From Green Acres to Petticoat Junction and Lassie, Hollywood loved making TV shows about rural America. One show, however, found its way into the hearts of Americans all over the country. Although the show wasn’t always well-received by contemporary critics, The Beverly Hillbillies still remains one of the most popular TV shows from the 1960s.
The CBS sitcom follows the Clampett family and their hilarious antics in Los Angeles after accidentally finding oil on their land back home. While the show was widely popular during the 1960s, there are a lot of unknown facts that even die-hard fans don’t know about.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts about The Beverly Hillbillies that you probably didn’t know!
Lots of Criticism
Debuting in 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies was one of the most popular sitcoms during the 60s. It premiered on the Colombia Broadcasting System (CBS) and ran for a total of nine seasons, with eight seasons ranking among the 20-most watched shows of the year. To this day, the episode The Giant Jackrabbit from season two remains one of the most-watched TV episodes of all time.
The show was even nominated seven times for an Emmy Award. But, even with all of this success, the show still received a lot of criticism. Critics from the New York Times called the show “strained and unfunny,” and Variety went as far as to say that it was “painful to sit through.” Well, you can’t please everyone.
The New York Hillbillies?
Paul Henning, the show’s creator, actually had a unique inspiration to draw from when he came up with the idea for The Beverly Hillbillies. Paul took a camping trip with some friends in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, Missouri.
The people and culture of this area started to spark his interest. Paul, who was a producer and screenwriter at the time, began to wonder what it would be like if a family from a rural community, like the Ozarks, suddenly became rich and moved to an upper-class neighborhood. While developing the script, Paul first thought about dropping the Clampetts in the middle of New York City. But he later changed his mind and moved the sitcom family to Beverly Hills, California.
Too Good to Pass Up
Shortly before filming the first season of The Beverly Hillbillies, Paul Henning, the show’s creator, and showrunner, started scouting out mansions in California. He came across the Kirkeby Mansion, and the owners offered him a deal that he couldn’t refuse. They only charged Paul Henning, the show’s creator, a mere $500 for filming.
One of the reasons why it was leased to the show at such a low price was because the owner of the home died in a plane crash shortly before filming. His widow still remained in the mansion, but she was okay with her property being used to film. The only condition was that production could not share her address. However, fans ended up figuring it out, and, after filming, the owner’s widow sold the mansion.
It wasn’t just the actors that the audience fell in love with, it was the opening song too. Written by the show’s creator, Paul Henning, The Ballad of Jed Clampett was originally recorded by the bluegrass group, Flatt and Scruggs, with Jerry Scoggins on vocals.
Due to the show’s popularity, Flatt and Scruggs re-recorded the track and released it as a single. The track reached 44th place on the Billboard Top 100 in 1962. That’s not a bad spot for a sitcom theme song. The song was used again in 1997 in a Saturday Night Live skit during former President Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In the spoof, Jed’s name was replaced with Clinton’s, and the location was changed to the White House.
The Granny Who Almost Wasn’t
One of the show’s most memorable characters was Granny, played by the amazing Irene Ryan. But what most don’t know is that Granny was almost played by someone else. The part originally went to actress Bea Banaderet, who had previously worked with Paul Henning on the radio production of Burns & Allen.
After reading the first script for The Beverly Hillbillies in 1961, Bea wanted the part, but Paul had a different image for Granny in mind. Instead, he gave the part to Irene and created a special character just for Bea, Cousin Pearl Bodine. Paul was so impressed by Bea’s portrayal of Cousin Pearl that he made her a reoccurring character during the show’s first season.
An Honest Mistake!
Today, with just a touch of a button, we know what’s going on in different countries around the world, but, as many of you remember, it wasn’t always like this. In the days before the Internet, people weren’t updated as quickly, and sometimes international news went unreported.
That’s exactly what happened to the Dutch television station NCRV when they thought The Beverly Hillbillies ended in 1966 instead of 1971. NCRV aired the last episode they had on file, thinking that it was the series finale, even though the show was at its peak in popularity. The funniest part was that the TV station had no idea that they missed out on six seasons of the show until 1973!
An Early Onset
Who could forget Mr. Milburn Drysdale, the wealthy banker who became entangled with the Clampett family? Hilariously played by Raymond Bailey, Mr. Drysdale became the perfect foil for his new hillbilly neighbors and often spoke with Jed about how weird “city folk” were. Sadly, however, Raymond began suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease while still filming the show.
His symptoms became apparent in the final season, and Raymond mostly quit acting after the show was canceled in 1971. He made two movie appearances in Herbie Rides Again and The Strongest Man in the World before completely retiring from acting in 1975 because of the effects of the disease. In his final years, Raymond lived in Laguna Niguel, California, and still stayed in touch with co-start Nancy Kulp.
A Tate-ful Cameo
The Beverly Hillbillies had their share of cameos, but model and actress Sharon Tate was definitely a fan favorite. Due to her popularity on the show, the writers wrote her character into 15 different episodes, which is the most appearances a guest star made on the show. Many fans may not recognize her because of the brown bob wig, but Sharon played Janet Trego, a bank secretary.
Sharon guest-starred in many television shows during the 1960s before she made her move to the big screen. She received many positive reviews and was even nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Valley of the Dolls in 1967. Sadly, Sharon was one of the victims in the Manson family killings in 1969.
A Country Touch
Method acting has been around for a lot longer than Christian Bale or Daniel Day-Lewis. In fact, that’s exactly how actor Buddy Ebsen prepared for his role as Jed Clampett. Aside from learning Jed’s twang, Buddy took it one step further and picked up country music. His type of music was the standard Nashville sound that gained popularity in the early ’60s. He even released a few of his songs to the public, who couldn’t get enough.
This wasn’t the first time that Buddy shared his singing voice with the world. He was actually cast as the Tin Man in the original production of part of the Wizard of Oz in 1939, but he never actually made it to the big screen. After recording all of his songs as the Tin Man, Buddy became allergic to the silver powder used in his character’s makeup. He was eventually replaced by Jack Haley.
Sharon Tate wasn’t the only famous face to make an appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies. Western actor John Wayne made a cameo appearance on the show during its fifth season in 1967. Rumor has it that John made a cameo in the show as a favor to his friend Buddy Ebsen. Before filming, the show’s producers started negotiations about his paycheck, but John only wanted to be paid in a small bottle of bourbon.
At the time, John was considered one of the most famous and respected actors in Western films. Most films that John starred in made their way to the top of the box office. John received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor for his performances in the films Sands of Iwo Jima and True Grit.
Popular TV shows and fashion trends have long gone hand in hand. Shows like Friends and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour paved the way for new fashion trends in America, but The Beverly Hillbillies will always come first. According to Levi’s, the brand experienced a spike in cut-off jeans in the 1960s thanks to the show.
Every Beverly Hillbillies fan wanted to dress like Elly May, who was played by Donna Douglas. An executive for the brand even reportedly said that Donna helped Levi’s sell more jeans in one year than cowboys have in a hundred. After her career as an actress and trendsetter, Donna became a real estate agent and an inspirational speaker, among many other jobs, before passing away in January 2015.
Jane Hathaway for Office
Actress Nancy Kulp, who played Mr. Drysdale’s secretary, Miss Jane Hathaway, decided to try her hand at politics. After working with the Democratic Party in her home state of Pennsylvania on “a variety of projects,” Nancy ran as the Democratic nominee for the US House of Representatives in 1984. Nancy was considered the underdog as she ran against Republican incumbent Bud Shuster in a predominantly Republican district.
Although she was no longer acting and The Beverly Hillbillies had been canceled for 13 years, Nancy thought that she’d have the support of her friends. To her dismay, her former co-star, Buddy Ebsen, made a radio campaign calling Nancy “too liberal.” This caused a huge rift between the two, with Buddy only apologizing to Nancy shortly before her death in 1991.
A Cast Without Buddy?
Buddy Ebsen’s portrayal of Jed Clampett was one of the reasons why The Beverly Hillbillies was so popular among audiences around America. But what many people don’t know is that Buddy Ebsen almost didn’t return to acting. It had nothing to do with his acting skills, but everything to do with taking an eight-year break from acting during the 1940s.
During the 1940s, Buddy had a major contract dispute with MGM that left him without an acting job for a long period of time. During that time, Buddy took up sailing and became so good that he even coached officer candidates for the Navy, giving him a nice taste of retirement. But luck was on everyone’s side, and Buddy returned to acting in 1949 with a cameo on an episode of The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.
All Paws on Deck
Elly May sure was an animal lover. No one could forget her trusted cat Rusty, who made an appearance throughout the series. But Rusty really shined in the 1963 episode, Elly’s Animals. To Rusty’s dismay, Elly rescued all of the dogs at the local pound. At first, the animals didn’t get along, but Elly got them to reconcile.
But it wasn’t just cats and dogs that actress Donna Douglas had to be willing to work with. From roosters to a group of live skunks, Donna’s character had a knack for taking care of “critters,” meaning a lot of animals were brought onto the show. The show’s animal trainer, Frank Inn, trained the animals so well that Donna had no problem carrying them around her shoulders or in her arms.
The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills
The original pilot of The Beverly Hillbillies is now available, thanks to the Internet. The episode never made it to your television since it was only used to sell the show to CBS. The episode is mostly the same script as The Clampetts Strike Oil pilot, but there are a few differences.
The most noticeable difference is the show’s title, which was The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills, and the absence of the show’s theme song, The Ballad of Jed Clampett. The show’s creators may have thought that the original title was a good idea on paper, but it doesn’t roll off your tongue. Good thing someone noticed this before the pilot premiered, and they were able to change the title to something more eloquent.
The Fountain of Youth
Sometimes while the show was on the air, a rumor started going around that Irene Ryan, who played Granny, was actually a few years younger than Donna Douglas, who played Elly May. It may have been due to Irene’s quick and witty performance in every scene that she was in. People who believed this rumor to be true thought that Irene sat in hours of makeup before filming every episode.
But the truth came out, and the rumor turned out to be false. Although Irene wasn’t as old as Granny, and Donna was ten years older than Elly May, Irene was still 30 years older than Donna. This rumor took a while to be put to rest, with interviewers still questioning Donna’s age 20 years after the show went off the air.
He’s No Fool
When most people think of Jed Clampett, they think of a naïve hick that struggles adapting to a more luxurious way of living. But, actually, when the creators of the show first wrote the script, they made Jed even more naïve than the version that fans are used to. When actor Buddy Ebsen was approached for the part of Jed, he agreed, but on one condition.
He wanted his part to be rewritten. Buddy believed that although Jed was uneducated, he wasn’t foolish. The show’s creators agreed, but they didn’t want to remove all of Jed’s “dumb” lines completely. So they created the character of Jethro, Jed’s dim-witted nephew, to say all of the lines that Buddy refused to say.
The Barbie Controversy
Forty years after her last performance as Elly May, Donna Douglas was in the spotlight again. Mattel Inc., the owners of the Barbie doll, decided to release a line of dolls for its Classic TV Collection in 2011. The dolls included characters from Dynasty, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie. Elly May also made it to the collection, but the problem was, Mattel never consulted with Donna and used her image without her permission.
Donna, who was 78 years old at the time, sued Mattel and CBS for $75,000 in damages and was prepared to go to trial. Donna’s fans were divided during the controversy. Some thought she was doing the right thing, while others thought she was still trying to capitalize on her role. In the end, the actress ended up settling the suit.
Granny was always up to something crazy, whether it was sticking her nose into other people’s business or getting into arguments with her family. But most fans remember Granny for her cooking. She was always whipping up hogback, crawdads, or gizzards. While The Beverly Hillbillies was running, the show put out a cookbook with all of Granny’s favorite recipes.
Then, in 1994, Jim Clark and Ken Beck released Granny’s Beverly Hillbillies Cookbook. While the cookbook contains funny recipes from the original cookbook (like squirrel, groundhog, and possum), it also has real Southern recipes contributed by the cast, crew member, and friends of the show. Besides recipes, the cookbook also has photographs from the set and character profiles.
Double the Fun
One of the show’s best bits when was Jethro’s sister, Jethrine, would make an appearance. It was clear to audiences that Max Baer Jr. was dressed up like Bo Peep, with a blonde wig and a long dress. But the best part of the bit was his feminine voice, voiced by Paul Henning’s daughter, Linda Kaye Henning.
At the time of her first appearance in 1962, Linda only had one credit to her name, a small role in an episode of Mister Ed. throughout The Beverly Hillbillies series, Linda voiced Jethrine in 11 episodes. In 1963, Paul hired his daughter again by casting her as the part of Betty Jo in the CBS sitcom, Petticoat Junction.
We Serve Breakfast!
In the early days of television shows, it was very common, if not necessary, to be sponsored by big-name brands. The Beverly Hillbillies was no exception. When the show went on the air, Kellogg’s made didn’t shy away from letting audiences know that they helped pay for the show’s production costs.
At the start of every episode, The Ballad of Jed Clampett faded right into a Kellogg’s commercial, which featured cast members from the show singing the brand’s slogan. “K-E-double-L-O double good, Kellogg’s best to you!” It wasn’t just Corn Flakes that the show promoted. Like many other shows during the 60s, The Beverly Hillbillies promoted Winston and even had an extra verse about the brand added to the theme song. Oh, how the times have changed!
Out of a Job
Audiences couldn’t get enough of Jethro Bodine and his hilarious attempts at trying to find a job. Jethro was a little dim-witted, to say the least, and his plans always fell through. But off-camera, Jethro was making money. Well, his name was at least. A restaurant in central Iowa opened up a restaurant called Jethro’s BBQ and this angered actor Max Baer Jr. He claimed that CBS negotiated a deal with him about using his character from the show to promote hotels, restaurants, and casinos.
Max sued the restaurant chain in 2014, claiming that CBS made a secret deal with the restaurant owner to monetize off of Jethro, something that Max says he was entitled to. In the end, CBS and Jethro’s BBQ struck a deal. The restaurant was allowed to keep the name but was required to change food dishes named after the show’s characters.
Can’t Find a Job
It’s not uncommon for actors to become stuck after playing a famous character. Sometimes actors find themselves playing the same role over and over again or, in Max Baer Jr.’s case, not hired at all. With the Internet and social media, it’s easier for actors to diversify their resumes, but, back in 1960, that just wasn’t the case.
Max, who was born Maximilian Adalbert, found that out the hard way after The Beverly Hillbillies went off the air in 1971. He couldn’t get out from under Jethro’s shadow, making it very hard to find work. He made guest appearances on other shows between 1972 and 1991, but audiences couldn’t shake the image of a dim-witted Jethro. This forced Max to focus his energy on directing, writing, and producing.
Beverly Hill’s Jalopy
For an episode during the 1968-1969 season, the show created a car, especially for Jethro Bodine. Actor Max Baer Jr. thought that Jethro needed a car that was more stylish and faster than the Clampett’s automobile. So the show’s producer, Paul Henning, called in a special favor from a classic car collector. He purchased the car and sent it over to Barris Kustom Industries, who were well-known for their movie vehicles used in The Dukes of Hazard, The Munsters, and Batman.
The shop completely revamped the car by updating the engine, changing the upholstery, and painting it a fiery red with yellow racing stripes. This car was very different than the battered up truck that everyone remembers from the show, which was donated to the Ralph Foster Museum in Missouri after the show wrapped.
A Change of Plans
Despite the series’ ratings, The Beverly Hillbillies was canceled in the spring of 1971. At the time, CBS was receiving a lot of pressure from advertisers to target a different audience. They wanted to focus on a more sophisticated and urban audience, so they canceled all of their rural-themed comedies and replaced them with “hip” urban-themed shows. These cancellations were dubbed “the Rural Purge.”
These new shows, such as All in the Family and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, were filmed in front of live audiences, unlike the shows that came before them. This led to the decline of Charley Douglass’ famous laugh-track since the show’s producers had real laughs from the audience. This trend continued well throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Feature Film Flop
The Beverly Hillbillies movie was released in 1993, 21 years after the show was officially canceled. Producers thought that the movie would be as successful as the show, especially since many fans thought the show was canceled during its prime. However, the film was a complete flop. It was not only criticized by critics, but by fans of the original TV series.
One of the main complaints was about different actors playing the characters everyone fell in love with during the series. Fans thought that the new cast didn’t have the same charm as the original actors. The film, which currently has a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was even called “one of the worst movies this or any year.”
Before and After Jed Clampett
Actor Buddy Ebsen is most famous for his role as Jed Clampett, but that wasn’t his only role during his career. Buddy started out as a dancer in the 1936 musical film Broadway Melody of 1936. He also danced alongside Shirley Temple in the film Captain January, which premiered in the same year.
After being forced to drop out of The Wizard of Oz because of an allergic reaction to the Tin Man’s aluminum makeup, Buddy appeared in many feature films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the film, he plays Doc Golightly, the older husband of Audrey Hepburn’s character. After The Beverly Hillbillies wrapped in 1971, Buddy returned to television as the milk-drinking detective, Barnaby Jones. The show was his second long-running TV series, with eight seasons.
Barnaby Jones Is Back!
As Buddy entered his 80s, he generally retired from acting. But when he heard that The Beverly Hillbillies was being remade into a feature film, Buddy agreed to make a cameo. Since directors hired a brand-new cast, the then 86-year-old played the part detective Barnaby Jones instead of reprising his role as Jed Clampett. This was Buddy’s final role in a movie.
But even in retirement, Buddy couldn’t stop working. Two years before his death, he released his bestselling novel, Kelly’s Quest. The book is a collection of poems that reveals the coming-of-age story of a young girl growing up. Shortly after the book came out, Buddy passed away in July 2003, at the age of 95.
Before Daisy May “Granny” Moses
Actress Irene Ryan was most famous for her role as Jed Clampett’s hilarious Southern mother-in-law, which earned her two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1963 and 1964. Irene started her career at 11 years old when she won three dollars at a singing competition.
At the age of 20, Irene married comedian Tim Ryan, and the two had their own comedy act, Tim and Irene. The couple continued their “Dumb Dora” routine until their divorce in 1942. By this time, Irene started to make her way into feature films, where she was typecast as a fussy, nervous woman. Although typecasting can hurt an actor’s career, it actually helped Irene land the part of Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Gone Too Soon
A year after The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end, Irene starred as Berthe in the Broadway musical Pippin. There’s a 1972 recording of her singing the number No Time At All, which can still be found today. But, on March 10, 1973, Irene’s career came to a screeching halt. Irene suffered from a stroke in the middle of a performance of Pippin.
She was rushed to her home in California, where doctors found an inoperable glioblastoma, which is a malignant brain tumor. A month and a half later, Irene passed away at the age of 70. To preserve her legacy, The Irene Acting Scholarship fund was created. It provides scholarships to actors wishing to further their education.
Before Elly May
While most of the cast were experienced actors, actress Donna Douglas was relatively unknown before The Beverly Hillbillies’s success. Donna first moved to New York with hopes of starting a career in show business. Her first gig was as an illustration model for a toothpaste advertisement.
Donna moved her way up to television and made many appearances on various shows, such as The Twilight Zone, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Route 66. Although these guest spots filled her resume, they were still very small roles, and she was unknown to the producers of The Beverly Hillbillies. But her practice paid off and Donna was eventually selected from a pool of 500 actresses for the role of Elly May.
After playing Hillbilly Elly May for nine straight seasons, Donna Douglas suffered the same fate of many of her fellow co-stars. The image of Elly was so embedded in fans’ minds that she was unable to escape her character’s shadow. Frustrated with being typecast, Donna received her real estate license. She couldn’t stay away from the industry for too long, and eventually left her job as a real estate agent and returned to show business.
Donna became a gospel singer and an inspirational speaker at many church groups, youth groups, and colleges around the US. Toward the end of her life, Donna found herself in the middle of two legal disputes. In 1993, Donna claimed that the film Sister Act was actually her idea. And then, in 2011, she sued over the use of her image for an Elly May Barbie doll.
Before Jethro Bodine
Actor Max Baer Jr. was the son of the American 1934-1935 World Heavy Weight Champion, Max Baer Sr., who was the inspiration for the 2005 film Cinderella Man. Although he grew up in a boxing family, Max wanted to take a different career path. He started acting at the age of 12, with a starring role in a local production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
After earning his business degree from Santa Clara University, Max started acting with Warner Bros. in 1960 at the age of 23. He made several TV appearances before he landed the role of Jethro two years later. In an attempt to escape the typecasting curse that casted a shadow over his co-stars’ career, Max took other acting jobs while Beverly Hillbillies was on the air. But nothing seemed to help.
Last Man Standing
Max was unable to escape Jethro, forcing him to start working behind the camera as a writer, director, and producer. When producer Paul Henning asked Max to reprise his role as Jethro in the 1981 TV movie, he declined. Yet, when he wasn’t approached for the 1994 feature film, Max was irritated. By then, he realized the marketability of The Beverly Hillbillies, forcing him to come to terms with his history of being typecast.
Max also took a particular interest in the gambling industry and installed 65 Beverly Hillbillies-themed slot machines in ten different casinos in 1999. Starting in 2003, Max began working on a themed casino and hotel in Nevada, but the project was eventually suspended in July 2012. After Donna Douglas died in 2015, Max is the only surviving cast member.
Before Milburn Drysdale
Like many of his co-stars, actor Raymond Bailey was relatively well-known before joining the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies. Born in San Fransisco, Raymond moved to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming an actor, but finding a job was a lot harder than he thought it would be. After having the same luck in New York, Raymond worked as a merchant seaman, which took him to ports all around the world.
After serving in World War II, Raymond returned to Hollywood, determined to find a job. His hard work and patience paid off, and, in the beginning of the 1950s, Raymond landed several appearances on TV shows and small roles in feature films. Eventually, Raymond landed the role of banker Milburn Drysdale. Unfortunately, Raymond was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was forced to retire from acting.
The World of Academia
Before her career as an actress, Nancy Kulp worked as a writer for a publication called the Miami Beach Tropics. In 1943, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Flordia State University before receiving her master’s degree in English and French from the University of Miami. Not long after getting married, Nancy moved to Hollywood and worked in the publicity department at MGM and started acting.
She made appearances in many popular shows at the time, including I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone. After The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end, Nancy joined the 1980 Broadway production of Morning’s at Seven, before retiring from acting altogether to pursue her dream of a political career. Unfortunately, Nancy didn’t make it in politics, but she later took a job teaching acting.