The Beverly Hillbillies Explained
The Beverly Hillbillies is an American television series about a hillbilly family transplanted to Beverly Hills, California after finding oil on their land. A Filmways production, the series aired on CBS from September 26, 1962 - September 7, 1971 and comprises 274 episodes - 106 in black-and-white (1962–1965) and 168 in color (1965–1971). The show starred Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, Irene Ryan as Daisy May "Granny" Moses, Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett and Max Baer, Jr. as Jethro Bodine.
At the beginning of The Beverly Hillbillies series, the OK Oil Company discovers oil in a swamp owned by family patriarch Jed Clampett. Jed moves with his family to the wealthy Los Angeles County city of Beverly Hills, California, where he attempts to live a rural lifestyle despite his wealth. This sequence of events was recapitulated in the title credits for each show and was described in the lyrics of the theme song, so that new viewers would easily understand who the Hillbillies were and why they were in Beverly Hills (although the credits and song portray Jed finding the oil while hunting as opposed to knowing the oil was there but being unaware of the value). Lasting nine seasons and accumulating 7 Emmy nominations, it remains in syndication on several cable stations including TV Land.
The Hillbillies themselves were Buddy Ebsen as the widowed patriarch Jed "J.D." Clampett; Irene Ryan as his mother-in-law, Daisy May "Granny" Moses; Donna Douglas as his daughter Elly May Clampett; and Max Baer Jr. as his cousin's son Jethro Bodine. While Granny frequently mentioned that she was from Tennessee, the series never specified the state from which the Clampetts moved to California. However, they often referred to nearby towns such as Joplin, Branson, and Silver Dollar City, all of which are in southwest Missouri. Early episodes also contained several references to Eureka Springs, which is in northwest Arkansas.
The supporting cast featured Raymond Bailey as Jed's greedy banker Milburn Drysdale; Harriet E. MacGibbon as Drysdale's snobbish wife Margaret Drysdale; and Nancy Kulp as Drysdale's secretary, "Miss" Jane Hathaway, who pined for the clueless Jethro.
Jed's cousin Pearl Bodine (played by Bea Benaderet) was Jethro's mother. She appeared in several episodes during the first season, as did Jethro's twin sister Jethrine, played by Baer in drag, using Linda Kaye Henning's voiceover.
Although not a major character, actress Sharon Tate had a recurring role during the early years of the series. Tate appeared in a dark wig as Janet Trego, an assistant to Miss Hathaway at the Commerce Bank. Two episodes before Janet's debut episode, Sharon had appeared (sans wig) as one of Elly May's classmates in "Elly Starts to School".
Veteran canine actor Stretch portrayed Jed's bloodhound Duke, and the many other animal actors on the series came to be known as "Elly May's critters".
A three-act stageplay based on the pilot was written by David Rogers in 1968.
The theme song "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" was written by producer and writer Paul Henning and originally performed by Bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs. The song was sung by Jerry Scoggins (backed by Flatt and Scruggs) over the opening and end credits of each episode. It was #44 on the music charts in 1962 and a #1 country hit. Flatt and Scruggs also had another Billboard country top ten hit with the comic "Pearl, Pearl, Pearl," an ode to the feminine charms of Miss Pearl Bodine who was featured in the episode "Jed Throws a Wingding," the first of several Flatt and Scruggs appearances on the show.
The six main cast members participated on a 1963 Columbia Records soundtrack album which featured original song numbers in character. Additionally, Ebsen, Ryan and Douglas each made a few solo recordings following the show's success, including Ryan's 1966 novelty single, "Granny's Miniskirt".
The series generally featured no country music beyond the bluegrass banjo theme song, although country star Roy Clark and the team of Flatt and Scruggs occasionally played on the program. Pop singer Pat Boone appeared on one episode as himself, with the premise that he hailed from the same area of the country as the Clampetts (Boone is, in fact, a native of Jacksonville, Florida although he spent most of his childhood in Tennessee).
Despite being panned by some critics, the show shot to the top of the Nielsen Ratings shortly after its premiere and stayed there for several seasons. During its first two seasons, it was the number one program in the U.S. During its second season, it earned some of the highest ratings ever recorded for a half-hour sitcom. The season 2 episode "The Giant Jackrabbit" also became the most watched telecast up to the time of its airing, and still remains the most watched half-hour episode of a sitcom as well. It was ranked in the top ten most watched prime time programs for six of its nine seasons.
The series received two Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Series as well as nominations for cast members Irene Ryan and Nancy Kulp.
Influence on other television shows
Because of the show's high ratings, CBS asked creator Paul Henning to pen two more folksy comedies, spawning a mini-genre of rural sitcoms during the 1960s. Petticoat Junction featured an extended family, including three pretty young women of marrying age, running a small hotel in the isolated rural town of Hooterville. Green Acres flipped the Clampetts' fish-out-of-water concept by depicting two city sophisticates moving to Hooterville, which was populated by oddball country bumpkins.
Certain actors appeared on more than one of these series:
- Bea Benaderet, who had played Jethro's mother during the first season of The Beverly Hillbillies, was the mother of the family on Petticoat Junction.
- Linda Kaye Henning, who provided the voiceover for the Beverly Hillbillies character Jethrine, portrayed Benaderet's daughter Betty Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction.
- Edgar Buchanan, who starred in all 222 episodes of Petticoat Junction and guest-starred in 17 episodes of Green Acres, also guested in 3 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, always as the character Uncle Joe Carson.
- Charles Lane played Homer Bedloe, vice president of the C. & F. W. Railroad, on both shows.
- Several animal actors trained by Frank Inn, including Higgins the dog, also moved between series as needed.
Despite the actor cross-overs and the character Uncle Joe Carson's multiple appearances (which made it clear that the three shows were set in the same fictional universe), the two Hooterville series retained identities that were distinct from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Cancellation and "the Rural Purge"
Nielsen ratings for the 1970-71 season indicate that the bottom had dropped out for the perennial Top 30 series but was still fairly popular when it was canceled in 1971 after 274 episodes. The CBS network, prompted by pressure from advertisers seeking a more sophisticated urban audience, decided to refocus its schedule on several "hip" new urban-themed shows, and to make room for them, all of CBS's rural-themed comedies were simultaneously canceled. This action came to be known as "the Rural Purge". Pat Buttram, who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres, famously remarked that, "It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it."
In addition to The Beverly Hillbillies, the series that were eliminated included Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, the latter of which was resurrected in first-run syndication, where it ran for another 21 years. Petticoat Junction had been canceled a year earlier due to declining ratings following the death of its star Bea Benaderet.
1981 CBS TV movie
In 1981, a Return of the Beverly Hillbillies Television movie, written and produced by series creator Paul Henning, was aired on the CBS network. Irene Ryan had died, so her character was written out and made Imogene Coca Granny's Mother. Max Baer refused to reprise the role that both started and stymied his career, so the character of Jethro Bodine was given to another actor, Ray Young.
The familiar Clampett mansion was not used as a location, as its owners sought too much money to lease it. The plot had Jed back in Bugtussle, while Elly May and Jethro remained in the Golden State. Jane Hathaway had become a Department of Energy agent and was seeking Granny's "White Lightnin'" recipe to combat the energy crisis. Since Granny had gone on to "her re-ward", it was up to Granny's centenarian "Maw" (Imogene Coca) to divulge the secret brew's ingredients. Subplots dealt with Jethro playing an egocentric, starlet-starved Hollywood producer, Jane and her boss (Werner Klemperer) having a romance and Elly May owning a petting zoo. The four main characters finally got together by the end of the story. This TV movie was made a scant decade after the last episode of the series; nonetheless, some viewers felt that the spirit of the series was lost on many fronts. In addition, the deaths of stars Irene Ryan and Raymond Bailey, coupled with Max Baer's refusal to join the production, left just three of the original six members of the cast available to reprise their roles. Henning said that he was unable to rewrite his script due to the 1981 strike by the Writers Guild of America, and that he "wanted to hide" when the finished product aired.
The 1993 The Beverly Hillbillies film returned the storyline to its original premise, retelling the arrival of the Clampetts in Beverly Hills.
VHS and DVD releases
Many episodes of the first two seasons of the series are in the public domain because CBS, having bought the rights to the series shortly after its cancellation, neglected to renew their copyrights. As a result, these episodes have been unofficially released on home video and DVD on many low-budget labels and shown on low-power television stations and low-budget networks in prints. In many video prints of the public domain episodes, the original and much-loved theme music has been replaced by generic music due to copyright issues.
However, before his death, Paul Henning, whose estate now holds the original film elements to the public domain episodes, authorized MPI Home Video to officially release the best of the first two seasons on DVD, the first "ultimate collection" of which was released in the fall of 2005. These collections include the original, uncut versions of the first season's episodes, complete with their original theme music and opening sponsor plugs. Vol. 1 has, among its bonus features, the alternate, un-aired version of the pilot film, The Hillbillies Of Beverly Hills (the version of the episode that sold the series to CBS), and the "cast commercials" (cast members pitching the products of the show's sponsors) originally shown at the end of each episode.
For many years, 20th Century Fox, through a joint venture with CBS called CBS/Fox Video, officially released select episodes of Hillbillies on videocassette. After Viacom merged with CBS, Paramount Home Entertainment (which was acquired by Viacom in 1994) took over the video rights.
In 2006, Paramount announced plans to release the copyrighted episodes in boxed sets through CBS DVD later that year. The show's second season (consisting of the public domain episodes from that season) was released on DVD in Region 1 on October 7, 2008 as "...The Official Second Season". The third season was released on February 17, 2009. http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Beverly-Hillbillies-Season-3/10886
|DVD name||Ep#||Release date||Additional Information||Distributor|
|The Beverly Hillbillies - Ultimate Collection Volume 1||26||September 27, 2005|
- Contains Episodes 1-27 from Season 1, excluding Christmas episode unedited
- Original Cast Sponsor Commercials
- CBS-TV Network Promo
- Documentary: "Paul Henning & The Hillbillies"
- Vintage Variety Show Appearances by Buddy Ebsen & Irene Ryan
- Unaired Pilot with Extra Footage
- Series Introduction with Linda Kaye Henning (voice of "Jethrine")
|MPI Home Video|
|The Beverly Hillbillies - Ultimate Collection Volume 2||27||February 28, 2006|
- Contains Episodes 28-36 from Season 1, select episodes from Season 2 unedited
- Cast Interviews: Irene Ryan, Max Baer, Jr.
- Original Cast Sponsor Commercials
- Episode Commentary on "The Giant Jackrabbit" by Stephen Cox, author of The Beverly Hillbillies book
- Special Footage: Japanese Hillbillies
|MPI Home Video|
|The Beverly Hillbillies - The Official Second Season||36||October 7, 2008|
- Original episode sponsor openings and closing
- Irene Ryan screen test as "Granny"
- Clip from "The Stars' Address is CBS" - 1963 Fall Preview Show
- CBS network promo (1963/64)
- Paul Henning Interview (1969)
|CBS Home Entertainment|
|The Beverly Hillbillies - The Official Third Season||34||February 17, 2009|
- The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies
- Original episode sponsor openings and closings
- Photo gallery
|CBS Home Entertainment|
Characters and critters
- Jed: Although he had received little formal education, Jed Clampett had a good deal of common sense. A good-natured man, he was the ostensible head of the family. Jed's wife (Elly May's mother) passed away, but is referred to in the episode "Duke Steals A Wife" as Rose Ellen. Jed was shown to be an expert marksman and was extremely loyal to his family and kinfolk. The huge oil pool in the swamp he owned was the beginning of his rags-to-riches journey to Beverly Hills. Although he longed for the old ways back in the hills of Tennessee, he made the best of being in Beverly Hills. Whenever he had anything on his mind, he would sit on the curbstone of his mansion and whittle until he came up with the answer. Jedediah, the version of Jed's name used in the 1993 Beverly Hillbillies theatrical movie, was never mentioned in the original television series (though ironically, on Ebsen's subsequent series, Barnaby Jones, Barnaby's nephew J.R. was also named Jedediah). In one episode Jed and Granny reminisce about seeing Buddy Ebsen and Vilma Ebsen - a joking reference to the Ebsens' song and dance act.
There are references to Granny growing up in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. From episode 9: "When I was a girl back in Tennessee, I set so many boys hearts on fire that they took to calling that neck of the woods The Smokey Mountains."
- Granny: Shotgun-toting Granny had insights into human nature. She styled herself an "M.D." - "mountain doctor" - claiming to have a complete knowledge of herbs, potions and tonics. She was extremely scrappy and was an expert at wielding a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun, although the one time she actually fired it, unknown to her, Mr. Drysdale had replaced the shotgun pellets with bacon rind and rock salt after he arranged for Hollywood stuntmen to dress up as fake Native Americans to "attack" the Clampett mansion. She was also able to tell the precise time, to the minute and even the second, by looking at the position of the sun. Paul Henning, the series' creator, clearly disposed of the idea of Granny being Jed's mother, which would have changed the show's dynamics, making Granny the matriarch and Jed subordinate to her. As Jed's mother-in-law, she could be feisty, but her ideas could also be overruled. Two of Granny's phobias were "Injuns" (she actually bought wigs so the Clampetts wouldn't be "scalped") and the "cement pond" (she has a fear of water). In a long story arc in the show's eighth season, Elly May dates a U.S. Navy frogman, which confuses Granny: After seeing the frogman climb out of the pool in his skin-diving wear, she thinks that anyone who swims in the pool will be turned into a frog. She also had a peculiar way of retelling the Civil War, where she thought that the South had won, and Jefferson Davis was the President. Any attempts to correct her met with failure. She was also known for slicing off switches to use on Jethro mainly, whenever he went too far with his dumb and idiotic schemes.
Granny's full name, Daisy Moses, was an homage to the popular and dearly loved folk artist Anna Mary Robertson, known to the world as Grandma Moses. Grandma Moses died in 1961, a year before The Beverly Hillbillies made its television debut.
Many stories in the series involved Jethro's endless career search, which included such diverse vocations as brain surgeon, street car conductor, Double-naught spy, Hollywood producer, soda jerk, and once as a bookkeeper for Milburn Drysdale's bank. More often than not, his overall goal in these endeavors was to obtain as many pretty girls as humanly possible, which were usually the catalyst that prompted him to do so. While working as a producer, Jethro called himself "Beef Jerky", a wannabe playboy and man-about-town sophisticate. Out of all the Clampett clan, he was the one who made the most changes from 'country bumpkin' to 'city boy.' Another running gag is that Jethro was known as the "six foot stomach" for his ability to eat: in one episode he ate a jetliner's entire supply of steaks; in another episode Jethro tried to set himself up as a Hollywood agent for cousin "Bessie"-with a fee of 10,000 bananas for Bessie and 1,000 bananas for Jethro. Jethro could never succeed in any career he tried, although in the non-canonical 1981 TV-movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies, he finally found the career he was best suited for, becoming a Hollywood studio mogul. (One episode of the original series has a movie executive remarking that Jethro has the qualifications for being a movie producer--a 6th grade education and his uncle owns the studio.)
- Jethro: Jethro was simply naive in the first season of the show, but became incredibly ignorant and self centered as the series progressed. Like Jed, he was an outstanding marksman. He was particularly proud of his ed-ja-ma-cation: he spent 12 years at school - before passing the sixth grade. The tallest student in his class in the town of Oxford because of his age, a running joke was people misunderstanding and being impressed that Jethro graduated "top of his class at Oxford". He often showed off his cyphering abilities with multiplication and "go-zin-ta's", as in "five gozinta five one times, five gozinta ten two times," etc. After that, he decided to go to college. He managed to enroll late in the semester at a local secretarial school due to his financial backing and earned his diploma by the end of the day because he didn't understand what was going on in class and was too disruptive. (This was an in-joke--in real life Max Baer Jr. has a college degree in Business).
Elly's most notable weakness, oft mentioned when she was being "courted", was her lack of kitchen skills. Family members would cringe when, for plot reasons, Elly would take over the kitchen. Rock-like donuts and cookies, for example, were a plot function in an episode featuring Wally Cox as bird watching Professor Biddle.
Elly May's name was a homage to the character of Ellie May Lester in the Erskine Caldwell rural life novel Tobacco Road. The book was also made into a long-running play. In 1941, it was adapted into a comedy-drama movie directed by John Ford and featured Gene Tierney as Ellie May who, at the age of 23, was considered an "old maid." This was reflected later in The Beverly Hillbillies when Granny claimed that Elly May was over 20 and too old to get a man. In the 1981 TV movie of The Beverly Hillbillies, Elly May is head of a zoo.
- Elly May: Elly May was a strong, capable girl. She could throw a fastball as well as "rassle" any man to a fall. She could be as tender with her friends, animals and people, as she was tough with Jethro or anyone else she was rasslin'. She said once that animals could be better companions than people, but as she grew older she saw that, "fellas kin be more fun than critters." Elly was squired about by eager young Hollywood actors with stage names like "Dash Riprock" and "Bolt Upright". (Obvious puns on the actors Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Gig Young and Rip Torn.) Dash Riprock was a particularly interesting character who made several appearances; he was torn between his attraction to Elly and some sympathy for Jethro and his fear of "those crazy Clampetts." Other boyfriends for Elly included Sonny Drysdale (Louis Nye), Beau Short, beatnik Sheldon Epps and Mark Templeton, frogman.
- Duke: The Clampetts' family dog. He's an old bloodhound that Jed had bought for four bits (50 cents) when he was a puppy. In early episodes, Jethro tried to teach Duke to fetch sticks, though to Jed, it looked as if Duke taught Jethro how to do that trick. In a couple of episodes, Duke got involved with a French poodle that was brought in to mate with Mrs. Drysdale's pampered pooch Claude. Apparently, the poodle had better taste and had Duke's puppies instead. When Mrs. Drysdale wanted Claude to get revenge against Duke, Jed warned her that he'd seen that old hound dog hold his own against a bobcat.
Mrs. Drysdale had aristocratic views on class, restricting her social contact to people who were born of pure blood. To her, the most desirable people were those whose ancestors had been among the first settlers of colonial America. She had a xenophobic dislike of immigrants and interlopers of whom she saw the Clampetts as the worst example, and she continually led outlandish campaigns to rid her city of the uncouth hillbillies. Her position was undercut when it was revealed in one episode that, while Mrs. Drysdale was descended from Mayflower immigrants, the Clampett family had actually arrived earlier, at the founding of Jamestown. Mrs. Drysdale's worldview was turned completely upside down when she was told, "When your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, Mr. Clampett's were there waiting for them." (This line, incidentally, was originated by the cowboy-comedian Will Rogers, who repeatedly used it against Anglo-American snobs to point out his own proud Cherokee heritage.) This discovery still didn't change her views on the Clampetts and she was as full of hatred of them as ever. She disliked the family mainly, but her most heated rivalry was with Granny.
Mr. Drysdale, like the Clampetts, had country roots, although his were in the distant past. One very early episode had Granny chasing Mr. Drysdale with a shotgun after he told her his family was also from Tennessee -- a family that was in a feud with Granny's family.
- The Drysdales: The Drysdales were the Clampetts' neighbors. Although Mrs. Drysdale had obvious disdain for their neighbors, Mr. Drysdale was willing to do anything to keep them next door so as to not lose control of their millions, which were on deposit in his bank. Between Mrs. Drysdale and Mr. Drysdale there existed a subtle social commentary on class issues, specifically whether "breeding" or actual wealth should be the determinants that entitle a person to join the privileged class.
Mr. Drysdale, unlike his wife, placed wealth above prestige. He clung to people with money and had far more respect for the Clampetts, despite their backwoods ways, than he did for Mrs. Drysdale's son, Sonny, who didn't believe in getting his hands dirty with work. Drysdale had a nephew, named after him, called Milby. The swindling Milby (who opened a pawn shop at age six; and was expelled from three military schools in one year for usury) attempted to con the Clampetts out of tens of thousands of dollars of antiques, paintings and the like; but was stopped in this by his uncle, who took away his money belt, to the screaming Milby's disdain! Mr. Drysdale's reverence for the Clampetts was so great that despite the fact that they had a backwoods approach to life, he saw everything they did as unquestionably right (because they had money) and bent over backwards to rearrange the rest of the world to cater to their whims. For instance, when Jethro wanted to enroll in an elite boarding school, the headmistress has problems with the situation for several obvious reasons, but Mr. Drysdale leveraged his deed on the school mortgage as clout to force the school to admit Jethro. Another example was to get them a gorilla, so he hired an actor who played a gorilla to be their "servant", which met with disastrous results
Notes and References
- http://books.google.com/books?id=XqzpiBNwn_EC&dq=beverly+hillbillies&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 The Beverly Hillbillies stageplay, adapted by David Rogers
- http://www.tv.com/the-beverly-hillbillies/the-giant-jackrabbit/episode/49372/summary.html The Beverly Hillbillies: The Giant Jackrabbit - TV.com
- http://www.kenberry.com/ken_berry_interview.htm Ken Berry interview