“Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed” was the first line of the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies and our first introduction to Jed Clampett, Granny, Elly May, and Cousin Jethro. For nine seasons, viewers watched as the Ozark mountain folk adapted to their lives in the luxury of Beverly Hills. Each thirty-minute episode gave audiences fun and compelling stories along with a whole lot of laughs.
The Beverly Hillbillies is a television classic that still airs in reruns today. You may be familiar with characters on the screen, but what about behind-the-scenes? Read on to learn some great facts about The Beverly Hillbillies.
New York City Hillbillies?
The show’s concept was thought of while creator Paul Henning was on a trip traveling through the south with his mother-in-law. Henning saw a great deal of Civil War sites on his trip, which got the wheels turning.
He thought “What would people living in the rural south during the Civil War era do if they were transplanted to a modern community?” The show was going to be in New York, but due to the limited budget, was changed to California.
Buddy Ebsen Was Always Jed
Buddy Ebsen had always been Paul Henning’s choice for Jed Clampett. When watching 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Henning saw his Jed in Ebsen’s Doc Golightly. He felt like the part was perfect for the actor and knew he would bring his character perfectly to life.
Apparently, Ebsen was about to quit show business altogether and retire from acting. He was talked out of retiring and was the first to be officially cast on the show. He would play Jed Clampett for the whole series run.
A Role She Had Been Training For Her Whole Life
Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett, won the role over 500 other actresses. She had been acting for a while but was still a bit unknown by the time the audition occurred.
Douglas had something in common with Elly May – they both came from rural areas. Douglas was born in rural Louisiana. When the producers asked her to milk a goat, she knew how to do it because she had milked cows before. It is safe to say we know why she got the role and are glad she got it too!
A Different Granny?
Bea Benaderet was the first choice for Granny. However, it was decided she didn’t look like the Granny type. So, what did Benaderet do when she heard this decision? She recommended Irene Ryan for the part.
Ryan apparently knocked her audition out of the ballpark and turned out to be the right choice for the role. Paul Henning was so grateful that he specifically wrote the role of Cousin Pearl for Benaderet. I bet Bea Benaderet liked her thank you for giving the show (and the world) their Granny.
Jed Was No Bumbling Fool
Buddy Ebsen refused to play Jed Clampett as a bumbling fool. He insisted that even though his character had a simple upbringing in a more rural area, that Jed had to have common sense.
Ebsen did not want his character to be seen as a hillbilly stereotype, which is why Jed comes off as more of a wise old man who leaves the lack of common sense to Cousin Jethro. I guess it worked because Jethro became the best target for jokes.
Critics were not fans of the show… at all. Apparently, throughout the show’s run, critics would regularly show their disdain for it. Their complaint was that the show was not funny. The irony? Audiences loved the show!
The ratings were through the roof during the first two seasons, i.e. it was the number one show in the country. Obviously, someone thought the show was funny, since it lasted for nine seasons, premiering in 1962 and ending in 1971. You win some, you lose some, it happens.
Even though critics didn’t like the show, the public couldn’t get enough of The Beverly Hillbillies. The show climbed to the number one spot in television in only three weeks! It is said that this was the fastest climb to number one in television history.
Throughout the show’s nine seasons, it was in the top 20 every season except for the final one. It might have been out of the top 20 for the last season, but it seems that the show was still favorable to fans when it left the air.
A Song So Good It Hit the Charts
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was the name of the show’s theme song. The song was written by creator Paul Henning and was produced by Don Law and Frank Jones. There were two versions, one performed by bluegrass musicians, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, with Flatt doing the vocals. This version was for radio airplay and retail sales. The version for the show was sung by Jerry Scoggins.
The song hit the Billboard country singles charts and stayed there for twenty weeks! It was number one at least three of those twenty weeks too. It also hit number 44 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1962.
Almost a Tin Man
Buddy Ebsen was supposed to play the Tin Man in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Ebsen was actually hired to be in the film and even did costume tests. But if there are photos of Ebsen in costume, then why wasn’t he in the original film?
Well, it seems the makeup that was used for the Tin Man’s silver sheen was not his friend. The makeup was aluminum metallic and Ebsen had an allergic reaction to it (after accidentally inhaling the dust-like substance), thus ending his Tin Man career. Lucky for the actual Tin Man, Jack Haley, instead of using the makeup in dust form, they used a paste.
What’s In a Name?
Granny is a character beloved by all. But did you know that calling her ‘Granny Clampett’ is technically wrong? Granny was Jed Clampett’s wife’s mother, making her his mother-in-law. Granny’s name was Daisy May Moses, even though all called her Granny.
Granny stayed with Jed and Elly May after her daughter, Rose Ellen, passed away. I think Granny had the right idea because she got to go to Beverly Hills when Jed struck oil! Daisy May Moses probably never imagined she would be living in luxury!
Sharon Tate’s Guest Gig
Before she became a big-time movie star, Sharon Tate had a recurring role on the show. Tate played Janet Trego, a secretary at the Commerce Bank. Tate’s run as Trego lasted fifteen episodes! But if you didn’t realize she was in the show, don’t be embarrassed.
Most of her screen time included Tate donning a short, dark wig. Her character eventually did grow her hair longer and go blonde, thus giving Janet Trego more of the look Sharon Tate is known for.
A Famous Jalopy
The Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy is a car that is synonymous with the show. Their 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster was retired after the show ended in 1971. Paul Henning donated the car as a bicentennial gift to the Ralph Foster Museum.
The museum’s website says Henning picked them to house the car because he grew up nearby (fun fact, they also list themselves as “the Smithsonian of the Ozarks”). You can pretend you are one of the Hillbillies by taking a picture in the driver’s seat! Thanks, Paul, for giving people that opportunity!
Cooking With Granny
The Beverly Hillbillies was such a hot commodity that the characters were used for a lot of different licensed products, including a cookbook! Granny’s Beverly Hillbillies Cookbook was written by Jim Clark and Ken Beck.
The foreword to the cookbook is listed as being written by “Max Baer (Your Cousin Jethro)”. A whopping 330 country-inspired recipes are included in this book, and for the extreme fan, there are also photos and profiles of characters from the show.
Don’t Reveal Secrets!
The Beverly Hillbillies’ mansion was a real one. Arnold Kirkeby owned the Bel Air mansion that Jed Clampett and clan lived in. The deal Kirkeby struck with the show was that they could film the exterior scenes at the mansion, as long as the address was never given to the public.
Of course, the public eventually got ahold of that address and stalked the grounds to see if they could catch a glimpse of the actors. After that, the crew was prohibited from filming anywhere near the mansion.
A Trio in Every Episode
Only three characters were in every episode of the show. Jed, Elly May, and Granny appeared in 274 episodes or every episode of the series run. Jethro’s appearances were only two shy of being in every episode since he is only listed as appearing in 272 episodes. It makes sense as to why they were in all the episodes, I mean, the series is named after them!
The two characters not in the family that were in most of the show’s episodes were Milburn Drysdale, who was in 247 episodes, and Jane Hathaway, who was in 246 episodes.
Running for Office
Nancy Kulp, the actress who played Jane Hathaway on the show, actually tried her hand in politics. In 1984, Kulp was on an acting hiatus and ran for the United States House of Representatives.
Kulp wanted to represent the 9th district of Pennsylvania but unfortunately lost by a big margin (she only got 33.6 percent of the vote) to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. During this election cycle, there was an endorsement from her Beverly Hillbillies co-star Buddy Ebsen. The issue? It was for Kulp’s opponent!
Where in the Ozarks Are They From?
Jed Clampett and co. came from the Ozarks and were specifically from Missouri. Show creator Paul Henning was from Missouri, so it was probably natural for him to write that the family was from his home state.
In the first episode, the narrator mentions the Ozarks while asking the audience to join him in revisiting the family’s origin story. Maybe you too can find oil in the Ozarks and become a millionaire and move to Beverly Hills. That would truly bring the show to life!
A $500 Mansion
Arnold Kirkeby charged the crew a mere $500 a day to film at his 25,000 square foot mansion. The Bel Air mansion was originally built in the 1930s and cost about $2 million (which is a lot even today, and this was during the Great Depression).
When Kirkeby bought the mansion in 1945, he paid $200,000 for it. And in 2019, the mansion sold for $150 million, setting a new record in California as the most expensive property in the state. I would say the crew got a bargain for sure!
Elly May and Her Levi’s
Donna Douglas was known for wearing blue jeans when she was portraying Elly May. Rumor has it that when the show premiered and viewers saw Douglas’s costume, sales in Levi’s blue jeans saw quite an increase.
An executive of the brand is quoted as saying, “Donna Douglas had done more for the sale of blue jeans in one year than cowboys and done in a hundred.” It also probably helped that President John F. Kennedy gave the company an “E” award for their great contributions to US exports. Actually, it was probably Donna Douglas rocking the jeans!
Black and White to Color
The show was originally filmed in black and white, and from season one to season three the show was strictly aired in black and white. Then, when the first episode of season four, “Admiral Jed Clampett” aired, there was a considerable difference.
It seems the show had gotten some color over the break – literally. The rest of the series was filmed in color. One hundred six of the series’ episodes were in black and white, while 168 episodes were in color. The rise in color televisions is to blame for the out of the blue switch.
The Clampetts became millionaires when they struck oil in their hometown in the Ozarks. When the show started in 1962, their net worth was $25 million. When adjusted for inflation, that means they were worth $215 million.
Oh, and they got richer! When the show ended in 1971, the family was worth $100 million, or in today’s money, about $850 million. Now it makes sense as to why they moved to Beverly Hills in California! They certainly could afford it!
A Twin For Jethro
You might have noticed that Jethro’s twin sister, Jethrine Bodine, looked a lot like her brother. There is a reason for this–Max Baer Jr. played both characters. When playing Jethrine, Baer Jr. donned a blonde wig, makeup, and put on a dress.
I think the producers thought they could fool us, especially by having Baer Jr.’s voice dubbed by Linda Henning (daughter of Paul Henning) but we are not fooled! Well, I would hope that we are not fooled because Jethrine looks like Max Baer Jr. wearing a wig, makeup, and a dress.
A Corn Flakey Sponsor
Did you notice a lot of references to Kellogg’s Corn Flakes throughout the show? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. It seems Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was a sponsor.
The Beverly Hillbillies were actually used in some of the cereal’s advertising and if you ever noticed as the end credits rolled, Jed would be pointing offscreen. Well, on network television, viewers would see the camera pivot to a billboard for, you guessed it, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
They Were How Old?!
The show had a big rumor surrounding it. The rumor was that Irene Ryan, who played Granny, was actually younger than Donna Douglas, who played Elly May. The rumor that swirled around said that Ryan spent hours in a makeup chair so that she could look older.
The reason this rumor started was that Ryan had a lot of quick-wit and energy on the show. Well, even though Ryan was younger than her character’s actual age and Douglas was older than her character’s actual age, Ryan was thirty-one years Douglas’s senior.
Abrupt Name Change
Have you heard of The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills? If you have seen the first episode of the show, then you probably have! The show’s original name was a mouthful and made it to the pilot episode.
It seems after the fact, someone stopped to think about the show’s title. For the second episode, it had evolved to the one we all know and love, The Beverly Hillbillies. It is a lot easier to say and flows much better.
Frank Inn, the Animal Man
Elly May sure loved animals! Throughout the series, Elly May has quite the collection of rescued pets. Some of her beloved animals included dogs, cats, skunks, raccoons, birds, and even chimpanzees. All of the animals were supervised by Frank Inn. Inn’s main job was to make sure the animals were not misbehaving by destroying the set.
Inn wasn’t new to animal training when he landed his gig with The Beverly Hillbillies. The first time Inn professionally trained an animal was when he was the assistant trainer to Skippy, famously known as Asta, from the Thin Man series. This means he had been training since the 1930s!
The show used a good deal of physical comedy. Granny would sometimes give Jethro a good swat after he said something silly. Well, actress Irene Ryan is said to be as sweet as pie but she loved to really commit to her performance.
This means no stage hits were used in scenes with Ryan and Max Baer Jr. Considering the size difference of the two, I don’t think anyone got hurt in the making of the show. It probably felt like a light pat to Baer Jr.
Show Time Slots
During the series run, The Beverly Hillbillies aired on Wednesday night for eight of the seasons and on Tuesday night for the last season.
During seasons one and two, the show aired from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m. For seasons three through six, the show aired from 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. Season seven went back to 9:00 to 9:30 p.m. and season eight then went back to 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. For the one season when it aired on Tuesday, it was moved to its earliest time of 7:30 to 8:00 p.m.
A Beauty Queen
Donna Douglas was making a name for herself in her hometown of Pride, Louisiana. Douglas was pretty good at basketball and softball in high school. She also was a beauty queen and won two pageants! Douglas was crowned the winner of the Miss New Orleans pageant and the Miss Baton Rouge pageant.
Douglas never forgot her pageant roots and even went to visit pageants after she hit fame. There is a photo of her at the 1972 Southern 500 Beauty pageant and her role as Elly May is mentioned in the caption.
John Wayne was on the show in season 5. The episode he was in might not have aged well, but apparently Granny called for his help in a bit of a Western-style turf war. So, of course, John Wayne does come and help Granny out.
It is said that Wayne was so tickled to be on the show that he accepted a lower than usual payment. Apparently, he got a kick out of appearing on TV shows in general — he also made an appearance on an episode of I Love Lucy.
A Gambling Man
Max Baer Jr., or Cousin Jethro Bodine, wanted to open a casino based on the show. From the research I did, it seems articles were being written about his casino dream since 2003.
However, the casino never seemed to actually be built and it seems the project was put “indefinitely on hold” as of 2018. I bet fans would love to have a casino based on the show, so hopefully, it will come to fruition eventually! One can only dream!
TV Guide Appreciated the Show
The Beverly Hillbillies never won an award. It was nominated for seven Emmy Awards but unfortunately never won a statue. But that doesn’t mean that the show wasn’t recognized for its greatness.
In 1997, TV Guide made a list of the top 100 episodes that aired on TV. The Beverly Hillbillies’ episode “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” was on the list at number 62. Considering that the episode mentioned aired in 1964, it is impressive that it was seen as a great episode over 30 years later!
His Name Isn’t Sonny?!
Harriet McGibbon’s Margaret Drysdale had a son on the show. This son was from a previous marriage and known as Sonny Drysdale. But Sonny wasn’t his real name!
In season four, episode 21, titled “Sonny Drysdale Returns”, Sonny has a tender moment with his stepfather. Sonny reveals that his first name is in fact, Adonis. This moment aired in about the middle of the series, so don’t feel bad if you missed it. Now you have this fun fact in the back of your mind and will know the answer when it comes up during trivia!
The Show and Public Domain
Episodes of the show hit the public domain. It seems Orion Television forgot to go through the copyright process for about 55 episodes before their copyrights expired. This means that anyone can share or distribute all 36 episodes from season one and 19 episodes from season two.
However, the theme song was copyrighted, so if someone distributes those episodes via public domain, the theme song is cut out or replaced with generic banjo music. Smaller local access channels will play these public domain episodes with no intro or that sweet banjo music.
Jethro Is Smart?
Max Baer Jr. may have played the dimwitted Jethro, but life did not imitate art. Baer Jr. was actually pretty intelligent. How do I know? Because he got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Santa Clara University. Baer Jr. also minored in philosophy. This explains why he has tried to make a few different business deals involving licensing from the show.
I would have loved to see an episode of the show where Jethro was giving sound business advice and then had a discussion with Granny about Aristotle.
Goodbye Hillbillies, Hello Barnaby Jones
Buddy Ebsen’s gig after The Beverly Hillbillies was on the show Barnaby Jones. Barnaby Jones ran for 178 episodes from 1973 to 1980 and Ebsen played an older detective who apparently loved milk.
Why is this important? Because Ebsen’s character Barnaby Jones was who he played in the 1993 movie, The Beverly Hillbillies. It might not have been what fans of the original show wanted, but hey, the original Jed Clampett technically was in the movie, just not as the film’s Jed Clampett.
Barbie and Elly May
There was an Elly May Barbie doll that came out in 2011. The doll wore a gingham top, had her hair in pigtails, and was wearing blue jeans. However, actress Donna Douglas was not a fan of the doll.
Douglas actually sued Mattel and the consumer product division of CBS Corp., saying they “engaged in unauthorized use” of her name and likeness (the doll’s box had a photo of the actress as Elly May). The suit was eventually settled out of court.
It’s the ‘Rural Purge’s’ Fault
The show didn’t get canceled because their ratings were dropping. CBS decided it wanted to shake up their lineup, meaning canceling the rural shows their channel had been known for. CBS canceled Petticoat Junction first, and then Green Acres along with this show.
All of the canceled shows had pretty decent ratings, but CBS wanted to go in a more urban direction and appeal to a younger demographic. Hey, at least the show went into syndication and all nine seasons could be seen by those who enjoyed watching the shenanigans of The Beverly Hillbillies.
When Buddy Ebsen retired from acting, he took on another creative career: writer. Ebsen wrote a novel called Kelly’s Quest. It consisted of a collection of poems that tell the story of a young girl who goes from feeling joy to heartbreak.
Of course, she learns lessons about life and love along her journey. Ebsen’s novel was rejected by nine publishers and instead of waiting for a tenth to turn him down, he published it himself in 2001. The book was number three on the Los Angeles Times Best-Seller list.
The 1993 Film
There was a revival of some sort in 1993 with a movie that shared the same name as the series. However, fans did not like the revival one bit because the characters might have had the same names, but the actors were all different (seriously, all the characters have the same name and character traits as the TV show).
This caused complaints of the movie being “lackluster” and not having the same “charm” as the television show. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t confirm nor deny this.