[20 November 2008]
Television shows in the ‘60s and movies in the ‘70s seemed a tad preoccupied with country folk versus city folk. On the television side, there was the The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. Taking a darker turn in the movie theaters, Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just to name two blockbusters, also worked the country versus city angle.
The countrifiedness of television became so overplayed advertisers called for a halt to such programming, wanting instead to place ads targeted toward a presumed more sophisticated, urban audience. “The Rural Purge” it became known. By 1971, “CBS killed everything with a tree in it,” according to actor Pat Buttram, aka Mr. Haney on Green Acres.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–71), a sitcom written and produced by Paul Henning, followed the success of The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68). It centered around a family from the Ozarks who moved to Beverly Hills after oil (“black crude, Texas tea”) was found ($35 million worth, to to be exact) on their land, making them instant millionaires. Unlike The Andy Griffith Show, which attempted to showcase the gentle, small-town values of Mayberry in a sentimental light, The Beverly Hillbillies deliberately exaggerated the differences between life in the city versus the country for laughs, creating caricatures of country folk while making token gestures to their superior common sense and kindness.
Buddy Ebsen played Jed Clampett, the wise and kindly patriarch, and Irene Ryan played Granny, the irascible and loveable matriarch who tended to the hearth after Jed’s wife died. Donna Douglas and Max Baer Jr. played Jed’s adult children, Elly May and Jethro, respectively. Elly May was a knockout tomboy who compulsively befriended critters, liked climbing trees and wrasslin’ bobcats, and Jethro was a big hunk of a man whose brainpower was inversely proportional to his physical strength. Other regulars on the show included Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), the bank manager who did anything in his power to keep the Clampetts’ millions in his bank, and Miss Hathaway (Nancy Kulp), the pretentious and androgynous bank secretary who secretly lusted after Jethro and tired of Mr. Drysdale’s greed and obsequious attitude toward the Clampetts.
Paramount’s 5-disc DVD The Beverly Hillbillies: The Complete Second Season (1963-64) features 36 episodes of the popular show during its heyday in black and white. (The show later appeared in color beginning in 1965.) Season two features cameos by a young Sharon Tate, bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs (who performed the original theme song, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”), original show openings and closings and the most-watched half-hour sitcom episode ever, “The Giant Jack Rabbit”, a silly but hilarious episode about an escaped kangaroo Granny mistakes for a five-foot-tall jack rabbit.
Having the option to view each episode with or without the original sponsor at the opening and/or closing proves fascinating from a historical perspective, as viewers can see firsthand the shamelessness with which advertisers once integrated its products into the shows they sponsored. One might expect a cut to the beginning of the episode after the show’s theme winds down. Instead, the truck in which Jed, Granny, Elly May and Jethro ride in the classic intro passes a truck or billboard bearing a product’s logo, which quickly gets inserted to the song.
The sponsor didn’t stop there: The closing scenes of each episode found the Clampetts using one of the sponsor’s products, just in case you missed the intro. (Unlike the remastered shows, the opening and closing sponsored portions are on 16 mm prints and have a grainy quality, serving to highlight its historical authenticity.)
In addition to being occasionally hilarious (especially when Granny and/or Mr. Drysdale, the most extreme characters on the show, are featured), The Beverly Hillbillies lays bare urban fantasies about rural life and people. In a classic move of “othering”, which is more often encountered with racialized subjects, the creators of The Beverly Hillbillies use regionalism and class to devalue the Clampetts, while suggesting they’re superior to the jaded city folk in other ways.
Granny’s weird medicine practices of creating poultices and snipping off and burying a patient’s hair mysteriously trump modern medicine and cause a startled Mr. Drysdale to grow hair. When Miss Hathaway listens to Bluegrass LPs during her “folk-music appreciation” lunch breaks at the bank, the artists Flatt and Scruggs just pick away, lost in the music, unmediated by theory. When Mr. Drysdale suggests Granny call Beverly Caterers after she tells him she’s tired of cooking, Granny thinks this is an actual person and thanks her in advance for being so neighborly in helping cook sow belly, boiled possum and other such “viands” for a tuckered-out old woman.
The Beverly Hillbillies: The Complete Second Season also has some fun extras, in addition to the original-episode sponsor openings and closing: Ryan’s screen test as Granny (Where did they find her!); clips from the 1963 Fall Preview Show; the CBS Network Promo (1963/64); and an interview with Henning in which he reveals The Beverly Hillbillies, more than Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, both of which he created, was always his favorite.