Fun Behind-the-Scenes Secrets About The Beverly Hillbillies

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:28:31 PM ET
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"Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed..." If you just read that in your head to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies' theme song, then you've come to the right place to get your nostalgia on.

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In 1962, CBS launched one of the funniest shows to ever hit the airwaves (still true to this day). Let’s take a look at some of the best kept secrets and unknown facts about the legendary actors who portrayed the Clampett clan (and friends) on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Granny Had No Problem Bringing Out Her Inner Slugger

Although Irene Ryan, who played Granny Clampett, was a sweet lady in real life, she had no problem dishing out some hilarious slaps on screen. The Beverly Hillbillies depicted Granny as a sassy old lady who would often slap a little sense into Jethro, the boneheaded member of the hillbilly crew.

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During an interview, Ryan confessed that those weren't stage slaps she was delivering. Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro Bodine, was the son of a champion boxer, and the wily actress put her full strength into every smack. Judging by his size (and hers), Baer probably felt nothing more than a little pat.

Jed Clampett Wasn't Quite as Sharp in the Original Script

When Buddy Ebsen signed on to play the role of Jed Clampett, he had a few stipulations for the show's writers. In the show's original script, Jed was portrayed as uneducated and also utterly lacking in common sense. Ebsen made what turned out to be a good call by insisting there be a bit more smarts to the character.

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He was able to convince the writers to portray Jethro, rather than Jed, as the family's comedic simpleton — and the result was comic gold. Meanwhile, Jed displayed sharp intellect while still adding plenty of comedy to the show with his lack of understanding of city life.

Elly May Advanced the Popularity of Blue Jeans

Elly May Clampett was a fashion icon in her own roundabout way. Actress Donna Douglas usually wore flannel tops and tight-fitting blue jeans in each episode. Although her hillbilly chic may seem ordinary these days, it was unusual at the time and boosted the sale of denim products.

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By the end of the first season, women everywhere were rocking blue jeans like never before. One Levi Strauss executive said, "Donna Douglas has done more for the sale of blue jeans in one year than cowboys have done in a hundred."

Buddy Ebsen Started His Career on Broadway

Although most people associate Buddy Ebsen with his iconic performance as Jed Clampett, there was far more to him in real life than acting chops. He was also a singer and dancer who started out as a Broadway star in 1936.

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In 1965, he even decided to revisit music by releasing a country-western album. Buddy Ebsen Says Howdy in Song and Story can still be purchased on Amazon to this day. If that’s not impressive enough, did we mention he also wrote a novel called Kelly's Quest?

Elly May Once Sued Barbie

Back in 2010, Mattel released a new doll called the "Elly May" Barbie, which featured a photograph of Donna Douglas as Elly May on the packaging. The only problem was the toy company failed to ask for Douglas' permission before creating and selling the doll.

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The actress, who was 77 at the time, wasn't happy about the toy company's lack of communication and lack of compensation for their endeavor. She sued both CBS and Mattel for "engaging in the unauthorized use" of her image and won a settlement for an unknown amount in 2011.

The Show Was Originally Science Fiction

It’s now considered a classic TV comedy, but the show's original premise was beyond strange. When writer Paul Henning was first hashing out the concept for the script, he envisioned a rural family from 1860 time traveling to modern-day New York City.

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Surprisingly, it wasn't the strange sci-fi aspect that turned out to be the idea's biggest problem. The production company wasn't willing to pay the high cost of shooting the show in New York, so it was moved back to more Hollywood-centric Beverly Hills. Thankfully, Henning realized a family from the Ozark Mountains was way more fun than time-traveling pioneers.

The Show's Original Title Was Lame

It seems it took the writers a few tries to come up with a title as perfect as The Beverly Hillbillies. It was originally known as The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills. Sound a bit lame and redundant? The producers agreed and went back to the drawing board.

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The longer title only made it as far as an early version of the pilot, called "The Clampetts Strike Oil." Interestingly, records don’t indicate who the genius was who came up with the title we know and love, but it had been changed by the time the second episode aired.

Jethro May Have Sabotaged Max Baer Jr.'s Acting Career

Television work is tricky for actors. They want to become famous, but not so famous for a particular role that no one can envision them as anyone else. If the show does well, they could be guaranteed work for years, but if they become too identified with one character, it could be hard for fans to accept them in another role.

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That's exactly what happened to Max Baer Jr. After the show's successful nine-year run, Baer found that casting directors couldn't picture him as any other character than Jethro Bodine. He played a few minor roles after the show's finale, but he eventually turned to producing, writing and directing instead.

Paul Henning Snuck in a Hometown Shout Out

We don't see much of the Clampett’s journey to Beverly Hills on screen, although the series does have some episodes where they travel back home for various reasons. They certainly didn’t descend from some forgotten hill in California.

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According to the show, the Clampetts hail from the Ozarks. Considering that Paul Henning, the show's creator, grew up in Independence, Missouri, and a portion of the Ozark Mountain range runs into Missouri, his home state is a good guess for the original home of the Clampett clan. Henning even named Milburn Drysdale’s Commerce Bank after a bank he grew up near as a kid.

The Clampetts Were Filthy Rich (Even in Today's Money)

Everyone knows the Clampett's story, thanks to the show's instantly recognizable theme song. Jed was out hunting on his Ozark property, and he accidentally stumbled upon a gurgling pool of oil. The oil field turned out to be huge, but exactly how much did he make? According to the show, Jed's find netted the Clampett clan $25 million.

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That would be more than $212 million in today's currency, but it’s not like a mere $25 million today is pocket change. Given that no one in the family ever seemed to buy anything except the mansion, it's no wonder that Mr. Drysdale considered them such an investment for his bank.

Sharon Tate Had a Recurring Role on the Show

Sadly, Sharon Tate's name is usually remembered for her tragic murder at the hands of Charlie Manson’s cult. During her lifetime, the vibrant young actress starred in several TV shows and movies.

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Her television roles included Janet Trego, who you may remember as Jethro's girlfriend on The Beverly Hillbillies. Janet's character appeared in 15 episodes of the popular sitcom and spawned a brief real-life romance between Tate and Baer. She later ended up marrying director Roman Polanski before her untimely death.

Nancy Kulp and Buddy Ebsen Had a Huge Feud

Nancy Kulp played the sometimes brainy/sometimes zany Miss Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies. She was a brilliant lady in real life, and a decade after the sitcom ended, she decided to run for Congress as a Democrat in her home state of Pennsylvania.

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After making an offhand remark about everyone from the show supporting her, she was shocked to learn that Buddy Ebsen, a Republican, actually didn't. He even did a radio spot in support of her opponent. This obviously hurt Kulp, who lost the race, and the resulting feud between the two lasted until right before Kulp's death in 1991.

Elly May's Critters Were Cared for by the Best

"You’ve got so many critters, looks like the waiting room for the Ark," Jed Clampett once remarked to his daughter, regarding her love for animals. As much as Elly May loved bringing home random creatures, the actress who played her was far too busy to care for them herself.

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That was were Frank Inn took over. A legendary Hollywood animal trainer, he was also the guy who trained "Orangey," the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Throughout the show, he cared for all the animals and trained them all to hit their marks when it was their turn to shine.

Buddy Ebsen Delayed Retirement to Play Jed Clampett

Buddy Ebsen first sold The Beverly Hillbillies producers on his acting skills with his performance as Doc Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. When they reached out to him to play Jed, it was only to hear him say he was actually planning on retiring from acting.

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Something about the script must have made him realize the show was worth sticking around for, because he ultimately became the Jed Clampett we all know and love today. Perhaps the show even helped him revamp his enthusiasm for acting. Even after it ended, he continued to act (Barnaby Jones, anyone?) for two more decades.

The Show Wasn't Shy About Product Placement

As much as you loved The Beverly Hillbillies, their biggest fans were the folks at Kellogg's Corn Flakes. The company was a sponsor and proud to let everyone know it. Each episode ended with a sign off from Kellogg's that rang out "K-E-Double L-O-Double Good. Kellogg’s best to you."

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The cast also did occasional shout-outs to Kellogg’s in the form of promos and commercials. Even the show's iconic theme song once sported a few verses that championed both Corn Flakes and Winston cigarettes. (Hey, it was the ‘60s.) Back then, such a winning combination was still considered the breakfast of champions.

The Location of the Mansion Was (Not So) Top Secret

The mansion that the Clampett family moved into on the show actually exists, although it's not really in Beverly Hills. Located in nearby Bel-Air, the house once belonged to a real estate investor and art collector whose widow agreed to let the show use it. Her only condition was that the location be kept secret.

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Although producers agreed, sneaking an entire film crew in and out of an estate turned out to be not so easy. The home's exterior was shown on TV screens across the country on a regular basis, so it wasn't long before the mansion's cover was blown.

The Clampett's Truck Sold at Auction in 2015

Ever wonder what kind of truck the Clampett's old jalopy was and where they found it? The now iconic Beverly Hillbillies truck was a 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster. Originally sold for around $2,000, the trusty old roadster came with a large V8 engine.

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If you had trouble starting it up in cold weather, you could just fill up a series of special cylinder cups with ether to get her purring in no time. In 2015, the original truck went up for auction and sold for a cool $275,000. Nice return on that investment!

Raymond Bailey Suffered from Alzheimer's

Mr. Drysdale, the Clampett's overly neurotic banker, was played by actor Raymond Bailey. Although he first started as a day laborer on silent film sets, he ended up scoring the role of a lifetime in the hilarious Mr. Drysdale. He became a breakout character on one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.

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Near the end of the series, Bailey began to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, causing him to only appear in two more movies before retiring. He passed away in 1980, but he lives on in the form of a hysterical onscreen persona who is still making audiences laugh to this day.

Granny Scored Her Own Real-Life Cookbook

Did your mouth water as you watched everyone gather around the table for one of Granny's home-cooked meals? While you can’t pay the Clampetts a visit in real life, you can learn how to serve the same fixins as Granny with Granny's Beverly Hillbillies cookbook.

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The cookbook features 330 country recipes from the hit TV show as well as Beverly Hillbillies photos and memorabilia. Whether you give it as a gift to a fellow fan or use it as your secret Sunday lunch weapon, you can move one step closer to Granny-level greatness.

John Wayne Made a Legendary Cameo on the Show

Once The Beverly Hillbillies became the hottest show of its time, it was never at a loss for celebrity guests. Among the most iconic actors to appear on the show was "The Duke" himself, Mr. John Wayne, who was apparently quite a fan.

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Wayne's cameo can be seen in a 1967 episode called "The Indians Are Coming," in which a Native American tribe arrives in Beverly Hills to discuss a boundary dispute related to the Clampett's oil land. When asked what he would charge for his appearance on the show, Wayne replied, "Give me a fifth of bourbon — that’ll square it."

Irene Ryan Had Some Stiff Competition for Granny

Before the role of Granny was ultimately awarded to Irene Ryan, another famous actress had her eye on it. TV star Bea Benaderet auditioned for the part, but she understood Paul Henning's decision to go with Ryan after seeing the wiry little actress' audition tape.

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All wasn’t lost for Benaderet, however, as Henning later worked her into the storyline as Cousin Pearl, Jethro’s meddling mom. She wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for Granny Clampett, but he later wrote the role of Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction specifically for her.

Max Baer Jr. Once Sued CBS

Jethro was a simple-minded guy on the show, but the actor who played him was a lot sharper. In 2014, Baer filed a lawsuit against CBS, claiming they had given him the right to use his character, Jethro Bodine, for marketing purposes.

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Baer said that he had secured the rights to open a restaurant chain based on his character, but CBS had secretly awarded the same rights to an Iowa chain called Jethro's BBQ. Ultimately, a settlement was reached with CBS, and Jethro's BBQ was released from any damages and is still operational in Iowa today.

Buddy Ebsen Could Have Been the Tin Man

Long before his role as lovable hillbilly-turned-millionaire, Buddy Ebsen was offered another iconic role. He was initially cast to play the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz and even shot a few scenes. Unfortunately, things went horribly wrong when he started having mysterious breathing problems during production.

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Doctors ultimately determined the aluminum makeup used for the Tin Man's costume was responsible for the respiratory issues that ended up affecting Ebsen for the rest of his life. He gave up the role, and the film's producers had to replace both him and the toxic makeup before filming the movie.

The Show's Theme Song Became a Billboard Hit

No matter how long it's been since you watched an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, you can probably still hum the opening song's tune on cue. It was actually titled "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" and was written by Paul Henning himself.

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Performed by famous banjo player Earl Scruggs, guitarist Lester Flatt and singer Jerry Scoggins, the tune became so popular that it climbed to number 44 on the Billboard charts. When the sitcom was adapted to the big screen in 1993, Scoggins even returned to sing an updated version of Jed's famous ballad for the soundtrack.

Paul Henning's Daughter Voiced Jethrine

In a few episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, we're treated to the hilariously terrifying appearance of Jethro's twin sister, Jethrine Bodine. While the character was blatantly played by Jethro actor Max Baer Jr. in drag, the show's producers realized they needed an actual woman to voice the character.

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They decided to bring in Paul Henning's daughter, Linda Kaye Henning. If you were also a fan of Henning's later show Petticoat Junction, you may recognize Linda as Betty Jo Bradley. While Jethrine came across as a woman who was a terrifyingly masculine handful, her character was undeniably hysterical.

The Beverly Hillbillies May Soon Hit Vegas

Max Baer Jr. may be the only surviving member of The Beverly Hillbillies cast, but he still has plans to cash in on the show's success. During his lawsuit, he spoke a bit about why it was important to have the character to himself.

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As it turned out, Baer had plans to open a chain of restaurants and casinos based on the sitcom on the Las Vegas strip. He had already entered into negotiations to use The Beverly Hillbillies name on a series of slot machines and planned to take things to the next level. Sounds like a fun gamble!

Tons of Episodes Accidentally Became Public Domain

The show has always been incredibly popular, but there's another reason so many networks still play its reruns so often. When Orion Television purchased the rights to air the show, they forgot to renew the copyrights to 55 episodes before they expired.

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Their mistake released the episodes into public domain, which meant they could be redistributed free of charge. Plenty of companies capitalized on Orion's epic fail, although they were forced to air the shows without the iconic opening theme song. Apparently, it was still covered by copyright and had to be replaced by generic banjo music.

The Show Was One of the Top Sitcoms of Its Time

Although The Beverly Hillbillies wasn't a critical darling, it proved that critics aren’t always right. Audiences were so enthralled with the Clampetts that the show hit number 1 in the ratings after just three weeks on the air.

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It was able to maintain the number 1 spot for its first two years and was one of the 20 most-watched shows on television for most of its nine seasons. In a rare feat of television history, it's one of the few shows you can watch today that can make you laugh just as hard today as it did back then.

The Clampetts Were Victims of "Rural Purge"

The Beverly Hillbillies enjoyed a nice nine-year run, but CBS pulled the plug on the popular sitcom in 1971 during the now-infamous "rural purge" of 1970-1975. Apparently, CBS started looking into their demographics and decided western and rural-inspired shows were no longer hip.

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Shows like Green Acres, Hee Haw and Petticoat Junction met the same end. As Green Acres' Pat Buttram put it, "It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it." So abrupt was the show's cancelation that the writers never had a chance to give the characters a proper send-off — always super frustrating for fans.

The Movie Version Just Wasn't the Same

The series remained a popular favorite in reruns, and Hollywood took notice. In 1993, the Clampetts were set to make their comeback in a movie adaptation of the 1960s sitcom. If you were among those who saw it, we don't have to tell you that it just wasn't the same.

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Although it somehow managed to rake in $57,405,220 worldwide, it left both critics and fans disappointed. The original actors managed to craft such funny and enduring characters that they simply can’t be replicated by anyone else.