“The Beverly Hillbillies” is one of the most-watched television programs of all time. During its 9 seasons, audiences delighted in seeing the impoverished swamp dwellers-turned-millionaires butt heads with their ritzy new neighbors. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and into the real-life drama behind the comedy.
Granny was always happy to smack Jethro around
By all accounts, Irene Ryan was a sweet woman. But apparently she had a bit of a sadistic side, too! Whenever the script required Daisy to slap some sense into poor Jethro, Irene seemed a little too happy to oblige.
In an interview, Ryan confessed that she enjoyed striking poor Max Baer Jr. and that she’d put all her strength into every smack. The son of a champion boxer, Baer was no waif. But still, that could not have been fun to suffer all those blows day in and day out. Show business can be rough!
Buddy Ebsen changed Jedd Clampett
When Ebsen decided to delay his retirement to take on the role of the Clampett family patriarch, he made sure the character was one he could be proud of. In the original script, Jedd was a dim-witted but friendly hillbilly. Ebsen had the writers rework the character.
That’s why Jedd’s character is deceptively sharp on the show. While he may lack a vast vocabulary or formal education, he’s clearly not stupid. The writers made Jethro the fool at Ebsen’s request, giving the dim-witted lines to Jethro. It may seem like a small change, but it radically changed the character dynamics of the show. The show might not have been half as popular without this simple change…
Elly May Clampett: Style icon
To the delight of manufacturers of jeans, Elly May Clampett rapidly became one of the most imitated trendsetters in the entertainment industry. After audiences saw Donna Douglas in her signature style, denim began flying off the shelves. By the end of the first season, blue jeans were all the rage.
Rumor has it that one company, in particular, was happy to give credit where credit was due — reportedly, a Levi Strauss executive was quoted as saying “Donna Douglas has done more for the sale of blue jeans in one year than cowboys have done in a hundred.” High praise, indeed.
Kellog’s and Winston weren’t the only companies that tried to profit off the hit TV show. Donna Douglas (Elly May) was surprised to find out her likeness was being used for the latest Barbie toy. Naturally, she wasn’t happy about not being consulted (or compensated) and sued Mattel and CBS for licensing the dolls without her permission.
Douglass sued the corporations for “engaging in the unauthorized use” of her character’s name and likeness. The giant toy company and production company settled with Douglas out of court for an undisclosed sum in 2011.
‘The Manhattan Time-traveling Hillbillies?’
The original idea for the show was quite a bit different than how the final product turned out. Before settling on the concept for The Beverly Hillbillies, writer Paul Henning played with the idea of making a show about a rural family from 1860 living in present-day New York.
Ultimately, the cost of filming in New York City was too steep for the production company to get on board and the setting was changed to the opposite coast. Thankfully, the science-fiction aspect of the story was abandoned as well.
What’s in a name?
The original title for the show was a bit of a mouthful — The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills just doesn’t have the same ring to it. This name only appears in an unaired version of the pilot episode. It’s unclear who came up with the shortened, punny version of the name but they definitely deserve some praise.
With one of the catchiest titles in television history, it’s hard to imagine the show being titled anything else. Apparently, the producers agreed. By the time the show went on air, the episode was reworked and the new title was used.
Max Baer Jr. had a difficult time putting Jethro behind him
It’s a fairly common story in show business — a rising star becomes a household name after landing a breakout role in an immensely popular TV series only to find that the role would later become a great hindrance to their career. Unfortunately, Baer was typecast as Jethro after his 9-year run on The Beverly Hillbillies.
The actor could only land minor roles after the show ended because many casting directors failed to see him as anything other than Jed Clampett’s simple-minded nephew. However, Baer was able to switch gears. He became more sought after for his work behind the camera later in his career, as a producer, writer, and director.
Paul Henning drew on his own experiences
“Let’s take them back to their home in the Ozarks and see how this whole thing got started,” says the narrator in the series pilot. In fact, Paul Henning grew up in Independence, Missouri — not all that far from the Ozarks that were the Clampett’s home.
Of course, Henning’s upbringing was quite a bit different than the characters he penned in his rural sitcoms. But this didn’t stop him from using his experiences camping in the Ozarks as inspiration for The Beverly Hillbillies. The bank where the Clampetts kept their money — Milburn Drysdale’s Commerce Bank was the real name of a bank Henning lived near as a kid.
Just how rich were the Clampett’s?
The first episode (and theme song) explains just how Jed Clampett and his family came across their fortune and what prompted them to move to Beverly Hills. After oil is discovered on Clampett’s property, Jed is offered and accepts $25 million. Even today, this is a staggering sum.
But just how much is that in today’s currency? Adjusted for inflation, that’s over $212 million. The Clampett’s wealth grew to $100 million by 1971, which is worth over $633 million in 2019. Still short of a billion, but not too bad for some humble hillbillies from rural Missouri.
Sharon Tate was a recurring character
The rising Hollywood star who was tragically cut down just as her career began to take off, was featured prominently in The Beverly Hillbillies. You may not have recognized her, however, as she kept her signature blonde hair hidden beneath a dark wig.
Tate appeared in 15 episodes as Janet Trego. The onscreen romance between Janet and Jethro led to a brief relationship between Tate and Max Baer Jr. Of course, Sharon Tate would later marry director Roman Polanski. The two were expecting their first son at the time of the young actress’s murder.
Miss Jane Hathaway had political aspirations that rubbed Jed Clampett the wrong way
On the show, Miss Jane Hathaway didn’t have much more on her mind than watching birds and finding love. But Nancy Kulp — who played Miss Jane — set her goals much higher. You may be surprised to learn that Miss Kulp was a linguist, teacher, and had a keen appetite for politics.
Nancy Kulp ran for office in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives 12 years after the show ended. To her dismay, show star Buddy Ebsen endorsed her opponent in a campaign ad. “He’s not the kindly old Jed Clampett that you saw on the show,” Kulp said of her former co-star. “It’s none of his business and he should have stayed out of it.” Kulper decisively lost the election. Reportedly, the two reconciled shortly before her death in 1991.
A legendary animal trainer cared for Elly May’s critters
Tomboy Elly May Clampett had quite an affinity for the various “critters” she kept throughout the Clampett residence. “You’ve got so many critters, looks like the waiting room for the Ark,” Jed Clampett once remarked. As you might expect, keeping all these animals together on set presents a fair amount of challenges.
Famed animal trainer of the big screen Frank Inn was the man responsible for making sure the animals hit their cues and didn’t brutalize each other (or the human actors). Inn was also responsible for training one of the most iconic movie felines of all time — “Orangey” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Frank Inn loved animals — he often adopted animals scheduled to be euthanized and made them stars!
In the nick of time
Buddy Ebsen was on the verge of retiring when the producers called him up and asked if he wanted the role of Jed Clampett. The show’s producers had been so impressed by Ebsen’s performance as Doc Golightly in the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s that they felt they had to get him on board as Jed Clampett.
Luckily, he was persuaded not to throw in the towel quite yet. It’s difficult to imagine another actor in the role. Evidently, the role must have inspired him — he’d continue his career for another two decades after The Beverly Hillbillies ended in 1971.
Buddy Ebsen and the Tin Man
Buddy Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett, was the original actor cast to play the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. However, after recording the songs for the film, rehearsing and shooting some scenes, Ebsen began to complain about cramps and shortness of breath.
The doctors determined that the cause of Ebsen’s illness was breathing the aluminum dust used in the Tin Man’s makeup. Ebsen quit the role and was replaced by Jack Haley (with new, safer makeup). Ebsen complained about chronic breathing problems for the rest of his life.
Buddy Ebsen was more than just a great actor — he was also a talented singer and dancer as well. In fact, Ebsen’s career started on Broadway in 1936. Later that year, he danced with Shirley Temple in the musical comedy Captain January.
When The Beverly Hillbillies was nearing the height of its popularity, Ebsen capitalized by releasing an album of country-western music. The album was titled Buddy Ebsen Says Howdy in Song and Story and was released on Reprise Records in 1965. But that’s not all — Ebsen also wrote a novel.
Corn flakes and tobacco
If you watched the show when it originally aired — this one won’t seem like much of a secret. Kellog’s Corn Flakes was a proud sponsor of The Beverly Hillbillies and they weren’t afraid to show it. No episode was complete without “K-E-Double L-O-Double Good. Kellogg’s best to you,” playing at the end.
There are also multiple instances of blatant product placement scattered throughout the 9 seasons. In fact, The Beverly Hillbillies theme song even had a couple of extra verses you may not have heard — one promoted Kellog’s, the other promoted Winston cigarettes. In case you needed more evidence that times have changed.
Producers tried to hide the location of the Clampett home
The mansion that served as the luxurious Beverly Hills home of Jed and family is actually located in Bel Air. It once belonged to a real estate investor and art collector who died only months before filming started. His widow allowed the crew to film the show there, under the condition that they never reveal the location.
Producers tried to keep the home hidden, but superfans quickly solved the mystery — and eventually, crowds began to gather near the gates while the show was being filmed. The property was recently put on the market with an asking price of $350 million dollars.
The 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster is now more commonly known by another name — The Beverly Hillbillies truck. The trusty old truck often turned heads when it cruised through the affluent streets. The customized vehicle sold at a 2015 auction for an impressive $275 million — not bad for a car that must have sold for around $2,200 brand new.
It was common for Oldsmobiles between 1921 and 1930 to be equipped with a roaring V8 engine — and the 46 Roadster was no exception. Interestingly, each of the eight cylinders had cups that were meant to be filled with ether or another quick-starting solution. In cold weather, the trusty jalopy was still reliable.
Mr. Drysdale suffered from Alzheimer’s disease
Tragically, Raymond Bailey’s storied career came to an end shortly after The Beverly Hillbillies went off the air. If you pay close attention to the last few episodes, you can see signs of the disease taking hold. Bailey would appear in only two other roles after the show ended — Herbie Rides Again and The Strongest Man in the World.
Raymond Bailey came from humble beginnings, but he always strove to be a star. One of his first jobs in show business was as a day laborer on the set of a silent film. The job ended abruptly when Bailey tried to sneak in front of the camera. Thankfully, he didn’t let the setback stop him.
Cookbooks brought in extra cash
We’ve already mentioned a couple of ways companies were able to capitalize on The Beverly Hillbillies in some unlikely ways. This is just one other example. Family dinner at the Clampett residence was a common occurrence on the show — and audiences found their mouths watering at some of Granny’s cooking.
It didn’t take a genius to spot the obvious, lucrative marketing opportunity. The plates served on the show became the inspiration for an officially licensed cookbook by Jim Clark and Ken Beck. The Beverly Hillbillies cookbook flew off the shelves. The wildly successful cookbook includes 330 recipes from the show.
John Wayne was paid for his cameo in an unconventional way
As the show’s popularity rose, the studio began bringing in more famous guests. Though they certainly didn’t lack for funds, the studio found an interesting (and pretty on-brand) way to pay John Wayne for his appearance on an episode of the show.
Wayne was given a fifth of whiskey for his cameo appearance in the 1967 episode “The Indians are Coming.” Reportedly, this was at the request of the legendary actor. When asked how he wanted to be paid, Wayne replied: “Give me a fifth of bourbon – that’ll square it.”
Granny was almost played by a different actress
It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the iconic role of “Granny,” but originally producers had seriously considered another actress to play the abrasive mother-in-law. Television star Bea Benaderet wanted the part and auditioned for the role. Paul Henning decided to hire Irene Ryan instead because he’d imagined a wiry woman as Granny.
Even though she’d wanted the part, Benaderet supported Henning’s decision to hire Ryan after being equally floored by Irene’s audition tape. Bea Benaderet and Paul Henning remained good friends, and Benaderet was given a recurring role on the show as Cousin Pearl Bodine. Henning was so impressed by Benaderet that he decided to write a whole show around a role he’d envisioned for her — Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction.
Max Baer Jr. is much more shrewd than his character
Jethro Bodine was quite the simpleton, but actor Max Baer Jr. is anything but. The university graduate successfully sued television networks on multiple occasions. He even won a lawsuit against his former home network of CBS for essentially the same reason Donna Douglas sued them.
When Baer found out that CBS had licensed Jethro’s BBQ restaurant chain without Baer’s permission, he sought compensation. Fortunately for the popular restaurant owner, Jethro’s BBQ was not named in the lawsuit. Once again, the matter was settled out of court
A catchy theme song
Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, you’ve probably heard the theme song at some point in your life. That’s because “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” itself was incredibly popular in its own right, hitting 44 on the Billboard charts.
Written by Paul Henning himself, the song features some humorous and memorable lyrics that have been referenced and parodied throughout the years. The original song was performed by guitarist Lester Flatt, banjoist Earl Scruggs, and singer Jerry Scoggins. Scoggins also sang the updated version of the song for the 1993 film adaptation.
The voice of Jethro’s twin
It would be almost impossible not to realize Jethro’s twin sister, Jethrine Bodine, was also played by Max Baer Jr. (in drag) — but it would also be impossible to realize it wasn’t Max Baer Jr.’s voice. That’s because Jethrine was voiced by show creator Paul Henning’s own daughter, Linda.
Watching the scenes with Jethrine is even funnier given that bit of information. Linda Kaye Henning played Betty Jo Bradley on Paul Henning’s other wildly popular sitcom, Petticoat Junction.
A ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ casino?
The only surviving cast member of The Beverly Hillbillies is Max Baer Jr., and he still has big plans for marketing the show. Baer has his eyes on Las Vegas as the prime location for a chain of restaurants and casinos based on the classic television show.
Ever the shrewd businessman, he’s already landed sub-licensing rights to use the name on slot machines. If he’s able to get the ball rolling, we may see some Beverly Hillbillies-themed casinos and restaurants popping up sooner rather than later.
More copyright snafus
Low-budget production companies must have been overjoyed when they saw 55 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies enter the public domain. This happened when Orion Television forgot — or didn’t bother — to reapply for copyright renewal. This gave companies free rein to put the whole first season and other episodes on smaller networks and release the episodes on VHS and DVD.
If you own one of these DVD or VHS copies, you’ll likely notice the theme song has been replaced by generic, royalty-free music. That’s because the companies weren’t able to secure the rights to use the theme song, even though the episodes were up for grabs.
When The Beverly Hillbillies originally aired, it was the fastest show to reach number 1 in ratings, claiming the top spot after only three weeks. In the nine years the show was on television, it was one of the 20 most-watched programs of the year all but once. For two years, it stayed at number 1.
Despite poor critical reception, audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of the wacky characters in their fish-out-of-water situation. However, as beloved as the show was, it couldn’t stop CBS from pulling the plug in 1971.
The rural purge
Many a television show with a western theme fell during the so-called “rural purge” of 1970-75. CBS especially was ruthless in axing beloved shows with rural settings to make room for hip, urban shows the networks thought appealed to a wider audience base. Petticoat Junction, another Paul Henning-scripted sitcom was the first on the chopping block.
A year later, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies suffered the same fate. It wasn’t that the show’s popularity was waning — in fact, the show averaged 57 million viewers per week. Because the show met such an abrupt end, the writers didn’t get a chance to write a proper send-off for the beloved characters.
The 1993 adaptation couldn’t recreate the magic
Whether it’s because they’ve run out of ideas, they see dollar signs, or they just want to put a fresh spin on things, big movie studios will often mine the classics to repackage them for a younger generation and capture some original fans willing to bask in the nostalgia.
A Beverly Hillbillies 1993 reboot seemed like a surefire recipe for success. Unfortunately, the comedy was panned by critics and audiences alike. The film currently has a rating of 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the reception, the film did make a fair amount of money for 20th Century Fox, raking in $57,405,220 worldwide.
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