Best of the West.
The episode’s called “Daniel’s First Love.” Ten year-old Daniel Best, the reluctant western pioneer, has a crush on a new girl in school, thirteen year-old Jolene Hickerson, whose family hails from “hill country”, where people marry young. Jolene’s relationship with Daniel incenses Jolene’s “intended”, Jimmy-Jack McInerny, to the point where Jimmy-Jack refuses to go ahead with the wedding. Seeing the marriage plans obliterated, and aware of who’s responsible, Jolene’s irate father insists (at gunpoint) that Daniel replace Jimmy-Jack and marry Jolene instead.
That’s the basic premise of the episode. A ten year-old boy unexpectedly finds himself married.
I thought it was hilarious.
In the Second Act – be patient, there’s a point coming – Jolene and Jimmy-Jack reconcile and decide to run off together. Daniel, who “loves” Jolene, strongly objects. Jolene tries to explain why their situation is untenable.
Daniel, our marriage, it’s not a real marriage. Do you know what I mean?
That’s what I mean.
Realizing his position is hopeless, Daniel reluctantly relents. But not before asking for one final favor.
At least you can give me a good-bye kiss. For the good times?
At this point, the script (which I dug out of the garage) says this:
JOLEEN LOOKS TO JIMMY-JACK. HE SHRUGS. SHE GOES TO DANIEL. THEY KISS. DANIEL PUTS ALL HE HAS INTO IT. INCLUDING A DIP. FINALLY, THEY BREAK, BUT REMAIN IN THE DIP.
(ENTIRELY CAUGHT OFF-GUARD) Yes. But I’m leavin’ a little sadder.
The episode played beautifully, especially on television. (Someday, I’ll write about how some episodes play better on TV than they did in front of the live audience, and vice versa.) My girlfriend, Dr M, who was just M at the time, was not at all happy. She had a serious problem with the kiss.
M thought it was outrageous for me to have forced a young actor into such an inappropriate situation. A ten-year old boy, delivering a deep, passionate kiss (though it’s unlikely he actually delivered one)? She found it disgusting.
(And she may have harbored some second thoughts about me.)
Executive Producer, Earl Pomerantz, defended his actions. We’re doing a comedy, I explained. We are endeavoring to get laughs. It is precisely the “inappropriateness” that makes the “kissing moment”, and the entire episode, for that matter, funny. (For heavens sakes!)
There was no winning that argument. There was only (possibly) losing the girlfriend. At some point, we agreed to disagree and we let the subject pass.
Writers own their characters. They can make them do anything they want. And they do. (Two and a Half Men has an uncle bringing a parade of women home to have sex with, with, at least at the beginning of the series, a young kid living in the house. The problem is, you consider such behavior inappropriate and there’s no Two and a Half Men.)
Even though they’re imaginary, it’s worth considering whether a writer has a responsibility to the characters they create (and the actors who portray them). Twenty-something years later, looking back on that kissing moment in “Daniel’s First Love”, I’m thinking probably I was wrong.