“Well, listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed,
Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
And up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude’
Oil, that is, black gold, Texas tea”
This catchy ditty by bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs led millions of viewers each week into the world of The Beverly Hillbillies. The show was never a critical favorite (critics…who needs ’em?) but always did well with viewers, drawing in an audience of nearly 60 million each week during its peak years. It was also instrumental in popularizing the ‘high-concept’ sitcom with television audiences (a lead that would later be followed by shows like Gilligan’s Island).
The story (like the theme explained) focused on the Clampetts, a hillbilly family in the Ozarks that became unexpectedly rich after finding oil beneath their property. Jed, widowed patriarch of the clan, decided to pack up the family and their new millions so they could move to Beverly Hills, the land of ‘swimming pools’ and ‘movie stars.’ The rest of the clan included daughter Elly Mae, nephew Jethro, and Jed’s mother-in-law, Granny.
Upon arrival, the family deposited their $25 million fortune into the Commerce Bank. This automatically brought them to the attention of the bank’s president, Milburn Drysdale. Since the Clampetts were now his bank’s most important customers, Mr. Drysdale decided to take them under his wing. He did so by moving them into a grand mansion next to his own home, much to the displeasure of his snooty socialite wife, Mrs. Drysdale.
Most of the show’s plotlines stemmed from Mr. Drysdale’s either trying to make the Clampetts more civilized or creating some sort of diversion to keep them from becoming too homesick to stick around. That wacky Drysdale attempted to enroll Jethro in elementary school, got a medical practice for Granny, and made endless attempts to find Elly Mae a suitor. Mr. Drysdale’s main assistant in these many capers was his officious but always capable right-hand, Miss Hathaway.
The show also got endless mileage from ‘fish-out-of-water’-themed humor as the Clampetts tried to come to terms with everything from indoor plumbing to political corruption. Jed always maintained cool in the face of a crisis, confronting surprises with a mild exclamation of, ‘Well, doggies!,’ and dealing with the problem at hand with his home-spun wisdom. Jethro and Granny’s over-the-top antics guaranteed plenty of slapstick humor, and Elly Mae provided much cheesecake appeal by simply strutting around in tight jeans.
Critics considered The Beverly Hillbillies too ‘lowbrow’ (well, duh), but the show was a big hit from the start. In fact, the series lasted almost a full decade and racked up a total of 274 episodes before being canceled in September of 1971. Although its ratings declined as the show neared its end, the main reason for its cancellation was that CBS decided to do away with all of its rural-themed programming (Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, et al) in late 1971. This was done to placate advertisers who didn’t believe the show’s primarily non-urban audiences bought their products.
The Beverly Hillbillies immediately went into syndication and has been in reruns continuously since its cancellation. The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, a television film reuniting most of the show’s stars, was telecast in 1981. The Beverly Hillbillies was also remade as a motion picture with an all-new cast, including Jim ‘Ernest’ Varney as Jed Clampett, in 1993. You just can’t keep a good hick down.
USA / CBS – Filmways / 274×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 26 September 1962 – 7 September 1971
Creator and Executive Producer: Paul Henning / Executive Producer: Al Simon
Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett
Irene Ryan as Granny Daisy Moses
Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett
Max Baer Jr. as Jethro Bodine (1962-71)
Raymond Bailey as Milburn Drysdale
Nancy Kulp as Miss Jane Hathaway
Louis Nye as Sonny Drysdale (1962)
Bea Benaderet as Cousin Pearl Bodine (1962-63)
Sharon Tate as Janet Trego (1963-64)
Harriet E. MacGibbon as Mrs. Margaret Drysdale (1962-69)
Frank Wilcox as John Brewster (1962-66)
Lisa Seagram as Edythe Brewster (1965-66)
Phil Gordon as Jasper DePew (1962-63)
Arthur Gould-Porter as Ravenswood the Butler (1962-65)
Sirry Steffen as Marie the Maid (1962-63)