday he called Mr. Parks “my cinematic muse” and “the best actor I’ve ever known.”
“I wrote both ‘Red State’ and ‘Tusk’ for Parks, I loved his acting so much,” Mr. Smith wrote on Instagram, adding that Mr. Parks “brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set.”
Michael Parks, the brooding actor who broke through as television’s first easy rider on Then Came Bronson and resurrected by David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez as an icon of Hollywood cool, died yesterday. He was 77.
His death was confirmed by his talent agent Jane Schulman, who did not disclose a cause.
Born April 24, 1940, in Corona, California, Parks held various jobs – fruit-picking, ditch-digging, truck driving and fighting forest fires, according to Schulman – and married, briefly, at 16 before beginning the acting career that would span six decades. He started with a bit part on the ABC rural sitcom The Real McCoys and was the Biblical (and scantily clad) Adam in John Huston’s 1966 The Bible, and appeared here and there on episodic TV before riding to fame on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as the title character of NBC’s Then Came Bronson.
Though the show last only one season, Parks made a lasting impression as Jim Bronson, a loner who dropped out of society and onto the “long lonesome highway” – the title of the theme song that Parks himself sang – following the suicide of his best friend (played by Martin Sheen).
The episodic structure allowed Bronson to drop in (and out) of various American lives coast to coast, with new guest stars joining each week’s adventure. Kurt Russell, Penny Marshall, Jack Klugman and folk singer Buffy Sante-Marie were just a few.
Parks’ rendition of “Long Lonesome Highway” was released as a single, and reached Billboard’s Top 20. A scruffy looking Parks even sang on The Ed Sullivan Show to promote his “Long Lonesome Highway” album.
Parks worked steadily if without major note through the ’70s and ’80s, appearing on The Colbys, The Equalizer and The Return of Josey Wales, also directing the latter, a 1986 feature film sequel to the Clint Eastwood film The Outlaw Josey Wales.
The actor’s career was revitalized with Twin Peaks, the David Lynch sensation in which Parks played the murderous French-Canadian drug-runner Jean Renault. After that, he appeared mostly in feature films, a favorite of the hot ’90s directors who no doubt recalled Bronson. Over the next decades Parker would appear in Tarantino’s From Dusk till Dawn and Kill Bill films, Django Unchained, the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse, Kevin Smith’s Red State and Tusk, and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, among others.
According to Schulman, Parks was a close friend of both Jean Renoir and Johnny Cash, was a pall bearer for Lenny Bruce. His brief teenage marriage to Louise Johnson produced a daughter, and in 1997 Parks married Oriana Parks who, along with son James, survives him. Funeral services are pending.
For further articles and obits just Google Michael Parks.
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THE SHOW PREMIERED MARCH 24, 1969. DAMN!! WAS IT REALLY THAT LONG AGO?
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Ever wonder why the show seemed so special? Simply put it was an extremely fortunate confluence of a ton of extremely talented people. Starting with the creator Denne Petitclerc.
CHRISTMAS TREE ANGELS, ERNEST HEMINGWAY,
AND THEN CAME BRONSON
Where it all began.
CREATED AND WRITTEN BY
DENNE BART PETITCLERC
Born on May 15, 1929, in Montesano, Wash., Denne Bart Petitclerc was only 5 years old when his father took him shopping and told him to look at the big angel on top of a department store Christmas tree. "Stay here, son," he was told as he gazed at the angel. "I'll be right back."His father never returned.
Mr. Petitclerc and his older sister were soon placed in an orphanage in San Jose so his mother could go to school. His mother kept in touch with her children but lived her own life, according to relatives. At age 13, Mr. Petitclerc moved in with a foster family, dropped out of school and worked for a time in the oil fields. He wanted so badly to become a writer that he copied Hemingway's books in longhand, hoping the practice would teach him spelling and grammar.
After a brief stint with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, where he was nearly fired because of his poor spelling, he was hired by the Miami Herald. At the Herald, he became infuriated by a newspaper review that claimed the short sentence was Hemingway's only contribution to the English language. He wrote to Hemingway complaining about the review and recounted his own long hours studying the author's books. A week later, Hemingway called the newsroom and invited Mr. Petitclerc fishing, beginning a friendship that lasted the rest of the novelist's life and involved numerous trips to La Finca Vigia, the Hemingway home in Cuba.
Mr. Petitclerc covered the Cuban Revolution for the Herald and for The Chronicle(it was while working for the Chronicle that he came into contact with Birney Jarvis writer and former member of the Oakland chapter of Hell's Angels who would be the prototype for Jim Bronson) , where he went to work in the early 1960s. He wrote after Hemingway's suicide in 1961 that "the important thing that Hemingway had is still here and will be long after whatever it was that got him, gets you and me, and whatever comes after us."
In an era when reporters wore coats and ties, Mr. Petitclerc wore a Navy surplus coat and hat, looked like a merchant seaman and wrote prose that read as if from a Hemingway novel, according to his former colleagues. In a story about a bomb that was mistakenly dropped in San Francisco by a Navy plane, he described how it ricocheted around downtown office buildings and eventually "tumbled into the street below, hitting a Pacific Gas & Electric Company truck where three workmen sat munching their noon-time sandwiches." "Boy," one of the workers was quoted as saying, "next time we eat lunch with our hard hats on."
In 1962, he described the pain of baseball great Joe DiMaggio during the funeral procession for his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe. "Unable to contain his grief any longer, he had leaned over her pale, beautiful face, murmuring, 'I love you, I love you,' and kissed the still lips."
Mr. Petitclerc, who lived in Sonoma at the time, left The Chronicle in the 1960s to work as a writer on the television series "Bonanza." In 1969, he created the NBC series "Then Came Bronson," about a motorcycle-riding former reporter searching for meaning in life. He wrote the pilot for "The High Chaparral" and worked on numerous other television shows.
At the request of Hemingway's widow, Mary, Mr. Petitclerc served as an unofficial executor of Hemingway's literary papers, according to Wanda Petitclerc. As such, she said, he helped edit "The Garden of Eden" and "Islands in the Stream," which were published after Hemingway's death.
Mr. Petitclerc wrote "Rage of Honor," which was published in 1966 and "Le Mans 24," a sort of companion book to the Steve McQueen movie "Le Mans," in 1971. He also co-wrote the 1981 novel "Destinies." A semiautobiographical screenplay called "Papa" was in pre-production at the time of Mr. Petitclerc's death. It is the story of a young journalist who finds a father figure in Hemingway during the Cuban Revolution.
"He never got over being abandoned, and many of the things he wrote about involved fathers and sons," said his wife. "Hemingway was married four times and had been criticized by his kids for being absent most of the time. Their friendship filled a void for both of them."
Besides his wife of 35 years, Mr. Petitclerc is survived by sons Scot of Venice (Los Angeles County) and, from a previous marriage, Bart of Grass Valley (Nevada County); daughters Gayle Petitclerc of Seattle and Jackie Nelson and Patricia Petitclerc, both of Nampa, Idaho; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Bios of some of the other major players in the show's production will follow on later pages.
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"And Then Came Bronson"(That was the working title on the shooting script I have) was produced by MGM in 1968. The theatrical title was pared down to "Then Came Bronson" by the time it hit the small screen in the U.S. It was first shown in the U.S. on March 24, 1969 on NBC-TV as a movie of the week, starring Michael Parks and a red Harley Sportster. Coming close on the heels of the surprisingly successful "Easy Rider" cycle flick, NBC quickly adapted the movie to a one hour weekly series format. Contrary to popular belief, the TCB movie wasn't made in response to Easy Rider's popularity, it was in production pre Easy Rider. The movie version was released to foreign audiences as a theatrical feature film. The feature version was not shown to U.S. audiences for two reasons, and they were both on Bonnie Bedelia's bare chest(This version actually aired on TNT some years back. Unfortunately, the only version I was able to obtain was extremly low quality but the spirit was there) . I had speculated here that the NBC censors had made demands on the show's producers to tame down the Bedelia beach scene to make it suitable for American TV and therefore the scene had to be reshot. Wrong!! The real story was related to me by a very gracious gentleman who was crucial in the development and production of TCB. All you have to do is Google "Bob Justman" and you'll see that he is a giant in the industry and has a list of credits dating back to the start of Television's Golden Age. He was implemental in producing some of the finest products to hit both the small and large screen. He was kind enough to send me some TCB production stills and a couple of wonderful pictures of him and Gene Rodenberry. Enough said, Bob would be embarrased if I wrote all the praises I have for him, besides it's probably all been said before by his contempories.
Here's how the filming of that particular scene went down in his own words.
Re-shoot or Just Plain Shoot
There was never a "reshoot" of the bare breasted Bonnie Bedelia. There were always two versions: the first with Bonnie clad in the wedding dress and the second bare breasted, for a "foreign" version. We shot the 2 different versions on the same beach and same time. I should know because I was the producer of both the opening 2 hour movie and as well as all 26 episodes of the series. (Incidentially, I came up with the "eye of God" symbol for the Harley "sportster" gas tank. I sketched it out for Gabe, our art director on the 2-hour version and he refined it and printed a number of stick-ons for me. I still have a few left after all these years.) - Bob Justman 11-18-2003
There is a plaque that hangs in the Harley Museum in Milwaukee that immortalizes the TCB Eye. It has one of the aforementioned eyes mounted on it and describes TCB as a short lived 1969 television show that starred a Harley Sportster. It also mentions that the one in the museum is one of only five known to be in existence. In the course of our correspondence Bob sent me 4 of the original TCB Eye stickers. That would account for all of them. Two are going on my TCB replica Sportster, and the other two are mounted under glass. No doubt about it, Bob Justman is the personification of the term "class act". Here's thanking him for all he's brought to us over the years.
Goin' down that long lonesome highway. The pilot movie revolves around Jim Bronson, a young beat reporter in San Francisco. The opening scene has Bronson trying to talk his buddy Nick (played by a young Martin Sheen) out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Nick is fed up with his dead end factory job and admires Bronson's life. At the last moment before his suicide, Nick bequeaths Bronson his Harley Sportster, the most precious posession he has. After Nick goes through with the jump, Bronson attempts to console his widow. Returning to the newsroom he is confronted by a verbally abusive editor who pushes him over the edge himself. Confiding to a detective from the SFPD that "There's got to be something more", Bronson packs in the job and packs up THE BIKE, heading out the Pacific Coast Highway.
Don't jump Marty!! Think about "Apocalypse Now", "The West Wing", Charlie&Amilio!
Gonna live life my way.
Leaving San Francisco Bronson meets up with a haggard commuter stuck in rush hour traffic in a station wagon waiting at a stop light. This scene would become the opener for the TV series with the beleaguered organization man looking longingly at THE BIKE and, echoing the thoughts of fans for years to come, declares "Man, I wish I was you". To which Bronson gives the enduring reply,"Really? Well, hang in there." Roaring off across the Bixby Creek Bridge near Carmel on the scenic Pacific Coast Hwy, Bronson leaves the world behind and sets out on a series of adventures with the Big Sur and the Colorado Rockies as the backdrop. After running THE BIKE onto the beach and flipping out in a scene that suggests baptism and rejuvenation, Bronson witnesses a surreal scene on the beach involving a beautiful girl in a wedding dress (in the foriegn version, Bonnie Bedelia is bare breasted, but that was way tooooo risque for America 1969, so a silmultaneous shoot was done with her wearing a white bikini. Eventually in some versions though even that was too suggestive and the shot was pared down to just her bare shoulders.). The sexual tensions created in the nude scene are obviously more overt than in the TV version, which has an impact on the overall emotions of the whole movie(Whoa, big fella, you've apparently spent way too much time in Film Appreciation classes in college!). Needless to say, the runaway bride becomes Bronson's love-interest/antagonist for the rest of the film. True to form in the tradition of the old West, this modern day lonesome cowboy loves her and leaves her, riding off into the sunset not on a horse, but on an Iron Horse from Milwaukee with the "Eye of God" on the tank. The movie has taken on several permutations through various venues. There are differently edited versions around that were hacked up by TV station managers for various time considerations and to allow for more commercials. I've got a 16mm film print that I had converted to VHS that was missing a scene of about 6-8 minutes which seems to fit that criteria. I eventually found the lost footage and reedited it back into the 16mm conversion. Now through the wonders of Twenty First Century technology I've managed to digitize the movie and the entire 26 episodes onto 4 DVD disks and now on flash drive.
CREDITS ETC. The film brought Michael Parks, a James Dean look alike, to the attention the American public as Jim Bronson, the antithesis to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in that other 1969 cycle filck. Detractors quickly dubbed the show "Easy Rider Lite", but the Wednesday night series instantly attracted a huge following and is a cult favorite with Harley riders to this day. Many a Hog rider today got the inspiration to "live life my way" from the guy on the fire-apple red Sportster with the "Eye of God" on it. Inexplicably(I actually have found out why and will expound on that in the future), NBC cancelled the show after the initial 26 episodes of the first and only season. The Pilot Movie included the following credits:Click highlighted names for career credits. MICHAEL PARKS (Jim Bronson), MARTIN SHEEN (Nick),SHEREE NORTH(Gloria), BERT FREED (Editor), GARY MERRILL(Inspector Otis), BONNIE BEDELIA(Temple Brooks), AKIM TAMIROFF(Papa Bear) Written by: Denne Bart Petitclerc Directed by: William Graham
Really? Well, hang in there.
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Lest there be any confusion, this site is in no way connected with NBC,CBS,ABC, the BBC, or the CIA. It is also not connected in any with MICHAEL PARKS, BERT PARKS, ROSA PARKS, or THE NATIONAL PARKS. All TCB images copyright NBC/MGM or whoever currently holds them and are presented here for informational and educational purposes. In essence it is simply an homage to what was a very special TV show from a very special time, that for some unexplicable reason has remained lodged in the few remaining brain cells of this old hippie, and I've discovered that I'm not alone. It's my way of saying thanks for imbuing me early on with the philosophy that I was "gonna live life my way". It's a refrain that has stuck with me for all these years since 1969 and I'm still at it. Enjoy the site and come back often as it's in a constant state of flux. Just like Bronson, it's headed wherever the road leads. Thanks for the hit, and never never never!!!! let yourself become the guy in the station wagon!!!
HANG IN THERE!
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