Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Paul Henning and Petticoat Junction

With the success of the Beverly Hillbillies Paul Henning created a spin off. On September 24, 1963 CBS aired the first episode of Petticoat Junction. The Hillbillies were so successful that CBS didn’t even require a pilot from Mr. Henning. They trusted his instincts that much.
The show starred Bea Benadaret one of the busiest actresses in radio and television. She had been on radio programs like Ozzie and Harriett, Burns and Allen and My Favorite Husband. On TV she reprised her role on the television version of Burns and Allen. She was offered the part of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy but was not able to accept as she was under contract for another production. She was also the voice of Betty Rubble on the Flintstones cartoon series. She played Kate Bradley a widow who was raising her three daughters in the hotel she owned. Unfortunately she was not with the series for its entire run. In 1968, just after she started work on the series for that season, she passed away due to lung cancer.
Edgar Buchanan played Uncle Joe Carson on the show. He was an in demand character actor who usually played Judges, Fathers, Grandfathers and of course Uncles. Uncle Joe was lazy. He worked hard at getting out of work and always was looking on a get rich quick plan. Uncle Joe would have loved the internet. Know matter how lazy Uncle Joe was he could be counted on when the chips were down. He was always helping family and friends and when Kate Bradley had to be written out of the show in 1968 he stepped in to run the Shady Rest Hotel. Of course the fact that he now owned the hotel helped.
Frank Cady was a character actor in movies and was cast as Sam Drucker. Sam was the local grocer/post master. The part of Sam got Frank Cady to be on two hit sit-coms as he later would be a frequent guest star on the Petticoat Junction spin off Green Acres.
The rest of the cast was frequently changing. The daughters of Kate Bradley were Billie Jo she was a blonde and the oldest of the girls. She was played by Jeannine Riley from 1963-1965. Later in the 1970’s Miss. Riley would be on TV again for one more season on Dusty’s Trail. Then Gunilla Hutton was cast in the role from 1965-1966. Gunilla was originally from Sweden but her family moved to Texas when she was 7. Rumor has it that she was fired from the show because she was involved in two taboos at the time. She was rumored to be dating Nat King Cole. Back then it was the kiss of death for a white actress to be dating an African-American. While that has changed over time the other taboo thankfully has not. That is that Mr. Cole was a married man making her his mistress. Two big strikes against an up and coming actress on a hit comedy series. So Miss. Hutton was out of the show. A few years later she would be seen as on Hee Haw as Nurse Goodbody. Finally, in 1966 the part went to singer Meredith MacRae who was with the series to the end of its run.
The middle child was a brunette and named Bobbie Jo. She was played by Pat Woodell from 1963-1965. In 1965 they cast Lori Saunders in the role of Bobbie Jo. She immediately won over the hearts of the fans and became the most famous Bobbie Jo Bradley.
The youngest was the redheaded tomboy Betty Jo Bradley. She was played by Linda Kaye Henning. Her part was never recast. Perhaps that was because Paul Henning was her Father.
The Cannonball was the only method of transportation for the people of Hooterville, the town where the show was based. From 1963-1967 the train was run by Charlie and Floyd played but Smiley Burnette and Rufe Davis. In 1968 Smiley left the show and Floyd (Rufe Davis) ran the train himself. A few months later he too left and Wendell Gibbs played by Byron Foulger was brought in to take over the train.
A lot of the comedy on the show came from Uncle Joe schemes, someone trying to get a date with one of the Bradley girls or trying to keep the Cannonball running.
For awhile the show took on a soap opera feel when Mike Minor joined the cast as crop duster Steve Elliott. He was attracted to each of the Bradley girls and the audience was curious who he would end up with. He chose tomboy Betty Jo. You know the one played by the boss’s daughter.
Many people say that Aaron Spelling brought sex to television. While researching this I was reminded of many double-entendres on the show. No I’m not going to point then out but just from what you have read here you can figure some of it out.
A few years after the show was canceled and was being shown on local station WXIX when it entered syndication some of the guys in my school were all caught up in the show. If you look at the picture above you can see three reasons why pre-teen boys liked the show. The thing that amazed me was when they got so caught up in the soap opera on of Betty Jo and Steve. That I couldn’t believe. Guys didn’t talk about soap operas back then and to my knowledge still don’t. I suspect those guys wanted Betty Jo to wait for them to be old enough to marry. Personally I had a crush on Lori “Bobbie Jo” Saunders.
After 7 successful years the show was canceled. The last airing of the show was on September 12, 1970.

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