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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beverly Hillbillies Real and Imagined

How many of you went (or go!) out in search of Beverly Hill-billy Type Fun at drive-ins and theatres? A lot of us did in after the series hit big during 1962-63. It was the Number One show for its first two seasons on CBS. There was nothing more popular in the South, not on television or in movie houses. One episode where Granny hunts a giant jackrabbit (turns out to be a kangaroo, I think) still ranks #34 of most watched network prime-time telecasts since 1964, encompassing 44% of all viewing households (22.57 million, and you could at least triple that number to figure a total of individuals seeing it). Beating such stats with paid admissions was impossible. The Clampetts in a feature would have outdone Thunder Road around here. Actually, Buddy Ebsen appeared in one called Mail Order Bride (in 1964) that less scrupulous exhibs promoted as the Hillbillies at full-length (Old Jed’s Lookin’ For a Wife!). Anything that smacked of cornpone humor was re-christened as a Clampett night at the movies. Ads like ones shown here were rife through Dixie and snookered patrons imagining they’d see all-night Hillbilly fun just like CBS was giving away at home. I was fascinated by such programs at the time because of titles (always printed small) that often dated back to the forties and beyond. Republic’s old Judy Canova laffers had a comeback, as did the ancient Private Snuffy Smith from 1942. Sometimes even the Weaver Brothers and Elviry got a look-in, and I’ll bet smaller houses used nitrate prints on a few of these. Note the running dog, moonshine, and jalopy art? If they used that once in counties surrounding me, they used it a hundred times. The last occasion I saw Abbott and Costello play a theatre date was Comin’ Round The Mountain as part of a Hillbilly marathon. How long did such shows last? Probably no later than the mid-sixties. By then, customers maybe realized they weren’t going to see the Clampetts on movie screens, and these ersatz mountaineers would no longer be adequate substitutes.


Anonymous John said...

One of our theatres in Newark, Ohio had a triple feature of "Hillbilly Fun" one weekend in 1964.
The main feature was "Ballad of a Gunfighter" with Marty Robbins. The other films were Republic's "Grand Ole Opry" with The Weaver Brothers and Elviry and "Scatterbrain" with Judy Canova.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

always had a a soft spot for all things "hillbilly" having grandparents and cousins in the ozark region of Arkansas and I still make my twice yearly visits to see whats left of 'em..I always watch "A&C in Comin' Round the Mountain",Shepherd of the Hills,Hillbillys in a Haunted house, and a couple of Ma & Pa Kettles to get primed before I go..and most recently,thanks to the plug for Second Fiddle To A Steal Guitar on here awhile back,I've added that to my collection too..

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Griff said...

I give up -- why didn't Paul Henning write and produce a modestly budgeted HILLBILLIES feature film and cash in on this obvious demand?

Universal frequently made feature versions of teleseries. These films weren't very good -- all right, MUNSTER, GO HOME! has a slight cult reputation -- but I suppose there was a certain overall economy to them that pleased the boys in the tower. [That said, I've still never understood how the second McHale's Navy feature was made without Ernest Borgnine; I mean, how could they call it McHale's Navy with no McHale?] And, of course, none of the Universal series were remotely as popular as the HILLBILLIES in its prime.

Filmways, which produced the show in association with CBS, had a working agreement with MGM to produce features; there must have been some discussions about this. Come to think of it, Metro produced Burt Kennedy's MAIL ORDER BRIDE, the 1964 Buddy Ebsen comedy you mentioned.

Perhaps CBS was an unwilling partner here, fearing that the series' tremendous appeal might be watered down by over-exploitation.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

The Bowery Boys flick "Feudin' Fools", set in hillbilly country, is one of their better offerings.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

When I came from New York to Missouri in the early 1970's I was surprised to see the Ma and Pa Kettle movies still playing the drive in circuit. The movie series was long off of TV in NYC.
Drive in movies like Cotton Pickin' Chicken Pickers, the Long Road to Nashville and others filled drive-ins along with the re-issues of major titles and, yes, Thunder Road.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

One of the first movies I remember being taken to by my parents in a theater was HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE.It was playing at several of teh A-list theaters here in Kentucky!

2:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi BookSteve --- We got "Hillbillies In A Haunted House" in first-run houses as well, particularly in the smaller towns, but not alas at the Liberty. I'd have certainly gone to see Rathbone, Chaney, and Carradine as combined villainly.

Dan, we still had the Kettles in theatres through the sixties. I'd imagine they could have been booked all the way up to when the Charlotte exchanges started closing in the mid to late seventies.

Griff, I'd say Paul Henning let a fortune get away when he didn't produce a Beverly Hillbillies feature.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The giant jackrabbit telecast was at the time one of the highest rated ever, right up there with the birth of Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy"
This was due in no small part to the fact that TV Guide ran a color "teaser" still in that weeks issue of Granny with the Jackrabbit, such was the power of the Guide at that time. Unfortunately TV Gude was not a fixture at my house as my Father would often point out that we got a "free" one each week in our Sunday paper. These were on newsprint paper with half-tone photos, nothing near the quality of TV Guide.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

My grandfather and his lyricist-partner Jack Scholl had a hand (maybe more like a foot) in helping to shape a thing at Warners' in 1938 called "Swing Your Lady", which still turns-up during Bogie marathons on TCM. Some folks seem to like it. I may be biting the hand that is literally feeding me, but I find it an embarrasment for all concerned! (Maybe Lou Costello's daughter feels the same way about her Dad's film. "Comin' Round the Mountain" does contain, I think, the funniest and one of the most clever scenes in the entire A&C canon, wherein Lou and Margaret Hamilton take turns sticking needles into Voodoo dolls of each other! On "Swing Your Lady", M.K. and Jack did compose a very good production, performed by Penny Singleton called "Mountain Swingaroo").

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad Margaret Hamilton hated that movie!

12:29 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I just enjoy the heck outta Comin' round the Mountain..I enjoy Dorothy Shay's musical numbers,Glenn Strange,Robert Easton..I lay in wait for the bed scene where they all pile in with Lou.."Shift Unc..Roll Luke..Squeeze over Squeezbox.."..and then theres the Fore(4)Fathers joke..I must be some kinda NUT I reckin..

2:57 AM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

I must mention the influence of the whole Southern TV Comedy aspect, not just the Hillbillies, and its influence on movie viewing not just in Southern towns, but in a lot of small towns all over the US - other shows like "The Andy Griffith Show", "Green Acres" and "Petticoat Junction" also appealed to those audiences and helped push the hick-think aspect of imagined Southern small towns into prominence enough to guarantee the success of the revivals of the older films. Don Knotts had a career out of Fife-ing his way thru a few B films that owed nothing to anything else other than Mayberry and the cozy small town visions it offered. I bet Southern-minded films made up the majority of receipts for more than a few years in Northern small town drive-ins and little venues.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Devlin Thompson said...

You don't mention it, so I figured I should point out that the dog in the ads is Snuffy Smith's dog Bullet. And all the art in the "Shotgun Jamboree" ad is from Snuffy... most of it crudely redrawn, though the image of Sheriff Tait and a wheelbarrow at the bottom seems to be lifted straight out of a strip. Also, I'll note that I've got a 45 of Buddy Ebsen singing a version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" with a couple of extra verses not found in any other rendition of it I've ever heard, and its flip is the theme song from "Mail Order Bride".

1:26 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Amen to the comments on the power of TV GUIDE!!! Positioned between Detroit and Toledo,we needed one to cover both as the newspapers didn't. Could have used highliters back then though...

12:09 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

And students of 60s TV will recall the de-ruralisation of CBS in particular but all networks in general...even Doris Day got caught in the cross fire....lose the farm in the country AND the kids!!!! Ironically one of the shows that pushed this,HEE HAW!,was responsible for the meteoric rise of syndicated first run programmes...

1:05 PM  

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