Walking Away Whistling: The Heartache of Wandering in GREENWILLOW

Walking Away Whistling: The Heartache of Wandering in GREENWILLOW

Many of Frank Loesser's male characters experience an inexplicable urge to keep moving from place to place, without any obligations tying them down.  From the gamblers and their floating craps game in GUYS & DOLLS to Joe's beautiful ode to wandering in THE MOST HAPPY FELLA to Finch's avoidance of Rosemary's domestic intentions as he leaps up the corporate ladder in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, Loesser's men don't have settling down in their nature.

There's no better example of this than in GREENWILLOW.  Loesser and bookwriter/screenwriter Lesser Samuels (best known for his Oscar nominated films NO WAY OUT and ACE IN THE HOLE) created a personal, delicate look at small town life - and the effects unwanted wanderlust can have.

Unlike his counterparts from other Loesser shows, Gideon Briggs hopes to defy the yearning to travel that has plagued his family for generations.  As long as anyone can remember, every eldest male Briggs has suffered from an overwhelming urge to constantly be on the move, even if it means abandoning his family for months at a time.  Gideon's father being an eldest Briggs son, Gideon has grown up with this phenomenon and has seen firsthand how the hardship of being left behind.  Gideon, as an eldest son himself, vows to end the curse by never getting married; no family means nobody to hurt when he inevitably leaves town, and it guarantees no sons.

This alone is a departure from the usual Loesser model; usually, Loesser's wanderers fully embrace their lifestyle.  But not only does GREENWILLOW provide an exception in Gideon, but the show also shows the ramifications of wandering in a way that the other shows don't.  Loesser's other shows with wanderers contain female characters who want those men to settle down, but those shows emphasize the freedom of wandering more than the pain of the women left at home.

The quietly sorrowful "Walking Away Whistling" does that perfectly.  Dorrie, Gideon's girlfriend, resolves to keep Gideon out of her heart.  If he's only going to leave her after they marry, then why bother caring about him at all?  When Dorrie realizes this, her song makes Gideon's departure seem all too inevitable:

"I could lay him a table to plenty
I could spread him a bed of down
But a wandering man is a wandering man
And he'd never rest easy in town."

Like Rosemary's "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" from HOW TO SUCCEED, "Walking Away Whistling" expresses the woman's desire for domestic life.  Only, Rosemary's song is her dream, and Dorrie's song is the grim reality she fears is true.

Gideon's love for Dorrie overpowers his family's curse, ending the pattern of abandonment once and for all - and avoiding the heartbreak wandering can cause.

To license GREENWILLOW, visit its MTI show page. Discuss GREENWILLOW on its MTI ShowSpace page.