Classic Video Showplace

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Petticoat Junction” Origins

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

One of the most impressive facts about the long-running comedy series The Beverly Hillbillies (which you can also see on RCN TV) in 1960s television was the success of its spin-offs. 

None did better than its original off-spring, “Petticoat Junction.”

The show was somewhat revolutionary for its time in that it featured a single, widowed mother raising three kids on her own.

Veteran radio and television character actress Bea Benaderet, after three decades of small roles and guest-starring on some of the most classic programs of all time, finally got her first chance at a leading role. (She actually played the role that would later become Ethel Mertz on the TV version of the program.  After handling the role of Lucille Ball’s neighbor/side-kick on radio, I Love Lucy Executive Producer Jess Oppenheimer spotted Vivian Vance in a play and chose her to play Ethel on television over Benaderet.)

Benaderet’s character on “”Junction,” Kate Bradley, operated a palatial but not overly ostentatious, Victorian-style hotel called the “Shady Rest.”

She was the anchor of a creative collection of zany characters that made up the fictional town, Hooterville, the show’s main setting.

Similar to its mother-ship, also created by Paul Henning, Petticoat Junction rarely crossed the line into controversial topics. 

Instead, plot lines relied on feel good situations and familiar family issues with Benaderet often solving the problems of her daughters and their neighbors.  

One of the highlights of the cast was their live-in (and often lazy) Uncle Joe.  Despite the title song’s indication that he’s “movin’ rather slow,” Edgar Buchanan became one of the most popular sit-com figures of the early/mid-1960s television landscape.

Another popular pairing of characters were the train conductors, Floyd Smoot and Charlie Pratt, played by Rufe Davis and Smiley Burnette.

In addition to being the local gossipers, which often ignited several plot lines, they operated Hooterville’s train, “The Cannonball.” The 1890s steam-driven train linked together all the town’s inhabitants and businesses in the extreme rural setting, along with the residence of their nearest link to the rest of civilization – a small town called Pixley.

Burnette wasn’t the only actor smiling after the first several seasons of the program.  The comedy show with it’s quirky characters and simplistic way of life connected with its audience.  Teamed with the already successful Jack Benny Program on Tuesday nights, Petticoat Junction became one of the most successful comedies on television for the first several years of its run.

However, the cast and crew were in for more twists and turns than anyone ever found on the Cannonball’s train tracks over the next few years.  Tragically, the end of the 1960s not only started a decline in popularity for the “Junction” but some of the show’s most beloved characters met a dubious fate.

We’ll have more on the rise and fall of Petticoat Junction next week here at the Showplace.

In the meantime, check out these popular episodes on Wednesday mornings at 11:30 on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.