Old Time Entertainment: Petticoat Junction

You know, I think I should consider renaming this blog, “Whatever Is On My Mind” because I didn’t realize my last post was exactly a year ago. Well, tons of things have changed since last year. I’ll do a separate post in the coming days about what I’ve been up to, but first I’m going to go off on an old time entertainment tangent.

I’ve talked about the radio show My Favorite Husband and the TV series Mister Ed in my old time entertainment posts before, and this post features another TV series, called Petticoat Junction, created by Paul Henning. Henning created many great shows that featured the rural farming town of Hooterville during the 1960’s, including The Beverly Hillbillies, although that show had a loose connection to Hooterville due to the main setting being Beverly Hills,  and  Green Acres, which was a spin-off series to Petticoat Junction.

Petticoat Junction, which ran from 1963-1970, is my personal favorite of Henning’s creations, mostly due to the extremely likable characters, clever writing, and incredible acting.

The show is about Kate Bradley, played by Bea Benaderet, who owns the Shady Rest Hotel, located at the exact halfway point between the towns of Hooterville and Pixley on the railroad line. It’s never specified on the show, but in Green Acres, there is talk that the towns are in Illinois, though in a few scenes that show maps, it looks like they are possibly in one of the Dakotas. Kate and her family, consisting of daughters Betty Jo, Billie Jo, and Bobby Jo, and her Uncle Joe Carson, live together at the hotel and do their part to keep the business running and carry on their daily lives out in the country.

The strongest point of the show is the characters. The audience is treated to watch the busy lives of the three girls, sporty Betty Jo, bookish Bobby Jo, and boy-crazy Billie Jo as they argue, make mistakes, and hold everything together for the sake of their mother and the hotel, which doesn’t get a lot of business. Kate holds three full-time jobs: mothering three young adult daughters, managing the hotel, and keeping an eye on Uncle Joe, who is always trying to get out of working, and constantly comes up with schemes that he thinks will get the family rich quickly, but the plans never fall through. She is an extremely strong female lead, constantly outsmarting occasional antagonists who come around to destroy her business and put her family out. Her main friends are Sam Drucker, the owner of general store where she gets groceries to fuel her fabulous cooking ability, and Charlie Pratt and Floyd Smoot, the operators of the tiny locomotive train, the Hooterville Cannonball, the only source of transportation in the valley’s 50 mile radius.

In fact, the only way to get around in the valley is via railroad, either on the Cannonball, or by a pump car.  The first episode in the show sets up the Cannonball as an irreplaceable source of transport for everything, and the main source of economy for the Shady Rest, which is only accessible by railroad of by foot. Appearing in the first episode is Homer Bedloe, played by Charles Lane, who returns in many more episodes as one of the near regular antagonists. He plans to do anything he can as Vice President of the C & FW Railroad to destroy the Cannonball, and consequently destroy the Shady Rest and put Kate and her family out and homeless, along with everyone else in Hooterville. Right away, the audience connects with Kate as she worries about being forced from her only home. And this is right in the pilot for the series! Immediately, Kate strikes a cord with the audience and makes them have to keep coming back to see her beat odds again and again to keep her family where they are.

A little on Bea Benaderet herself. Originally, she had wanted to work with Henning on The Beverly Hillbillies as Granny, but Henning didn’t think she was suited for the role. He gifted her by designing the character of Kate Bradley as the perfect character for her. He also pitied her for not having any starring roles aside from the voice of Betty Rubble in The Flintstones, and lots of uncredited Looney Tunes voice work. Unfortunately, Benaderet became very sick in the later seasons of Petticoat Junction and had to leave for some time, and soon lost her life to lung cancer in April 1968. Her absence caused the show’s ratings to drop significantly, and eventually the show was cancelled in 1970 due to the “rural purge.” The show was filmed in black and white for the first two seasons, and then finished in color.

Petticoat Junction has an entire channel on YouTube, and can also be viewed on Hulu and possibly Netflix. MeTV occasionally shows episodes of the show, and the first two seasons were released limitedly on DVD. The folks at the Shady Rest could easily make a countdown for the best TV families as their nutty personalities clash. If you’re a history nerd like I am, you’ll love spending time at the Shady Rest in Petticoat Junction.


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