In the 1960s, Paul Henning was one of the most successful television show creators around. He lives life into influential sitcoms that give American’s a glimpse into a fictional incarnation of rural living. The Beverly Hillbillies was his first venture into back-country America. A year after that series hit the small screen, Henning created the CBS sitcom Petticoat Junction.
The series aired on the network from September 1963 to April 1970 and ran for 222 episodes spanning seven seasons. The show takes place at the Shady Rest Hotel. A humble little family-owned establishment run by Kate Bradley and her three lovely daughters. Betty, Billie, Bobbie, and her lazy but lovable uncle Joe Carson come up with silly schemes.
While it might not have been the most high-brow offering on TV at the time, Petticoat Junction still managed to perform quite well in the ratings and has since gone down in history as being a groundbreaking comedy that inspired countless others.
Join Facts Verse as we reveal rare behind-the-scenes details hidden in Petticoat Junction. Fans of the show aren’t going to want to miss this fascinating deep dive. So, buckle up and get ready to see Petticoat Junction in an entirely new light.
Petticoat Junction’s Location Revealed
The Shady Rest Hotel is in a small country town, Hooterville. Henning would later set his follow-up Petticoat Junction ‘sister’ series, Green Acres in Hooterville as well.
While there is debate about where the fictional town of Hooterville locates, most people tend to agree that is to be representative of a town somewhere in mid-America. Henning himself revealed that he had based the locale on the sparsely populated town of Eldon, Missouri.
Henning marries the granddaughter of the owner of Eldon’s Burris Hotel, on which he ends up basing The Shady Rest Hotel. Over the years, he visited the Burris Hotel on numerous occasions.
Many of the stories featured in the series drew upon tales from Paul Henning’s wife’s mother and grandmother.
Much of Petticoat Junction revolved around the Hooterville Cannonball, a fictional steam train that ran through town. The real-life train uses to depict it is Sierra No. 3, which had previously appeared in a handful of westerns like High Noon and The Virginian. The train can be seen in the Back to the Future films.
Eldon, Missouri historically, is a town that shapes and is reliant upon the railroad system just as how Hooterville depicts.
Petticoat Junction Wasn’t The First Name Choice
Ozark Widow and Dern Tootin’ are the first names considering that the series is still in the early stages of development. The latter rejects it because the word “tootin” is too easy to misunderstand.
Ozark Widow throws out because producers of the show think that it is the far too dark sounding of a name for a comedy.
Uncle Joe Was A Very Cautious Man
…at least as far as his wardrobe was concerned. The eccentric old fella’ can wear both suspenders and a belt throughout the series. Maybe nobody wanted to chance him having some kind of wardrobe malfunction. That indeed would have been traumatizing to see.
Bea Benaderet Lost Her Battle With Lung Cancer During Production
In November 1967, the then 61-year-old actress who plays Kate Bradley receives the awful news that she gets lung cancer. When she learned of her diagnosis, she was in the middle of shooting Petticoat Junction’s fifth season.
During the Holiday season that year, Benaderet underwent six weeks of radiation treatment, after which the doctors had determined that the treatments had been a success.
For the next 10 weeks, Benaderet took time off to recuperate while production on the sitcom continued. In the meantime, her mailbox floods with fan mail wishing her the best.
In her absence, a couple of different actresses temporarily call in. Shirley Mitchel and Rosemary DeCamp respectively played the cousin and sister of Kate Bradley. The writers simply explained that Bradley had been out of town for a spell taking care of an ailing relative.
Benaderet rejoined the cast of the show for the season five finale ‘Kate’s Homecoming’, but just a few episodes into filming season six, Benaderet had to step aside from production once again due to extreme fatigue. Still, she refused to simply give up.
To try to accommodate her, a plan devises to record her voice for future use in the series. After all, she had a ton of voice acting experience already as the original voice of Betty Rubble on the Flintstones. Sadly though, Benaderet died on the 13th of October, 1968, thus putting an abrupt halt to this idea.
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Keep watching to learn all about one very special – and unexpected – a member of the sitcom’s cast that went on to have quite the prolific film career.
Paul Henning’s Daughter Played A Key Character
Betty Jo plays by Linda Henning, Paul Henning’s oldest child. Before Linda played Betty Jo, Paul had based his Beverly Hillbillies Character Elly May Clampett on her.
During the production of the series, Linda married her co-star, Mike Minor, and when the couple had a baby, the writers ended up incorporating that huge life event into the show’s script.
Besides playing Betty Jo, Linda also made appearances in films like Bye, Bye Birdie, Rebel Without A Cause, Gidget, and Bus Stop. Between the 60s to the 80s, she guest-starred on many television programs, including Adam-12, Happy Days, The Tonight Show, The Facts Of Life, and Mork & Mindy.
She has since retired from acting, and not much more is known about her current living situation.
June Lockhart Introduced A Subtle Progressive Slant
After Bea Benaderet passed away, June Lockhart of Lost In Space Fame, was called in to join the cast of Petticoat Junction. Replacing a beloved main character of a show is never an easy task, and Bea left behind some colossal-sized shoes to fill.
Lockhart unfortunately, wasn’t very well-received by viewers and the show’s ratings steadily declined after she joined the cast. During this time of sinking ratings, the show started slowly venturing out into uncharted territory.
One noticeable detour was when the series attempted to tackle the issue of women’s liberation, while it was partly done for laughs, even so, the idea was still presented.
When Lockhart joined the show’s cast, she was selected to play the role of Dr. Janet Craig, who rented a room at the Shady Rest Hotel. In 1968, seeing a female doctor on TV was already something of a rarity.
She was perfect for the role. A decade earlier, she had played a similar character on Have Gun – Will Travel. In that offering, her character Dr. Phyllis Thakeray faced skepticism and sexism from a bunch of crotchety cowboys in the episode ‘No Visitors’.
Just like in Have Gun – Will Travel, when Lockhart’s Dr. Craig arrived in Hooterville, the men of town regarded her with a similar amount of suspicion. One wise guy even went as far as making up a bogus illness that she wouldn’t possibly be able to cure him of just to tarnish her reputation. Of course, he ended up getting sick for real and had to seek her treatment. After she managed to heal him, he finally had a bit of respect for her.
A few episodes after her introduction, Bobby Jo becomes obsessed with a new book titled ‘The Feminine Mistake. After reading it, she decides that she is now opposed to ‘artificial domesticity’ and refuses to be just a housewife.
Of course, Uncle Joe has a good laugh at her newfound feminism, but Bobby Joe refuses to back down. She tries out a number of different of professions before finally settling on astronomy, stating that she wants to work in a field where ‘women are making their greatest strides – science’.
Frank Cady Appeared in All Three Henning Comedies
Call it a hat trick or what have you, but Frank Cady was the only actor to appear in all three Paul Henning-created rural comedies. On The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres, Cady played storekeeper Sam Drucker.
Previously he played Doc Williams on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Cady’s final acting role was in the TV film Return to Green Acres in 1990. Later in life, he retired with his wife in Cambria, California before later relocating once again to his hometown of Wilsonville, Oregon.
Cady died at his home in June 2012 at the age of 96.
The Petticoat Junction Dog Had A Thriving Movie Career
While he was never given a name on the show, in real life, the dog was named Higgins – and he went on to be the star of the Benji series of films.
After 14 years of working in show business, Higgins died just four weeks shy of his 18th birthday on November 11, 1975.
That Infectious Theme Song
Curt Massey sang the theme song of Petticoat Junction. The song itself was composed by both Massey and Paul Henning. Later, American bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs recorded a version of the song.
In 1989, The Moody Brothers put out an instrumental called The Great Train Song Medley that featured the song. The track was then nominated for a Gremmy award.
What are some of your favorite memories of Petticoat Junction, and do you think the show lost it’s magic after Bea Benaderet’s death? Let us know in the comments.
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