Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Paul Henning and the Beverly Hillbillies.

In 1962 Paul Henning created what would be his most famous TV show. It was the Beverly Hillbillies. It aired on CBS from September 26th 1962 to September 7th 1971. It is said to be the most successful sit-com of the 1960’s. It was at first to be called the Hillbillies of Beverly Hills. It was so popular even its theme song, the Ballad of Jed Clampett, was a huge hit on the country charts by Flatt and Scruggs. It starred Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett who struck oil on his property. He became an instant millionaire and he moved his family to Beverly Hills, Ca. Mr. Drysdale as played by Raymond Bailey was the banker who was always trying to make sure the Clampetts stayed in Beverly Hills and their money stayed in his bank. Mush of the humor came from misunderstandings. For example Jed would say that he was going hunting for crawdads while talking to Mr. Drysdale. Another millionaire would over hear them and think it was a special vehicle for the military that he was investing in. He would start looking into it. The military would actually have a top secret vehicle called crawldads and would send an officer to Beverly Hills to find out how Jed knew about their top secret. Many would be embarrassed when it was found out he only wanted to go hunting.
Buddy Ebsen almost passed on taking the show. He said two things changed his mind. One was that when he read the script he didn’t want to do it because Jed wasn’t funny. His agent pointed out to him that Jed was really the straight man and any good comedy needs at least one straight man. The second is that he asked a friend of his if he thought he should take the part. His friend said he shouldn’t because he thought the show would flop. He said that helped him decide to take the part. You see his friend never knew when something would be a hit. When he didn’t like something it was usually a big hit. His friend didn’t even like Barnaby Jones and told him not to take that role too.
Jed wasn’t the only straight man on the show. Nancy Kulp who played Jane Hathaway was also the straight woman in most scenes she was in. However, that was not always true if Jethro was in the scene. Jethro was played by Max Baer Jr. He was Jed’s nephew and he moved out with them to California. He was a big, strong, handsome man who all the girls wanted to be with and Miss. Hathaway was not always thinking straight when he was around. Jethro had the problem of being a child in a man’s body. He only had a six grade education. Since that was the farthest anyone in the family went in school he was considered the scholar in the family. Jethro was one of the funny ones on the show as he was always trying to be something bigger then he really was. He was usually trying to be a big time movie producer or a secret agent. Or as Jethro would say he wanted to be a “double not-not spy.” Of course this was his way of referring to the double 0 in 007. Jed and Mr. Drysdale were always humoring him by setting him up with jobs where he had the title but not the responsibility of the job. This usually backfired as somehow he would actually wind up producing a movie or taking on a job meant for a real private detective.
Jed’s daughter Ellie May was played by the beautiful Donna Douglas. Donna was previously seen in the Elvis film Frankie and Johnny. Everyone was always trying to find Ellie a husband. She was beautiful, sweet and rich so getting her married off should be easy. However, it was usually complicated because she loved wild animals and had to always have raccoons, snakes, possums etc. around. Also, she was always stronger then the men she dated.
The character who made the show was Granny as played by Irene Ryan. Granny hated moving from the hills to the city. She was always cooking and making people sick with her food. However, this was no problem to her as she was a country Dr. and used her home remedies to heal them. Most of the time the cure was even worse and usually involved her home made moonshine. Granny was the break out character. Irene was the best actor on the show and she won the Emmys to prove it. She passed away before they made the reunion movies based on the series. The first was a hit but the second didn’t come off as well. The problem was that when you see Buddy Ebsen and others as the Clampetts you expect to see Irene Ryan as Granny. When they did a big budget movie her presence was not missed as much since all the roles were recast. It didn’t hurt that they got Cloris Leachman to play Granny. She was probably the only woman in Hollywood who could have played the part at that time.
While all the actors seemed to get along not all was well. Max Baer Jr. and Paul were always at odds. Max thought that after all that time in Beverly Hills the Hillbillies should be getting more use to their surroundings. Stop calling the pool the cement pond and eating dinner on the pool table. They should start acting smarter. Paul refused because he thought the show would not be funny anymore. I know Mr. Baer became a successful movie producer in the 1970’s but Mr. Henning must have known what he was doing. The show was still popular when it was canceled in 1971. It is still popular in reruns today. This past summer my young cousin discovered it and thought Granny was so funny he watched it every day.
The above photo is from TV Guide.com. You can click on the title to go to their site.

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