The inspiration for the TV show the Beverly Hillbillies stemmed from creator Paul Henning’s Boy Scout days camping in the Ozarks in the American South. He thought it would be funny to do a “fish out of water” tale by dropping simple rural folks into a posh cosmopolitan setting. This idea gushed into a TV hit much like the oil strike that sent the Clampetts off to Beverly (Hills, that is). The nouveau riche series ran for nine successful seasons on CBS, but it wasn’t all laughter and bliss behind the scenes. Here are some things you didn’t know about The Beverly Hillbillies.
1. Jed Clampett Was Almost the Tin Man
Buddy Ebsen was a successful actor/dancer who worked in vaudeville, on Broadway and in films with the likes of Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. His willowy dance moves were actually used as inspiration for Walt Disney’s animated Silly Symphonies. He was actually cast as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, but was later switched to play the Tin Man after Ray Bolger signed on. However, he had a serious reaction to the aluminum metallic makeup and had to drop out due to illness. He claimed to have ongoing lung problems due to “that damned movie” even though he lived longer than all the major cast members from the film.
2. Critics Hated the Show
While the public quickly fell head over heels for the show, the critics were another matter. They thought it was in poor taste to make fun of simple, uneducated people culture clashing with the rich. The New York Times wrote that the show was “strained and unfunny.” Variety said it was “painful to sit through.” Time said the show used “the lowest form of humor,” and another critic said, “If television is America’s vast wasteland, the ‘Hillbillies’ must be Death Valley.” Critique it all you want, the show ran for nine years, was the top ranking show for two of them, and got seven Emmy nominations during that time. Fans and critics don’t always think alike.
3. Buddy Ebsen and Nancy Kulp Clashed
Nancy Kulp played the homely Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to the scheming banker Mr. Drysdale. She also had the unrequited hots for Jethro. She and Buddy Ebsen apparently didn’t get along and were at odds over politics. At the age of 62, Kulp decided to run for office as the Democratic nominee for the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. However, her former co-star actually campaigned for her opponent, doing radio spots for him where he called her “too liberal.” Kulp lost the election, and was bitter that Ebsen did this to her. She admitted that she’d always found him difficult to work with, but she stated “I never would have done something like this to him.”
4. Their Beverly Hills Mansion was Really Located in Bel Air
Arnold Kirkeby owned the mansion in Bel Air, California, that the Beverly Hillbillies lived in after striking black gold, Texas tea. The show’s creator Paul Henning paid $500 per day to film on the mansion’s grounds, a steal compared to today’s prices, no doubt. Sadly, the owner died in a plane crash several months before the first episode ever aired, but his wife continued to live there. The contract stated that the mansion’s address could not be revealed in press releases. Somehow fans found out about the 750 Bel Air Road address and constantly flocked there to gawk. What were they expecting, to see Granny digging in the garden? With fans and tourists milling around, filming on-location became difficult.
5. The Theme Song Hit the Charts
Even if you don’t remember many of the episodes, you probably are familiar with the Beverly Hillbillies catchy theme song. It’s right up there with Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch for toe-tapping cheesy goodness. The theme song for this show was called “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which was sung by country western singer Jerry Scoggins and featured the bluegrass duo Flatt and Scruggs. The song actually ended up landing on the 44 spot of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Do you know all the lyrics?
6. Max Baer Jr. Has a Love/Hate Relationship with His “Jethro” Role
The actor who played the dimwitted Jethro Bodine believes that the role essentially killed his acting career. He had a few minor roles over the years, but mostly stuck to writing, producing and directing due to the typecasting he seemed to be stuck with. When he was asked to participate in the 1981 television movie of The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, he flat-out declined. However, he was later outraged that he wasn’t asked to do a cameo in the 1993 movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies, and was particularly incensed because Buddy Ebsen was. Later that year, he decided to reprise Jethro by appearing in the TV special The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies. Max Baer Jr. is the last living cast member of the iconic show.
7. The Banker Had Alzheimer’s
Raymond Bailey played the self-serving banker Mr. Drysdale who managed the Clampetts’ fortune, to much comedic effect. Sadly, the actor began to show signs of Alzeheimer’s disease during his last few years on the set. It’s quite apparent in the last two or three episodes. He had to quit acting altogether and became a recluse until he passed away in 1980 at the age of 75.
8. John Wayne Was Paid in Bourbon For His Appearance
John Wayne had a small role on the show during the fifth season. Throughout the episode “The Indians Are Coming” Granny kept mentioning that she wished John Wayne was there to help fight the “injuns,” and at the end of the episode he shows up. Not exactly a storyline we’d see today. As far as payment went John didn’t ask for much. He supposedly said: “Give me a fifth of bourbon, that’ll square it.”
9. Sharon Tate Was in The Beverly Hillbillies
Sharon Tate is mostly known as the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski who was one of the unfortunate victims of the Manson family killings. Were you aware that before the tragedy she had a recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies? She appeared in 15 episodes in a brunette wig as the bank teller Janet Trego. She later won a Golden Globe nomination for her role in Valley of the Dolls.
10. There Was Almost a Beverly Hillbillies Casino
Max Baer Jr. who played Jethro on the show had ambitions to build some Beverly Hillbillies themed hotels, restaurants and casinos in Nevada. He succeeded in getting some sub-licensing rights for products like food and slot machines, and he had dreams of a 200-foot replica of an oil derrick. The project has hit many roadblocks through the years, though, so time will tell if Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Casino ever becomes a reality. Don’t underestimate Jethro, though. Max Baer Jr. is actually a very successful businessman who’s made millions producing films like Macon County Line (which he made for just $100K) and Ode to Billy Joe, another low-budget production that hit the box-office jackpot.
11. Elly May Sued Mattel Over a Barbie Doll
The Classic TV Collection from Mattel featured three Barbies, including one of “Elly May Clampett,” the character played by Donna Douglas. As Jed’s critter-loving daughter on the show, she was hardly the posh princess type. Fans loved her homespun down-to-earth charm. However, in 2011 she decided to sue Mattel for using her likeness without permission on the doll. She objected to the packaging which featured a black and white head shot of Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett on the box plus a drawing of Elly May on the back. She later settled the suit, but then passed away in 2015 at the age of 82.
12. Want to Cook Up Some of Granny’s Roadkill?
The character of Granny was played by Irene Ryan. She was Jed’s mother-in-law, famous for cooking up “vittles.” Perhaps frying up possum isn’t on your dinner radar tonight, but there are quite a few cookbooks out there that were inspired by Granny and the Beverly Hillbillies’ recipes.
13. Buddy Ebsen Made a Cameo in The Beverly Hillbillies Movie – But Not as Jed
No, the actor who embodied the family patriarch in the TV version of The Beverly Hillbillies actually made his cameo portraying another one of his iconic characters. From 1973 to 1980, Ebsen had the titular role as detective Barnaby Jones, and it was as this character that he appeared in the 1993 movie adaptation. Talk about a TV mash-up.
14. The Show Had the Fastest Ratings Rise Ever
After Beverly Hillbillies aired in 1962 it only took three weeks for it to take the number one spot in the TV ratings, which happened to be the fastest uptick that had ever occurred in TV history. It then managed to stay there for two years. The show actually ranked in the top 20 for eight seasons, only dropping down during its last year on the air, but still managing to make the top 25. But that’s not why it was canceled…
15. The Show Was Cancelled While it Was Still Popular
The Beverly Hillbillies was still popular in 1971 when the CBS executive Fred Silverman decided to pull the plug. This wasn’t because of a ratings drop but because of how many other “rural” shows were on the network at the time. They included The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres and the network just didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into that niche, even though it was successful.
16. That Jalopy is Now in a Museum
Almost as famous as the rest of the cast, the dusty broken-down 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster used in the series has earned its place in history. Who could forget the images of the clan bouncing around in the opening sequence as they cruise down Sunset Boulevard? Well, that jalopy is now the best known exhibit in The Ralph Foster Museum at Missouri’s College of the Ozarks. The show’s creator, Paul Henning, gifted it to the museum in May 1976 for its Bicentennial celebrations. That old beater actually made a trip overseas. In 1967, numerous episodes were filmed in England. The truck was dismantled and shipped across the pond for some authentic Clampett adventures while there.
17. Just How Much Were the Clampetts Worth?
The show started with the Clampett fortune at $25 million and it grew to $100 million by the end. Adjusting for inflation that would be going from around $195 million to $583 million!
18. Buddy Ebsen Became a Successful Author at 93
At a time when most of us will be long retired (or dead) Buddy Ebsen decided to pen a novel. Kelly’s Quest was rejected by nine publishers, so he decided to self-publish. His book actually made No. 3 on the Los Angeles Times paperback best-seller list in 2001. Prior to that, his 1994 autobiography The Other Side of Oz was also well received.
19. The Beverly Hillbillies Movie Was a Flop
Hollywood loves to resurrect old sitcoms and put them on the big screen, as there’s usually a built-in audience of nostalgia-craving fans ready to buy tickets just for old time’ sake. However, sometimes it’s best to let a classic lie. Take 1993’s The Beverly Hillbillies movie. It seemed like a good idea on paper, but it just didn’t hit the mark. The film starred Jim Varney as Jed, Diedrich Bader as Jethro, Erika Eleniak as Elly Mae, Cloris Leachman as Granny, Lily Tomlin as Miss Jane Hathaway and Dabney Coleman as Milburn Drysdale. It was a modest box office success but was panned by the audiences and critics alike for failing to capture any of the charm of the original series. Roger Ebert called it “one of the worst movies of this or any year.” Ouch.
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