When “Petticoat Junction” premiered in 1963, it quickly became a beloved classic — and according to its cast it’s easy to see why.
The show, a spinoff of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” explored the misadventures of the family staff of The Shady Rest Hotel and their neighbors of Hooverville. “Petticoat Junction,” which ran for seven seasons, came to an end in 1970, but it’s still revered by the sitcom’s stars today.
“There wasn’t any violence, swearing and nothing risqué,” explained Lori Saunders, who starred as Bobbi Jo, to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue. “It was a healthy show you could watch with your children.”
Linda Kaye Henning, who played Betty Jo, shared the show’s cast and crew quickly bonded and became a family over the years.
“We were one of the friendliest sets around,” she said. “We all got along.”
Lori Saunders, Linda Henning and Gunilla Hutton at The Hollywood Show held at The Westin Hotel LAX in a 2015 reunion. (Getty)
Saunders recalled how there was plenty of laughter among the women.
“We were shooting a church scene,” explained the 77-year-old. “One of us would make another giggle and then we’d all break out laughing. We just couldn’t stop — I think we had to do five takes that day!”
Saunders also described how the cast didn’t hesitate to poke fun at each other even when cameras weren’t rolling.
“We did a matinee and two evening shows with singing and a little dancing — basically a big blitz for ‘Petticoat,’” said Saunders about a past promotional stop in Atlantic City. “We were wearing these white, thigh-high boots and we were so tired of them. After the show, we took them off and dumped them in the ocean!”
Despite all the laughter, “Petticoat Junction” was faced with tragedy. Bea Benaderet, who played matriarch Kate Bradley, passed away in 1968 at age 62 from lung cancer. At the time of her death, the Indianapolis Star reported Benaderet had completed filming for the 1968-69 season of the series and then was hospitalized. The newspaper added Benaderet didn’t let her illness dampen her enthusiasm for her career as an actress.
Photograph from “The Beverly Hillbillies” with Bea Benaderet (left) in an 1890’s bathing suit costume, as cousin Pearl Bodine. She stands next to Donna Douglas, as Elly May Clampett, in a one-piece bathing suit. (Getty)
“She had a tough time of it, but she was always a professional,” said Saunders about Benaderet’s fatal illness. “Toward the end, we were shooting a scene and her hand was shaking. I put my hand over hers and we finished the scene that way.”
Closer Weekly shared “Petticoat Junction” lasted for two more seasons after Benaderet’s death. The writers sent her character off to live with relatives. However, a note would occasionally arrive from Kate to Betty Jo, resulting in many emotional moments while filming.
“The toughest day was when they had a letter written from Kate to Betty Jo,” said Henning, 74. “They had recorded Bea reading it, and I just tried not to burst out into tears during the scene.”
Henning added that despite the great loss everyone involved in “Petticoat Junction” endured, the adoration among the cast still lives on.
“After our show was off the air, every now and then I’d see somebody from our crew on another set, and it would be like old times,” she said. “We were all a family.”
This wasn’t the first time cast mates have spoken fondly about their time on “Petticoat Junction.” Back 2008, Henning told the Los Angeles Times the show became a sensation during the ‘60s because Americans could easily identify with the characters.
“I tell you the people who watched it really identified with it because they lived those lives,” she explained at the time. “That was that they wanted to see. It meant a lot to them. So many people would talk to me about it telling me, ‘That is so much like my town, but I wish your family was like my family.’ It was really nice.”
And while Henning’s father, Paul Henning, happened to be the creator of the show, she insisted no easy breaks were given to her for the role of Betty Jo. Henning explained to the Times that, like any other actress, she had to go through screen tests and approvals from the rest of the cast and crew before she was hired.
“He wrote the series for Bea Benaderet,” said Henning about her father. “He had worked with her for many years and Bea went with him to see me in a play I was doing at a neighborhood playhouse. She said, ‘Paul, why in the world won’t you let your daughter try out for Betty Jo?’”
After Benaderet’s death, June Lockhart of “Lost in Space” and “Lassie” fame, was brought on to Hooverville as Dr. Janet Craig.
“She was absolutely perfect for replacing Bea,” said Henning. “She wasn’t trying to be our mother — she was a doctor. We were all just very lucky.”