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The Beverly Hillbillies is a sitcom about a family who moves from the mountains to the city. It aired starting in 1962 and was comprised of 274 episodes. It was part of a larger group of folksy sitcoms including Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, which were canceled in the early 1970’s. The show was a Filmways production and aired on CBS. Many of the episodes are still shown in syndication on various channels, and many of the episodes from the first two seasons are actually in the public domain, owing to CBS letting the copyright lapse. There are episodes on DVD; the second season was released in October of 2008. There was also a TV movie and big screen movie, the later with a matching set of trading cards released in 1993.
The biggest theme in The Beverly Hillbillies is one of the clash of the different classes, as their move from the country to the city made the juxtaposition incredibly realistic and obvious. Although the characters always made it through and in the end all ended well it was always obvious that this was a truce that was come upon after much work on both sides. Their very differences made them similar.
The main characters are both colorful and unique from each other. Jed Clampett is the head of the family, played by Buddy Ebsen. His mother-in-law, played by Irene Ryan, Daisy May “Granny” Moses. Elly May his beautiful daughter, played by Donna Douglas. Lastly, Max Baer Jr as Jethro Bodine, Jed’s cousin’s son. Also seen on occasion are Jethro’s mother Pearl Bodine, played by Bea Benaderet before her passing. To fill out the fun there was also Jed’s bloodhound Duke, played by Stretch the dog and Elly May’s critters.
The non-Clampett clan characters include Raymond Bailey as Milburn Drysdale, Jed’s banker whose only interest is to keep Jed’s money in his bank. His wife Margaret played by Harriet E. MacGibbon who is Granny’s arch nemesis. Also their secretary Miss Jane Hathaway played by Nancy Kulp who is madly in love with Jethro.
The Beverly Hillbillies story starts when oil is discovered on land owned by patriarch Jed Clampett by OK Oil Company. They decide to move to Beverly Hills, although they try to retain their roots, including continuing to drive the same rattletrap pickup truck and wearing the same ratty looking clothes, despite their ability to replace them. This sequence of events was described in the theme music, as well as explained in the title credits so a viewer who just started watching wouldn’t be completely clueless as to how the Clampetts came to be in Beverly Hills.
The clash between the uncivilized Clampetts and the well to do Drysdales were the root of all episodes. The Clampetts’ refusal to change their ways just because Beverly Hills was more advanced is a major source of issues. They did not get rid of their beat up truck or change their style of dress, despite having the money to do so. Granny insisted on making moonshine in a still as well as lye soap. Both are running jokes, as neither was very gentle.
Another running gag was the Clampetts’ knowledge of motion pictures. When they arrive in Beverly Hills they are able to watch “talkies” with newer movie stars in them as opposed to the silent movies with classic movie stars as they did back home. The Clampetts did know who John Wayne was however and had a TV they used to watch soap operas and “rasslin” mostly. Several of these movie stars, including John Wayne starred in guest roles on the show.
Another big component of the show was Mr. Drysdale’s attempts to keep the Clampett fortune in his bank. This lead to him making considerable efforts to make them happy so they wouldn’t return to the mountains. These included recreating the Clampett family cabin and putting it next to the “cement pond” at their mansion as well as following them home on a visit and purchasing controlling states in the only local bank they could put their fortune in if they did return home.
One of the funniest running gags were Jethro’s attempts to secure a job. This lead to a long series of tried and failed jobs such as soda jerk, brain surgeon, celebrity, double naught agent, and “topless” restaurant owner. His lack of usable knowledge of the real world always made for a great humorous struggle but always ended in defeat.
Misunderstandings were another underlying gag. Especially when dealing with things they had never encountered before. As would anyone given a new item without instructions they would invariably try to use things for the wrong purpose, normally one that was more humorous than useful. On the flip side of this is the city-folk encountering the Clampetts talking about something they didn’t understand well. Jethro’s “topless” restaurant for instance was a restaurant where the waitstaff didn’t wear hats.
The Famous Music
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was written by Paul Henning and performed by the bluegrass group Flatt and Scruggs. It was sung by Jerry Scoggin backed by Flatt and Scuggs as well. It did very well on the charts, #44 overall in 1962 and #1 on the country charts. Flatt and Scruggs had another top ten country hit that was a comedic ode to the charms of Miss Pearl Bodine called “Pearl, Pearl, Pearl.”
In 1963 the main characters recorded a soundtrack with Columbia Records which featured song in character. Many of them also made singles as the shows success continued including “Granny’s Miniskirt” recorded by Ryan in 1966. The show generally featured no country beyond the bluegrass theme song, although Roy Clark of the Flatt and Scuggs team appeared a few times, as did pop singer Pat Boone.
In the end The Beverly Hillbillies was a refreshing look at just how cynical and greedy civilized society is compared to the image we hold of ourselves. Delivered with humor and great joy it allowed everyone to realize that even simple folks have redeeming qualities.
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