1 9 6 2 – 1 9 7 1 (USA)
274 x 30 minute episodes
One of the most durable television sitcoms, and one of the most successful of the popular rural comedies at CBS during the 1960s, The Beverly Hillbillies has withstood critical disdain and become a favourite with viewers in reruns.
The Beverly Hillbillies is the old story of city slicker versus country bumpkin, of education versus wisdom, and though the laughs are at the Hillbillies’ expense, in the end, they almost always come out on top despite their lack of sophistication.
This simple account of simple country folk at odds with city folk hit a nerve in the country and was reflected in a number of other shows of the era, including fellow Paul Henning productions Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.
The Beverly Hillbillies premiered to a critical blasting and yet, within a few weeks, was the top-rated show in the US and remained in that position throughout its first two seasons.
In the theme song, we learn the story of Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen), a widowed mountain man who lives in a small cabin near Blueberry Ridge in the Ozark community of Sibly.
One day, while hunting for food on his property (the area is overrun with bobcats, possums, coyotes and skunks), Jed shoots at a rabbit but misses and strikes the ground, releasing some “bubbling crude” on his land – “Oil, that is. Black gold, Texas tea.”
Jed sells the drilling rights to his oil to John Brewster (Frank Wilcox), president of the OK Oil Company for $25 million and becomes an instant millionaire.
Jed is advised to move from the hills, and so he goes off to a luxurious thirty-two-room mansion at 518 Crestview Drive in Beverly Hills, CA, to live the high life. Along with him, he takes his mother-in-law, Daisy “Granny” Moses (Irene Ryan); his beautiful unmarried daughter, Elly May (Donna Douglas); and his not-too-bright nephew, Jethro Bodine (Max Baer, Jr.).
In California, Jed’s money is kept at the Commerce Bank, and along with the bank comes its president, Milburn Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), and his plain but smart assistant, Jane Hathaway (Nancy Kulp), who calls Drysdale “Chief”, and who the Clampett’s call “Miss Jane”.
To keep a closer eye on his largest depositor, Drysdale arranges for the Clampetts to move into the mansion next to his house in Beverly Hills. Obsessed with the fear that the family will move back to the hills along with their money, Drysdale will do practically anything to assuage them and help them feel comfortable in their new home.
This simple premise remains essentially unchanged through the bulk of the show’s run, with most of the interactions involving the Clampetts and the Drysdale/Hathaway team – and occasionally Drysdale’s snobby wife, Margaret (Harriet E MacGibbon), who has a French poodle called Claude and feels the Clampett’s are a disgrace to the neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, the Clampett’s attempt to live the life of millionaires is doomed from the very start because; a) they still yearn for Hicksville, and, b) they may have 25 million dollars but they do not have a clue what to do with it.
Granny even has trouble telling the TV set from the washing machine . . .
City life is not difficult for the rube man-child Jethro, who fancies himself a playboy or secret agent or movie producer and wants to keep his “hick” family from making him look bad. His main goal is to attract the opposite sex “and find me a sweetheart.” Jethro had ambitions to be an astronaut (“to find Moon Maidens”), a streetcar conductor, a pig farmer, “do brain surgerin’,” become a folk singer and a movie star – although the closest he came was as a stunt double for film star Dash Riprock (Larry Pennell).
When Jed feels Jethro has done something wrong, he remarks “I gotta have a long talk with that boy.”
Elly May is a pretty tomboy (when she got her first bra, she thought it was “a store-bought lace-trimmed double-barreled sling shot”) who seems content to live in the city as long as she has her “critters” around her – she has a rooster, Earl (who can play dead), two chimpanzees, Skipper and Bessie (also called Beth), a jaguar (Jasper), raccoon (Elmer), squirrel (Nicky), cat (Rusty) and a duck (Charley).
But crusty old Granny is not happy here, where she has lost her stature in society – she is unable to practice her unlicensed mountain doctoring (Dr Roy Clyburn (Fred Clark) has threatened to press charges) – and can no longer make her lye soap (the process pollutes the air), or find needed ingredients (such as “possum innards”) in city stores,
She does, however, have a still in the backyard (to brew her “Rheumatiz Medicine”).
Most of the characters in The Beverly Hillbillies are caricatures and stereotypes of rich and poor. The only real exception is Jed Clampett, who alone seems to appreciate both sides.
The humour in this show comes from many sources. Initially, the jokes and obvious humour come at the expense of the Hillbillies.
The ragged clothes, the fascination with the most ordinary aspects of everyday life (they assume the billiard table is for formal dining and that the cues are for reaching across the table), and odd customs and ideas about high society based on silent movies that reached their hometown.
But just as funny are the city folk, like Mr Drysdale and his transparent efforts to get them to stay – though, to give the man credit, his investments of their money grow the Clampett wealth to $80 million by the time the series ended.
The Beverly Hillbillies is at its best in showing how foolish modern-day life looks through the eyes of the transplanted country folk.
Jed is the centre and the speaker, pointing out those things that seem not to make sense and, upon reflection, we can often agree.
While this show is no work of high art or philosophy, and the storylines and situations are often ludicrous and sometimes downright foolish, it does an excellent job of entertaining with a basic backdrop and characters for thirty minutes.
Anxious to capitalise on their success, CBS commissioned two other rustic sitcom spin-offs, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. Critics, of course, hated all three shows, and, because it was the first, reserved their strongest vitriol for The Beverly Hillbillies.
The public was having none of it: they loved the show and watched it in record numbers. Remarkably, the eight most-watched half-hours in the history of US television are all Beverly Hillbillies episodes.
It’s a safe bet, though, that a good proportion of the viewing audience were young males tuning in to catch an eyeful of blonde bombshell, Elly May Clampett in the tightest jeans around . . .
In the weeks following the assassination of President Kennedy, this show had four of its highest-rated shows and some of the highest-rated shows of all time. But in 1971 CBS pulled the plug – and not just on this show but on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres too.
All may have been past their prime but audience ratings remained high, and the network’s only valid reason for cancelling was a commercial one: polls indicated that the shows were attracting the wrong type of viewers for the advertisers.
So that was that until ten years later, when three of the original cast (Ebsen, Douglas and Kulp) came together for a witless two-hour reunion special, The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, screened by CBS on 6 October 1981.
Ray Young replaced Max Baer Jr to play Jethro while Irene Ryan (Granny) had died in 1973 and Raymond Bailey (Milburn Drysdale) in 1980. Harriet MacGibbon (Margaret Drysdale) was around 75 years old by this time and was not cast.
Twelve years further on again, in 1993, 20th Century-Fox made a feature film of The Beverly Hillbillies (directed by Penelope Spheeris, with Jim Varney as Jed Clampett) that also failed to hit the mark, with only Lily Tomlin (cast as Miss Hathaway) outstanding.
That same year (on 24 May 1993), CBS presented The Legend Of The Beverly Hillbillies, featuring surviving members of the original cast linking old clips and explaining what happened to the Clampetts and their acquaintances since it ended.
Donna Douglas died in January 2015, aged 81. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.
Max Baer appeared in drag as Jethro’s sister (Jethrine) on the show. Paul Henning (the creator of the series) had his 18-year-old daughter Linda dub Jethrine’s voice.
The real mansion used for exterior establishing shots in the series was also the location for the 1960 Jerry Lewis movie Cinderfella.
The house (which is actually at 750 Bel Air Road, Bel Air – not Beverly Hills) was owned by Mrs Arnold Kirkeby, widow of a hotel magnate, whose holdings included the famed Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Her favourite charity received a donation in exchange for its use in some drive-up shots and occasional establishing views. All the other exterior scenes used a recreated set piece.
For the first episode, Filmways built a little cabin on location near Beverly Hills reservoir and filmed there for five days. It looked as rustic and rural as any place in the Ozarks but was within the city limits and close to the studio.
Jedidiah “Jed” Clampett
Granny (Daisy Moses)
Elly May Clampett
Jethro Bodine/Jethrine Bodine
Max Baer Jr
Harriet E MacGibbon
Cousin Pearl Bodine
Dr Roy Clyburn
The Ballad of Jed Clampett
Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named Jed,
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
And up through the ground came a-bubblin’ crude.
Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea.
Well, the first thing you know, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire,
The kinfolk said, “Jed, move away from there,”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be,”
So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.
Hills, that is. Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars.
Well, now it’s time to say goodbye to Jed and all his kin,
And they would like to thank you folks fer kindly droppin’ in,
You’re all invited back again to this locality,
To have a heapin’ helpin’ of their hospitality.
Hillbilly that is. Set a spell. Take your shoes off.
Y’all come back now, y’hear?