Clockwise, from bottom right: Bea Benaderet and the girls of Petticoat Junction
Question: Okey dokey, my dad and I have a bet riding on this one. My father says that Petticoat Junction came before The Beverly Hillbillies and that Kate and Pearl, though both played by the late, great Bea Benaderet, were not related. I, on the other hand, say that the Hillbillies came before Petticoat — and I am pretty darn sure that there was something about Kate and Pearl being distant cousins or something of the sort. Who's right? Thanks!
Answer: Looks like it's a draw on this one, Ashley. And since you broke the age-old Televisionary rule and didn't tell me what your bet was (and that's Mr. Okey Dokey to you, by the way), all I can say is it's either a wash and you owe each other nothing, or you should buy something nice for one another.
You're right on the first count: The Beverly Hillbillies debuted on CBS in September 1962 and the network introduced Petticoat Junction (which bore at least three other titles — Ozark Widow, Dern Tootin' and Whistle Stop — before making it onto the air) a year later to see if it could keep the hick-related ratings gusher a-flowin'. However, as far as I know, there was no substantial (I can't believe I'm using that word in connection with these two shows) connection between Cousin Pearl Bodine, mother of Jethro (Max Baer Jr.), and widow Kate Bradley, whom Benaderet played on Junction.
Showbiz vet Paul Henning, who created Hillbillies, Junction and the latter's spin-off, Green Acres, didn't have any ideas handy when CBS executives came calling for a second show. But as many a creative type will tell you, a good deal of writing is stealing — and who better to steal from than your betrothed? Ruth Henning's grandparents had owned a tiny hotel near the Rock Island Railroad station in Eldon, Mo., and she'd told her husband many a tale from the days when she and her female cousins would visit. Henning ran with the concept and Hooterville, the Shady Rest hotel, the C.F.&W. Railroad and the Cannonball were born.
The tale of how Benaderet came to the part of Kate, who ran the Shady Rest together with daughters Billie Jo (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Jo (Pat Woodell), and Betty Jo (Henning's daughter, Linda Kaye Henning) and lazy old Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan), varied according to whom you asked. Benaderet told TV Guide in 1964 that Henning promised to write a show for her to star in when they both worked on the Burns and Allen radio show. To hear Henning tell it, he decided to do it when, while showing the Hillbillies pilot to so many executives that he found himself bored with the repetition, he focused on the actress' performance as Cousin Pearl to ease the monotony.
Either way, that was only one of the casting questions that came up during the series' seven-year lifespan. By the time Junction left the air in 1970, three actresses had played Billie Jo (Gunilla Hutton relieved Riley in 1965 and was herself replaced a year later by My Three Sons alumna Meredith MacRae), and Lori Saunders took over as Bobbie Jo at the same time Hutton stepped in.
"I felt all the time I put in studying drama was wasted," Woodell said after her departure, while Riley explained that there wasn't enough for her to do on the show. Mind you, that was more explanation than the fans ever got for the new daughterly faces — not that anyone cared. Few audience members wrote in to ask why their favorite country daughters looked entirely different, and Benaderet herself said that bothering to explain would only "underrate" the viewers. "They know it's play acting," she said. Smiley Burnette, who played Cannonball engineer Charley Pratt, had his own, sunnier take on the matter. "This show is like a cake," he said. "You don't see the eggs." Apparently not, and the audience didn't seem to see that various actors played several different characters over the course of the show's run, either.
When Benaderet died of lung cancer in 1968, Henning brought lady physician Janet Craig to Hooterville to tend to the town's doctorin' needs. He hired June Lockhart, who'd written him looking for work after Lost in Space was canceled, to play her. "I don't know why actors have to play it so coy when they are 'at liberty,'" Lockhart said soon after joining the series. "I just send a photograph and try to do it with a little humor." She needn't have bothered with the joke; Henning was already an admirer. "I've been a fan of hers since Lassie," he said. "I was the only one who liked her better than the dog."
Of course, one of the best-remembered Junction actors was Higgins the dog (merely called "Dog" on the show), who, after the series ended, was brought out of retirement to launch a career as famed movie mutt Benji. And while I'm on the subject of Junction trivia, it's worth addressing the concerns of another reader who wrote in to ask why it didn't bother anyone in Hooterville that the three Bradley girls were constantly bathing in the town water tower. Nobody drank that water, friend — that was the supply for the Cannonball's steam engine.