Hanley, Bridget (b. 1941)

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 11/19/2018
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20572

Stage and screen actress Bridget Hanley grew up in the small Snohomish County shoreline city of Edmonds some 15 miles north of Seattle. She is best known for her role as Candy Pruitt on Here Come the Brides, a western with elements of comedy and drama that aired on ABC from 1968 through 1970. The show was loosely based on Seattle's Mercer Girls, who were brought to the frontier town in the 1860s, having been recruited by pioneer Asa Mercer (1839-1917) to work as teachers. Hanley has also acted in many other television shows, including a supporting role on Harper Valley PTA, and has appeared in a variety of stage productions, many of them produced by Theatre West in Los Angeles.

Raised in Edmonds

Bridget Hanley was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 3, 1941, to Leland "Lee" Hanley (1905-1985) and Doris Nihlroos Hanley (1914-1993). Her father was a former All-American football player at Northwestern University, and he and his brothers grew up in Spokane, where one of their neighbors was future crooner and movie star Bing Crosby (1903-1977).

In 1945, Lee and Doris Hanley moved to Edmonds with their daughters Bridget and Mary Jo (1939-2008). Bridget's other sister, Molly (b. 1953), was born later. The Hanleys purchased some property from Gaston Ganahl (1887-1958) in Seaview Heights neighborhood of Edmonds. Along with the main house, the property came with a small log cabin that Ganahl had built in 1931. In 1947 Doris's parents moved out from Illinois into the old log cabin, where they lived out their lives.

Bridget attended Edmonds High School, where she participated in a variety of activities. Besides being a cheerleader and member of the school orchestra, band, and choir, she was also elected president of the Drama Society and was a member of the Scholastic Honorary Society. Her senior year, she was voted by her class as being the "most talented."

Heading to Hollywood

After graduating from high school in 1959, Hanley enrolled in the San Francisco College for Women, but transferred to the University of Washington two years later, where she appeared in 17 productions. She also appeared on Seattle's KCTS-TV, making station-break announcements to promote upcoming shows. In 1962, Hanley graduated with honors from UW with a bachelor of arts in drama.

Hanley moved to San Francisco where she landed a role in a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, her first professional acting gig. This led to the lead role in a touring production of Under the Yum Yum Tree, which brought her to San Diego and then to Hollywood.

Her first television appearance was in an episode of Hank, and this was followed by spots on Gidget and The Farmer's Daughter. In 1966 she signed a contract with Screen Gems and was soon appearing in many of the studio's shows, including Bewitched, Love on a Rooftop, I Dream of Jeannie, and the Flying Nun.

Here Come the Brides

In 1968, Screen Gems began developing a new show loosely based on Seattle's Mercer Girls, who were recruited in the 1860s by Asa Mercer to move to the frontier town to work as teachers and to increase the number of marriageable women in a territory whose population of new settlers was predominantly male. The show, also inspired by the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, would be a mixture of drama and humor.

Hanley thought that she would be perfect for the part of Candy Pruitt, the unofficial leader of the brides, and fought hard to secure it. She tested better than all the other actresses who tried out for the part, and was cast in the role. Here Come the Brides debuted on ABC on September 25, 1968, and received a thumbs-up review from Variety magazine.

The show was a hit with young girls, who swooned over teen idol Bobby Sherman (b. 1943), who was cast as Jeremy Bolt, the youngest of three brothers and Candy Pruitt's love interest. The show also provided a breakout role for David Soul (b. 1943), who played Joshua Bolt, one of the other brothers. Soul would later achieve prominence in the 1970s hit show Starsky and Hutch.

Also in the cast was screen actress Joan Blondell (1906-1979), who played strong-willed saloon owner Lottie Hatfield. In interviews made while the show was still in production, Blondell referred to her character as Mama Damnation, a name perhaps based on the actual Mother Damnable -- Mary Ann Conklin (1821–1873) -- a pioneer Seattle hotelier known for her salty language and feisty temper. The character was toned down and the name Damnation was dropped (this was 1960s family-oriented television, after all) before the show aired.

The Bluest Skies

Here Come the Brides received impressive ratings during its first year, and was especially popular in the Pacific Northwest. The show's theme song was originally instrumental only, but midway through the first season lyrics were added and "Seattle" soon became a hit for Perry Como (1912-2001). Many in reputedly rain-soaked Seattle enjoyed hearing about their city in song, especially one that began "The bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle."

Besides Hanley, another Northwesterner made an appearance on the show when Bruce Lee (1940-1973) was cast as a Chinese immigrant on the first season's penultimate episode. The same day that episode aired, Hanley arrived in Seattle as a special guest of the newly created Seattle Pilots baseball team, who would soon play their first home game. At a welcoming ceremony for the team, Hanley presented a garter and a kiss to Pilots pitcher Gary Bell (b. 1936).

Hanley did some interviews with local newspapers and media outlets, and then headed back to Los Angeles to film more of Here Come the Brides, which had been renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, when the new season began in September, ABC had changed its schedule and moved the show from 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to 9 p.m. Friday, a time then known as a dumping ground for unwanted shows.

Sure enough, ratings tanked and production was halted in the spring of 1970. Reruns were shown after that, and the final primetime episode was broadcast in September 1970. There were not enough episodes for the show to make it into syndication, although Seattle's KOMO-TV often aired reruns and it eventually showed up on cable (and on VHS and DVD) many years later.

Harper Valley PTA

By the time the show was canceled, Hanley had married film director E. W. Swackhamer (1927-1994), whom she had met soon after she signed on with Screen Gems. The couple dated for two years and wed on April 26, 1969. Swackhamer already had a son and a daughter from a previous marriage, and he and Hanley later had two daughters of their own.

After Here Come the Brides, Hanley continued to guest star on various television shows, including The Odd Couple; Nanny and the Professor; Welcome Back, Kotter; and Emergency!, and made multiple appearances on Love, American Style, an anthology series of romantic comedies. She also did some stage acting at Theatre West in Los Angeles.

In 1980, Hanley got her next big break when she was cast in the television sitcom Harper Valley PTA, starring Barbara Eden (b. 1931) as a single mother who fights petty prejudices in a small town while trying to raise her daughter. Hanley played Wanda Reilly, daughter of the town's patriarch and a comic nemesis for Eden's character. The show ran for two seasons and won its time period almost every week during its first season.

Saving the Cabin

After Harper Valley PTA went off the air, Hanley continued to do television work, appearing on such shows as Mama's Family, Columbo, and Murder She Wrote. By the 1990s, she had turned her attention entirely to the stage, and her last television appearance was on Kung Fu: The Adventure Continues in 1996.

Hanley never lost sight of her Edmonds roots, and continued to return home at least once a year to visit with family and friends. In 1975, her parents sold their property and donated the old cabin to the City of Edmonds, thinking that its restoration would make a good project for the U.S. Bicentennial commemorations coming up the following year. The cabin was moved next to the Edmonds Historical Museum and became home to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, which put the building to use as a visitor center.

By the 1990s, the 60-year-old cabin was in desperate need of repair and a citizen's committee, led by Hanley's sister Molly, was created to save it. The group raised more than $100,000 in donations to replace the roof and timbers and construct a new foundation. The restored Ganahl-Hanley Cabin was presented again to the City of Edmonds in November 2000, and Bridget Hanley was on hand for the ceremony.


Sources:

"Channel 9 Takes on Glamour Image," The Seattle Times, March 17, 1963, p. TV-1; "Pioneer Seattle Gets TV Treatment," Ibid., March 1, 1968, p. 25; "Much Anticipation for 'The Brides'," Ibid., September 8, 1968, p. TV-30; "Notes and Quotes from the Wasteland," Ibid., October 8, 1968, p. 22; "Here They Are Seattle," Ibid., April 10, 1969, p. A-1; "Bridget's Belated Wedding Rites," Ibid., April 24, 1969, p. 55; "Harper Valley Star Came From Edmonds," Ibid., April 14, 1981, p. B-8; "Some Football Family! Hanley History Includes Greats of College," Ibid., March 25, 1981, p. 18; Mark Rahner, "The TV Series 'Here Come the Brides' Put Seattle on the Pop Culture Map," Ibid., May 16, 2006, p. E-1; Rebecca Teagarden, "Bridget Hanley -- Always a Bride," Ibid., June 11, 2006, Pacific NW Magazine, p. 8; Bridget Hanley's Official Website accessed September 7, 2018, via Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/web/20070121181341/http://www.bridgethanley.net:80/index.htm); "Edmonds Historic Log Cabin," Edmonds Patch website accessed September 9, 2018 (https://patch.com/washington/edmonds/edmonds-historic-log-cabin); Lord Gangway, The Here Comes the Brides Book (Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2009); "Bridget Hanley," Internet Movie Database website accessed October 8, 2018 (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0360063/).


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