Thursday, December 21, 2006

Paul Henning and Green Acres

With the success of two rural comedies CBS again gave Paul Henning a half an hour on the network with no pilot that had to be submitted for review. Mr. Henning was way too busy to create the show himself so he asked his friend Jay Sommers to do the honors. To me the Beverly Hillbillies always seemed like a TV version of Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town and Green Acres seemed like a TV version of the Egg and I. I can’t say for certain that either of those movies were what they had in mind when they were thought of. However, Mr. Sommers didn’t have to look too far back in his own history for creating the show. He had worked on a CBS radio show that was called Granby’s Green Acres. It was a summer series in 1950 that Mr. Sommers had created and it starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet as a city couple who moved to the country. The late Parley Baer who is most famous as the Mayor on the Andy Griffith Show and the voice of Ernie the Keebler Elf on commercials was the hired handy man who they called Eb on both radio and TV.
The TV show ran from September 15, 1965 to September 7, 1971. Out of the three shows that Henning produced this one was sort of the oddball in the group. It was more of a slapstick/absurd comedy. Surreal has been one word that more accurately describes the series. A fine example of this was when it was known that Mr. and Mrs. Ziffel had adopted a pig as their son and named him Arnold. Everyone in town treated Arnold like he was a real boy except Oliver Douglas. A running gag on the show was how the Douglas family couldn’t get a phone inside the house. Their phone line only went up as far as the top of the telephone pole. Whenever they had to answer the phone or make a call they had to climb up the pole to use the phone. The writers must have gotten tired of trying to devise funny ways for them to get up the pole as eventually they got a phone in the kitchen. At times they had fun with the titles on the show. I remember seeing Mrs. Douglas hanging out the wash to dry and on the shirts and towels it would have the names of the crew and cast members. On another episode Mr. Ziffel was standing at the front door. The credits would be rolling up behind him and when he turned around they quickly hid from him.
Oliver Douglas was played by Eddie Albert. According to TV Land the part nearly went to Don Ameche. When the producers met with him over lunch to discuss the series he was so picky about his food that they feared he would be just as difficult to deal with over the scripts. So they gave the part to Eddie Albert.
As fans of the series know Oliver was a rich lawyer who moved to Hooterville with his beautiful Hungarian wife Lisa played by Eva Gabor. Lisa was not happy about the move but had grown to love the town and the people over the years. The Douglas’ young farm hand Eb was played by Tom Lester. They were always helping him and giving him parental advice. While Eb did have parents he took to calling the Douglas’ Mom and Dad. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Douglas.
Just as Petticoat Junction spun off of the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres was a spin off of Junction. Since both shows took place in Hooterville it was a natural that they would cross over. Even the Clampetts came by to visit on both shows. Frank Caddy who played Sam Drucker on Junction was a frequent guest star on Green Acres and eventually became a cast member on both shows.
Green Acres never hurt for zany characters. There was conning door to door salesman Mr. Haney played by Pat Buttram, the absent minded county agent Hank Kimball played by Alvy Moore and the carpenters that nobody would want…the Monroe Brothers. Actually they were really brother and sister but for some reason their business was called Monroe Brothers. Sid Melton played brother Alf Monroe and Mary Grace Canfield played sister Ralph Monroe.
By 1971 all three of Paul Henning’s hit shows were canceled by CBS. They were all still popular but CBS wanted to use more urban shows that appealed to the more wealthy audience. After his shows were canceled Mr. Henning didn’t do what other producers have done. He didn’t try writing urban comedies or novels. With the exception of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he didn’t have his name attached to any movie scripts. He pretty much left show business and retired. He passed away in March 2005.
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1 comment:

Andrew J. Lederer said...

Posted a tiny little piece about Sid Melton today and was surprised to see, via Technorati, that someone else had blogged Sid's name within the last couple of days. It's nothing but in case you're interested, my poste is at

Take care,