I've always had a theory that the secret to a hit TV show was a catchy theme song that explains the premise of the show. Think about it, "Gilligan's Island," "Beverly Hillbillies," "Addams Family," "Brady Bunch," they all had great songs that we all know the words to, and "Petticoat Junction" was no exception. Paul Henning asked musician extraordinaire, Curt Massey to write the theme to "Petticoat Junction." Curt wrote the music and lyrics and played it for Paul. Paul liked it exactly as he heard it, with Curt singing it, and so it was recorded.
Many episodes of "Petticoat Junction" were directed by Richard L. Bare. Richard had produced and directed the "Behind the Eightball" series of shorts (serials) at Warner Brothers from 1945 thru 1955, as an independent producer putting up his own money. Richard was nominated three times for Academy Awards for directing the shorts. Jack Warner, one of the Warner Brothers, soon had Richard directing feature films. Later he directed such TV shows as "Lassie" and "Maverick." He also directed several episodes of "The Twilight Zone." The episode "Third From the Sun" was one of Rod Serling's favorites. In 1971 Richard wrote the book The Film Director: A Practical Guide to Motion Picture and Television Techniques. The Film Director, which remains in print today and is used as textbook for filmmakers worldwide. Richard later became the exclusive director of "Green Acres."
If you got confused when they switched Darrins on "Bewitched," then "Petticoat Junction" is not the show for you. Not only were many key roles played by more than one performer, several of actors who eventually became regulars on the show, Mike Minor, Byron Foulger and Elvia Allman, had already appeared in previous episodes as other characters. So let's see if you can follow these changes:
When the series started in 1963, Hooterville residents included: Innkeeper; Kate Bradley (played by Bea Benaderet), and her daughters: Billie Jo Bradley (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Jo Bradley (Pat Woodell) and Betty Jo Bradley (Linda Kaye Henning), Kate's Uncle Joe Carson (Edgar Buchanan), railroad engineers Charlie Pratt & Floyd Smoot (Smiley Burnette and Rufe Davis), storekeeper Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) and Norman Curtis (Roy Roberts). Frequent visitor and adversary to the valley community was Vice President of the C. & F. W. Railroad; Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane). In 1964 the characters of farmer Newt Kiley (Kay E. Kuter) and neighbor Selma Plout (Virginia Sale) were added to the cast.
The original cast included some Hollywood veterans, as well as some newcomers. Bea Benaderet had appeared in numerous movies and on TV for 11 years as Blanche Morton on "The George Burns Show." Lucy had worked with Bea on radio and was her first choice to play Ethel Mertz on "I Love Lucy." She was also Paul Henning's first choice to play Granny on "The Beverly Hillbillies." It was Bea herself that convinced Paul that Irene Ryan was the only one that could play be Granny Clampett. She was then cast as Granny's Cousin Pearl Bodine. You might have seen Bea's son Jack Bannon on "Santa Barbara" as Nathaniel Marley. Jack has had an active career in film and television with as many credits as his famous mother.
Linda Kaye Henning (now known as Linda Henning) is the daughter of producer Paul Henning, and the only Bradley sister to remain on the series to the end. During the first season of "PJ", Linda was credited as "Linda Kaye," which caused myself, and several other writers, to confuse her screen credits with another actress that goes by the same name. In fact, Linda Henning's recent credits include a recurring role as Mrs. Mallory on the TV series "Sliders," and as Mrs. Osbourne in a 1988 comedy called "Mad About You" (not related to the TV series of the same name).
Edgar Buchanan had appeared in more than a hundred films, mostly Westerns, but he wasn't always an actor. At the age of seven, he and his family moved to Oregon. After studying at the University of Oregon, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a dentist, and graduated from dental college. From 1929 to 1937 he was the head of oral surgery in Eugene, Oregon. He then moved his practice to California. There he joined the Pasadena Community Playhouse, eventually he gave up dentistry and his wife took over his practice. At the age of 36 he started acting full-time. Prior to "Petticoat Junction" he spent three years on "Hopalong Cassidy" as Red Connors. He continued acting until his death in 1979.
Frank Cady was still playing Doc Williams on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" when he signed on to play Sam Drucker. Even though Frank appeared in small roles in dozens of other shows, he will always be best remembered for the seven years he spent behind the counter of Drucker's Store on "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres."
Smiley Burnette and Rufe Davis had appeared many Westerns, but it was Smiley that appeared as Gene Autry's sidekick during the ‘30's and 40's. He officially retired from acting in 1953, only to return in 1959 on TV as a regular on the musical variety show "Ozark Jubilee. "
"I think TV embodies the worst of theatre and the worst of motion pictures all in one medium." proclaims Charles Lane, the son of a businessman that founded San Francisco Symphony. Mr. Lane's three brothers were all businessmen. He started acting in the Pasadena Playhouse in 1928. His resume includes nine pictures with Frank Capra, including "It's a Wonderful Life." In the six years between 1936 and 1941, Lane acted in 125 pictures, 31 on 1941 alone Mr. Lane last appeared in the 1995 Disney remake of "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes." "Now they rehearse five days, and do two shows, for two audiences, so you have two cracks at it, but I still don't like it. There's one reason for it, and don't let anyone tell there's any other: It's cheap! And it stinks." Mr. Lane appeared in almost every TV series of the 50's, 60's, and 70's, and the role was almost always the same. Whether he was Homer Bedloe on "Petticoat Junction," Darrin's client that didn't believe in Santa Claus on "Bewitched," or the clerk at the passport office on "I Love Lucy," he was the grouch, he was mean, he was the villain, and at age 99, he still is. "I think that started with ‘I Love Lucy,' I always played some sort of a jerk on Lucille Ball's shows, they were all good parts— but they were jerks."
In 1965 things began to change Gunilla Hutton replaced Jeannine Riley as Billie Jo, Lori Saunders replaced Pat Woodell as Bobbie Jo. , Elvia Allman replaced Virginia Sale as Selma Plout and Susan Walther joined the cast. Now, many of the accounts as to who played whom are a bit hazy to me. I had been under the impression that Susan Walther replaced Lynette Winter in the role of Henrietta, I was mistaken. The best way to explain might be if I offer you this explanation sent to me by a "William," an fan from New York:
"Also, Susan Walther's Henrietta (from Season 3) is a completely
different character than the one played from Season 4 onwards by Lynette
Winter. I'll explain. In Ms. Walther's first appearance in said role,
in "The Good Luck Ring", it was established that she was the daughter of
one Cora Watson (played only in that one episode by Elvia Allman, whose
first appearance as Selma Plout was in Season 4's "Kate Grounds Selma
Plout"; the original Selma, Virginia Sale, was still playing said role
as late as 1965-66, albeit only once, in an episode of Green Acres near
the end of that show's first season). So by all appearances, Ms. Winter
was the only Henrietta PLOUT!"
In 1966 Meredith MacRae became the third actress to play Billie Jo Bradley. Meredith is the daughter of Gordon and Sheila MacRae. Gordon was a talented baritone and host of his own musical variety show in the ‘50's. Sheila played Alice Kramden on "The Jackie Gleason Show" during the 66-70 seasons. Meredith didn't come to "Petticoat Junction" without her own credits. She spent three years on "My Three Sons" as Mike's girlfriend, and later his wife. As Billie Jo, she brought a warmth to her character that was lacking in the other actresses that played the role. Meredith was always my favorite Billie Jo.
In 1966, Tom Lester started showing an interest in the Bradley girls as Eb Dawson who was also the Douglas' farmhand on "Green Acres," and Mike Minor crash landed as pilot Steve Elliott.
Mike Minor is the son Don Fedderson, producer of "My Three Sons," "Family Affair," "The Smith Family" and others. After "Petticoat Junction," Mike played continuing roles on the soap operas: "All My Children" and "Another World."
In 1967, Smiley Burnette died of leukemia which left running the Cannonball in the hands of Floyd. In 1968 Charles Lane left the cast, along with Rufe Davis. Joining the cast for the ‘68-‘69 season were Regis Toomey as Doc Stuart, June Lockhart as Dr. Janet Craig, Byron Foulger as Wendall Gibbs, Paul Hartman as Bert Smedley, Elna Hubbell as Kathy Jo Elliott, and Geoff Edwards as Jeff Powers.
After Betty Joe and Steve got married, we started seeing less of Kate. Bea Benaderet had lung cancer and was receiving radiation treatments. Uncle Joe, Cousin Mae, and Aunt Helen ran the Shady Rest until Bea was well enough to return as Kate in episode #96 "Kate's Homecoming." After five episodes her health forced her to leave the show again. Her last episode only featured her voice. She remained at home and it was written into the show that Kate was called out of town when Betty Jo was about to have her baby. The episode featured Betty Jo reading a letter while Bea's voice narrated. Linda Kaye said it was a hard show to do, "Very emotional for me and the whole cast because we sort of knew she would not be returning."
It was difficult to watch too. By the time the episode aired, the press was already predicting her death. I was nine years old at the time and my mother told me the actress was ill and not expected to live. Bea Benaderet died on October 13, 1968, her husband, Gene Twombly, sound effects engineer, died of a heart attack just four days later.
On "Petticoat Junction" June Lockhart as Dr. Janet Craig took over running the Shady Rest with Uncle Joe, Billie Jo and Bobby Jo on September 14th, 1968
The last season had only one cast addition. Jonathan Daly came aboard as Orrin Pike. By this time no one cared, the show had dropped in ratings. The show just wasn't the same without the Kate Bradley running the hotel.
One Petticoat cast member went on to stardom after the series ended. His name was Higgins. You don't remember Higgins? One of Morty's most asked questions is: "What was the dog's name on Petticoat Junction?" His name on the series was just plain "Dog" and sometimes "Boy." There's one episode where Lori Saunders slips and calls him Higgins, but it was purely by accident. Higgins was a mutt rescued from an animal shelter by animal trainer Frank Inn. I met Frank in 1977 and he told me that he preferred working with mutts, rather than pure breads because they were not so high strung, making them easier to train. Frank was in a car accident when he was a teenager. Confined to a wheelchair he befriended a dog named "Jeep." He realized he had a way with animals and began working with other trainers including Rudd Weatherwax, owner and trainer of Lassie. Frank became one of the biggest trainers in show business with more than two thousand animals on his Sun Valley California ranch. In 1974 Higgins went on to star as "Benji." In 1977 Higgins once again appeared as Benji in the movie "For the Love of Benji." By now Higgins was a very old puppy and he required the assistance of two of his sons to work as doubles and stunt men. By 1987 Higgins was in retirement and the role of Benji in the feature film, "Benji the Hunted" went to Higgins offspring, trained of course, by Frank Inn. Frank Inn provided and trained all the animals used in TV shows and movies filmed at General Service Studios including: Arnold the pig on "Green Acres," Tramp on "My Three Sons," all of Elly May's critters on "The Beverly Hillbillies" and a hound dog named Stretch that Jed Clampett called "Ol' Duke."
There was one scene with "Dog" that always bothered me as a kid. It was the end credits when he'd run along the train tracks racing the Cannonball. I lived near the railroad and I knew that train tracks and dogs didn't mix. The truth is Higgins never did race the Cannonball, It was all an illusion. First you see the train, then you see the dog, but they were never together. The reason you think the train is there is because the camera that Higgins is chasing is moving at the same speed, at the same location as the train footage. The result was a terrific effect, I just hope the scene didn't inspire other impressionable young dogs to chase trains.
I've always been a fan of Petticoat Junction and I've been a fan of the TV/Movie books by Stephen Cox. When his book "The Hooterville Handbook: A Viewer's Guide to Green Acres" came out, I expected to enjoy reading all the detailed information on Hooterville, as he compiled in his other books: "The Munsters: Television's First Family of Fright," and "The Addams Chronicles: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Addams Family," but the Hooterville Handbook barely mentions "Petticoat Junction." I felt he should have included information on the most endearing aspect of both shows, the train.
The Cannonball was definitely an important part of the show. In the real world, the Cannonball is engine number three of the Historic Sierra Railroad, located in the heart of California's Gold Country, Railtown 1897 of Jamestown, CA. The engine is referred to as a 4-6-0 because of is wheel configuration. It was built in 1891 by Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey. Originally used in freight service on the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad, the Sierra No. 3 eventually made its way to Jamestown when the Prescott and Arizona went out of business.
Since 1929, the No. 3 has been cosmetically customized for many Hollywood productions with new paint schemes, changes to the smoke stack and headlight. Appearing in more than 100 Hollywood productions, the Sierra No. 3 is known as the "most photographed locomotive in Hollywood history." The No. 3's film and television credits include, "High Noon," "The Virginian," "Back to the Future, III" (as No.131), "Unforgiven," "Bad Girls," "The Wild, Wild West," and "Little House on the Prairie."
You can visit Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Fifth and Reservoir, Jamestown, CA and even ride a real steam engine on weekends April 5 through October 26. If a trip to California is out of reach, the park is just a click away on the internet at: Railtown 1897
Although the Cannonball was ever-present on Petticoat Junction, there was really very little film shot each season. Most of Petticoat Junction was filmed indoors with a full size wood model of the Cannonball that the studio had made for the 1950 Western, "Ticket to Tomahawk" with Dan Dailey and Rory Calhoun. To make the steps to Shady Rest Hotel appear on the correct side of the tracks, a mirror image was used, look for the "3" on the front of the engine to be backwards in scenes where this trick was employed.
Using a mirror image of the train was a small deception compared to the trickery used to create the opening sequence with the girls in the tower. When the cable network TV Land premiered on April 29th, 1996, the folks at Viacom threw a big party to kick things off. A highlight of the event was the reuniting of three of the Bradley girls from "Petticoat Junction," Meredith MacRae (the third to play Billie Jo), Lori Saunders (the second to play Bobbie Jo) and Linda Kaye. The top question asked of the girls was "what did you wear when they filmed the scene in the water tank?" They wouldn't tell, but Morty will. The girls never set foot, or any other body part, in the water tower, the famous scene was filmed indoors. The girls stood behind a four foot high plywood mock-up of the tank. A cyclorama behind them was painted sky blue, and some tree tops were placed in the background to add to the illusion. The indoor scene was cleverly edited into the location footage that included the girls dresses draped over the top of the tank and the Shady Rest Hotel sign. The outdoor water tower is real and still in use at Railtown.
When I first reported this little piece of trivia, I received a lot of feedback from my readers saying that I ruined a fantasy they believed since their childhoods. If it softens the blow, I'm happy to report the three girls still look good, thirty-four years after the skinny dip that never was. If you visit "The Official Petticoat Junction Web Site." you'll find some nice stories regarding the current activities of the marvelous ladies that once played the Bradley girls.
Update for 2001: On July 14, 2000, Meredith MacRae died of complications from brain cancer, she was 56. The Official Site listed above has a tribute and more details.
222 episodes of "Petticoat Junction" were made, some of them great some not. But "Petticoat Junction" was not show, or a single episode, it was a state of mind, a place called Hooterville. Where a little train called the Cannonball is still rollin, down the tracks because the board of directors at the C. & F. W. Railroad forgot they own it. Where elevator cars are used for myna bird cages and Uncle Joe is still looking for his wooden Indian that Kate hid more than 30 years ago.