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 in the Ozarks 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 life 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.
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".
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
In 1981, a Return of the Beverly Hillbillies TV movie 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 the recast 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.
The 1993 The Beverly Hillbillies film returned the storyline to its original premise, retelling the arrival of the Clampetts in Beverly Hills.
Reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies are still televised daily around the world in syndication. The show is broadcast on TV Land many times throughout each day of the week, including weekends, albeit heavily edited, adversely affecting the pace of the story and character development. The show is distributed by CBS Television Distribution, the syndication arm of CBS Paramount Television. The repeats of the show that debuted on CBS Daytime on September 5-9, 1966 as "Mornin' Beverly Hillbillies" through September 10, 1971 and on September 13-17, 1971 as "The Beverly HILLBILLIES" lasted up to Winter 1971–1972. It aired at 11:00-11:30am Eastern/10:00-10:30am Central through September 3, 1971, then moved to 10:30-11:00am Eastern/9:30-10:00am Central for the last season on CBS Daytime.
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 October 7th, 2008 as "...The Official Second Season", albeit with music changes and replacements that are typical of more recent CBS DVD releases.
In 1993, a 110-card set of Beverly Hillbillies trading cards was released by Eclipse Comics. Although timed to coincide with the release of the 1993 Beverly Hillbillies film, these cards featured photos from the original television series, with storylines and character details on the back. That same year, Ebsen, Douglas, and Baer reunited onscreen for the only time in the TBS retrospective television special, "The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies".
In episode 258, "The Frog Family", Granny told a psychiatrist that Jed and Jethro were second cousins (a common error when actually referring to a "first cousin once removed"). In the same episode, Granny also recounted a story about Jethro's father, Fred Bodine, who died in a drowning incident. However in an earlier episode Jethro told another psychiatrist that he used to go hunting with his father.
A running joke is Granny's loyalty and revisionist history in regards to the "Boys in Grey", but she hails from the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee, which although part of the Confederacy remained loyal to the Union. This however may be explained as Granny's confusion as she states the North tried to withdraw from the United States not the other way around. She consistently says Jefferson Davis is the President of the United States which would explain her confusion.
There is no real clear indicator of where the Clampetts hail from. Granny is mentioned as being from "across the river" and born in the same county as Davy Crockett. That would place her birth in Eastern Tennessee. There are other references in episodes which suggest an origin in the Ozarks of Arkansas or Missouri. In the opening episodes, it's established that the owner of OK Oil, lives in Tulsa about 50 miles away, which would place the Clampetts in Arkansas. Also Jethro makes several references to Springfield and Joplin which are in Southwestern Missouri. Injoke references also suggest Bug Tussle is near Silver Dollar City or near Hooterville of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. In the beginning episodes Jethrine meets Jasbo Depew and they go to a dance in nearby Hooterville. In one episode Granny tells of a 3rd cousin, a famous "painter" (of barns) in "Pike County" (there is a Pike County in Arkansas and one in Missouri). One episode has Granny referring to her moonshine as "Tennessee Tranquilizer".
The opening episode establishes the Clampetts' nearest neighbor is eight miles way. Indeed Pearl seems to live in a very small town while Jed, Granny and Elly live far back in the woods. As the Clampetts first settle into their mansion, Jed, Granny and Elly all have no idea what a phone is but Jethro does, so his family does seem to be a bit more advanced.
Most episodes revolved around the clash between the "uncivilized" hillbilly culture represented by the Clampetts and the "civilized" American culture of the Drysdales. The Clampetts lived as they always had, even in their large, elegant mansion, never abandoning their mountain attire or replacing the old rattletrap truck in which they had they moved to California. All the Hillbillies were handy with firearms and always seemed to have their weapons close at hand and ready to draw. They continued to grow their own food, and Granny made lye soap and moonshine. The extreme potency of the moonshine liquor and the harshness of the lye soap were running gags throughout the run of the series.
As another running joke, the movie theaters back in the hills were still showing films from the silent movie era and the Hillbillies were unaware of talking pictures or more contemporary movie stars. Granny's favorite actor was Hoot Gibson, but she also had an intense crush on William S. Hart, and the whole Clampett family adored Mary Pickford. Silent movie legend Gloria Swanson made a memorable guest appearance on the show as herself in an episode that featured a comic parody of a silent melodrama. The Clampetts did, however, have a television, on which they watched soap operas and "rasslin'", as well as John Wayne movies, as he was apparently one of the few "talkie" movie stars of whom they were aware. Wayne made a brief cameo as himself after the Clampett mansion was "attacked" by stuntmen dressed as Native Americans.
Pearl and Granny often fought for kitchen supremacy. Pearl once told Granny "a blood cousin trumps a mother-in-law". This underscored a familial disconnect between Jethro and Granny; although they shared no bloodlines, Jethro still called her "Granny" (as did everyone else on the show, including Jane and the Drysdales). Other than their kitchen wars, relations between Granny and Pearl were generally friendly. The second season began with a brief mention of Pearl having moved back to the hills, an ironic departure, as it was Pearl who had urged Jed to move to California. The change came about because actress Bea Benaderet had left the show to star in Petticoat Junction). Mrs. Drysdale soon became Granny's main sparring partner.
Although both Douglas and Baer were well into their twenties when the series started, during the first years of the series, their characters were supposed to be teenagers. Elly May was enrolled in an elite girls' school in the first season, although no further mention was made of her education in later episodes. Jethro was enrolled in a sixth-grade class with much younger students; a few episodes later on, the scripts suggested that he was still in school.
A running theme during the series involved the outlandish efforts Mr. Drysdale took to keep the Clampetts in Beverly Hills (and their money in his bank). Their desires to return to the mountains were often prompted by Granny after some perceived slight she received from the "city-folk" around them. Drysdale went so far as to recreate the log cabin the Clampetts had lived in and place it right next to the "cee-ment pond" and the still Granny had installed to make moonshine. Another time Drysdale followed the Clampetts to the "Hills" and bought up the Silver Dollar City "bank" just to make sure he had a controlling interest in the Clampetts' money. One running gag was that when Jed would take money out of his pocket, Drysdale's blood pressure would go up. A similar running joke was that when it seemed the Clampetts would take their money out of his bank, Drysdale's face would turn green. A variation of the joke of Drysdale's face changing color is in one episode when after being given some of Granny's "Tennessee Tranquilizer" (moonshine), Drysdale's face turns red!
Another frequent source of humor dealt with Jethro's endless career search, which included such diverse vocations as soda jerk, brain surgeon, Hollywood celebrity, and secret "double naught" agent/spy. Jethro coveted movie star fame and relished becoming a "playboy" like Elly's sometimes-beau Dash Riprock (Larry Pennell). Jethro's stupidity usually caused such career attempts to fail spectacularly, as when he decided to open a "topless" restaurant ("The Happy Gizzard"), where the waiters and waitresses were hatless. The one time in the series when Jethro almost succeeded as a "Hollywood celebrity" was when "Cousin Roy" (Roy Clark) tried to get Jethro to back him up as a country singer in Hollywood; Jethro refused and failed as usual. Jethro did have one success, of sorts. When he rescued a Bird Watchers girl troop who fell into the "cement pond" (they were attacked by ants), Jethro got a "lifesaving badge"!
Misunderstandings were a general source of humor in the program: when the Clampetts did not understand something they had never encountered before (such as a water faucet), or when various city dwellers could not comprehend something the Clampetts were talking about. A group of businessmen overheard Jed talking about "crawdads" and concluded that he was discussing a new type of military vehicle, which they wanted to invest in.
The Clampetts went back to the hills for Christmas during the first season but did not return there again until the eighth season, during which several episodes were filmed on location at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. During this period, Shugh Fisher and Elvia Allman joined the cast in the semi-regular roles of Jed's eccentric friend "Shorty" and Granny's arch-nemesis Elverna Bradshaw, respectively.
One constant throughout the series was that the Hillbillies, who were scrupulously honest, were surrounded by cynical, conniving and money-hungry "city-folk," whose plans were always foiled (usually unknowingly) by the Clampetts.
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