Bridget Hanley, a 1959 Edmonds High graduate who was best known for her role on the ABC television series Here Come the Brides, and whose family donated the log cabin that now serves as the downtown Edmonds Visitors Center, died last week at age 80 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.
According to an article in HistoryLink.org, Hanley starred 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 also acted in many other television shows, including a supporting role on Harper Valley PTA, and appeared in a variety of stage productions, many of them produced by Theatre West in Los Angeles.
Bridget Hanley was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Feb. 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.
In 1945, Lee and Doris Hanley moved to Edmonds with their daughters Bridget and Mary Jo). Bridget’s other sister, Molly, was born later. The Hanleys purchased some property from Gaston Ganahl in Seaview Heights neighborhood of Edmonds. (Ganahl built another home for himself on the remaining property, now the site of Seaview Elementary School.) Along with the main house, the property came with a small log cabin that Ganahl had built in 1931. In 1947 Dorie Hanley’s parents, John and Thyra Nihlroos, moved from Illinois and made the cabin their permanent home. John, originally from Sweden, added improvements that gave the cabin a distinct Swedish flare with Nordic-style flower boxes, gardens, cabinetry, shelves and trim.
John died in 1959 at age 73, and Thyra continued to live in the cabin for more than 25 years.
In 1975, Bridget Hanley’s 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.
Bridget Hanley 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.”
After graduating from high school in 1959, she 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.
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 Sept. 25, 1968, and received a thumbs-up review from Variety magazine.
According to the HistoryLink article, the show was a hit with young girls, who swooned over teen idol Bobby Sherman, 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, who played Joshua Bolt, one of the other brothers. Soul would later achieve prominence in the 1970s hit show Starsky and Hutch.
Here Come the Brides received impressive ratings during its first year, and was especially popular in the Pacific Northwest, HistoryLink notes. 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. Here Come the Brides had been renewed for a second season but ABC 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. 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.
By the time the show was canceled, Hanley had married film director E. W. Swackhamer, 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 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.
After Harper Valley PTA went off the air, Hanley continued to do television work. But she never lost sight of her Edmonds roots, and continued to return home at least once a year to visit with family and friends, HistoryLink said. By the 1990s, the 60-year-old cabin donated to the city by Hanley’s family 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.
Hanley died Dec. 15, while being cared for at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills, California.