H is for Paul Henning and the Hooterville Trilogy

A man named Paul Henning was creator or co-creator of a number of TV shows. For this piece, I’m going to concentrate on what has been dubbed the Hooterville Trilogy, all appearing on CBS-TV in the 1960s.

The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) starred Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett. If you’ve heard the theme song, written by Henning and performed by bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs, with Jerry Scoggins on vocals, you know the whole story. Poor mountain man finds oil on his property and moves his family to southern California, where they are in a series of “fish-out-of-water” situations. The show also starred Irene Ryan as his mother-in-law, usually referred to as Granny; Donna Douglas as his daughter Elly Mae; Max Baer, Jr., son of the boxer, as his nephew Jethro, and occasionally as Jethro’s sister, Jethrine. Also featured, the conflicted banker, Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey) – he liked their money in his bank, but not always their antics; and Drysdale’s put-upon assistant, Jane Hathaway (Nancy Culp). There was an occasional appearance by Jethro’s mom, Pearl Bodine, played by Bea Benaderet, who was the original voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones.

To understand just how popular The Beverly Hillbillies were in the US, look at a list of the top rated show episodes of all time. Over 20 are Super Bowls; eight are from miniseries (six Roots and two The Thorn Birds); three are series finales (The Fugitive, M*A*S*H, Cheers); 11 are special/rare/highly anticipated events (the Beatles on Ed Sullivan; Olympic figure skating with Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding; the “Who shot J.R.” episode of Dallas, e.g.) The highest rated “regular” TV shows on this list: some episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies from 1964.

The network wanted more, so Henning created Petticoat Junction (1963-1970), featuring Bea Benaderet, the proprietor of the Shady Rest Hotel, on the train line, just outside the town of Hooterville. The widow Kate Bradley had three pretty daughters, Betty Jo (redhead), Bobbie Jo (brunette), and Billie Jo (blonde), who we see in the opening, skinnydipping (presumably) in a large railroad water tank. Here’s the season 1 and season 3 theme song, written by Henning and Curt Massey, and sung by Massey. Billie Jo was played by three different actresses over the years, the longest by Meredith MacRae, daughter of singers Gordon and Sheila MacRae. Bobbie Jo was played by two actresses, the latter, Lori Saunders. Betty Jo was played by only one actress, Linda Kaye, who was the voice of Jethrine on the Beverly Hillbillies; not incidentally, she was Paul Henning’s daughter. Maybe that’s why, even though she was the youngest, she was the one to win the heart of handsome pilot Steve (Mike Minor).

When Bea Benadaret died in 1968 from lung cancer, a new character, Dr. Janet Craig, was created, requiring a change in the theme lyrics: “Here’s our lady MD, she’s as pretty as can be”. She was played by June Lockhart (pictured with the latter Jo’s), who had played mom to Timmy and Lassie, and on Lost in Space. Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan), who’s “a movin’ kinda slow” was the only actor to appear on every episode.

A direct spinoff of Petticoat Junction was Green Acres (1965-1971). CBS offered Henning yet another half-hour on the schedule, but he didn’t have the time, so he suggested his buddy Jay Sommers to create the series. A New York City lawyer, Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert), decides to ditch city life for the country, much to the chagrin of his fashionable wife Lisa (Eva Gabor); it’s all there in the theme song, written by Vic Mizzy, and sung by the stars themselves. Interestingly, Lisa seemed to fare better than Oliver in encounters with the wacky locals. The shopkeeper Sam Drucker, played by the late Frank Cady, was a regular on Petticoat Junction, and even appeared on the Beverly Hillbillies, but who was a pivotal player on Green Acres. Despite decent ratings, Green Acres was cancelled due to the infamous “rural purge” decision by CBS.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow, had indicated back in 1961 that television was a “vast wasteland” of violence and frivolity, and to the latter category, these shows were often guilty. Yet, much of my misspent youth was spent watching these programs.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

0 thoughts on “H is for Paul Henning and the Hooterville Trilogy”

  1. Thanks for a journey back to my childhood with the Beverley Hillbillies and their ‘cee-ment’ pond. It used to be on UK tv around 6:30pm if I remember rightly, along with the likes of Gilligan’s Island.

    I also recall Petticoat Junction, but without the same fondness for some reason. And I’m sure Green Acres made it over here too, although no detail springs to mind.


  2. OMG What smiles this post brings up (I remember ALL their theme songs…what does that say about me?). My full name is Meryl Jo and I can’t tell you how I was taunted when Petticoat Junction came on!!!! LOL. Thanks for the smile (and for the help with the linky). Have a great week.


  3. Nostalgia for me too. I watched them all but I do think The Beverly Hillbillies was the best.
    Thanks for showing how they all fit together.
    TV is full of violence and frivolity…..ya think?????


  4. Wow! Like the others, you’ve taken me waaaaaaaay back to my childhood days watching the likes of these shows! Great post, Roger. And thanks for putting my post up.

    abcw team


  5. I recall that the “Television is a vast wasteland” quote often came up when The Beverly Hillbillies was mentioned, the show being Example A. But you’re right, everyone watched the show and almost everyone was ashamed because they “knew” it was lowbrow. Funny how such things are so important and universal for a while, and then they pass, forgotten.

    That list of most watched TV shows is fascinating. Think about it: far and away the most watched TV show of all time was a special episode of MASH from 1983. Only some of the Super Bowls come close.


    1. It’s possible that one or two Super Bowls since that list was made (2009) have out stripped MASH, but “regular” shows are no longer appointment television.


  6. I grew up watching all three of these shows. They touched the American heart whether you were a City mouse or a country mouse there was something there for you to love.
    I can only read the name Oliver as ” Ollie-VAAA” in Lisa’s voice in my head thanks to Green Acres!


  7. Well I’m a hugh fan of all of this productions. My favorite I think would be “Petticoat Junction”. I ejoyed them all and if I can find re-runs I watch them.


  8. Yes, i remember all these shows, too. I loved to pick out the crossover bits and thought that was very clever – even at my very young age ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And I think their frivolity was way better than what is on television now with the reality shows.


  9. I remember the Beverly Hillbillies. In the fifties and sixties I didn’t watch much TV, only in the weekends, when we stayed with my mum. Our first TV set we got in 1970. It had two channels, only Dutch. Now I have more than 300 channels.
    Thank you for your informative post, Roger!


  10. Fascinating look back at a bygone era. I vaguely remember watching repeats of the Hillbillies on british tv in the 1970s- but didn’t really like it as much as other US programmes we saw- I was more into the Munsters, Partridge family, Brady Bunch & Little House on the Prairie at the time ๐Ÿ˜‰ Amazed we ever got to see any British tv in the UK with all the US imports !


  11. Dear Roger,
    You have certainly awaken my memories. I will have to say that I honestly enjoyed all of them. They were family shows….not like what they have today!! Thanks for sharing sir!


  12. I think Green Acres is back on television. Funny how some reruns show how society has come a long way when we give it a second look on some issues. I think all the โ€œfish out of waterโ€ themes are kind of timeless, though. ๐Ÿ™‚


  13. I only remember Beverley Hillbillies being shown over here, and still is in the deepest recesses of digital TV. What a great cast it had. I still love that opening sequence.


  14. Come ride a little train that is rollin’ down the tracks to the junction (Petticoat Junction!). I grew up on all these because, out in Apalachin, we had an antenna and could only pick up Channel 12. The only time I hated any of P.J. was when Meredith McCrea (daughter of singer Gordon of “Oklahoma” fame) sang. UGH!

    Eva Gabor was a hoot then and all her life. So much more fun than her sisters, and when she’d say, “This is a Filmways presentation, dahling,” we’d all laugh. Also, of course, Donna Douglas did the tag for Hillbillies, and she was on a fabulous episode of fellow Binghamtonian Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” OK, that’s it. I loved this post, Roger. Thanks, Amy


  15. Loved all three of these. Sveeral years ago my hubby and I went to a famous couples valentines costume party as the couple from Green acers. It was quite the Hoot!


  16. I watched all of these programs, probably in first run, though it’s their reruns that I have the clearest memories of. Green Acres amused me the longest, maybe because I always enjoyed Eddie Albert. A nice trip down memory lane.


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