Petticoat Junction - The Official First Season
The astonishing success of The Beverly Hillbillies enabled producer Paul Henning to pitch another "rural" sitcom to a most receptive CBS. Debuting September 24, 1963, Petticoat Junction (original title: Whistle Stop) was, in its first few seasons, a vehicle for Bea Benaderet, an old friend and colleague of Henning's since The Burns and Allen Show, and most recently seen as Cousin Pearl on Beverly Hillbillies. Benaderet was cast as Kate Douglas, the widowed owner of the Shady Rest, the only traveler's hotel in the Illinois farming community of Hooterville. Edgar Buchanan co-starred as Kate's uncle Joe Bradley, self-appointed manager of the hotel, who, when not hatching his latest get-rich-quick scheme, was figuring out new methods to expend as little energy as possible. Kate was the mother of three beautiful, curvaceous daughters: Betty Jo (played through the series' run by Paul Henning's daughter Linda Kaye Henning), Billie Jo (played during the first two seasons by Jeannine Riley, during season three by Gunilla Hutton, and from season four onward by Meredith Mac Rae), and Bobbie Jo (played by Patricia Woodell in seasons one and two, and by Lori Saunders thereafter). The town and hotel were connected (more or less) to the outside world by the Hooterville Cannonball, the last and oldest steam engine in the C.F.&W. railroad line, run by engineers Charlie Pratt (Smiley Burnette) and Floyd Smoot (Rufe Davis). Other Hooterville residents over the years included storekeeper Sam Drucker (Frank Cady), town gossip Selma Plout (Virginia Sale, then Elvia Allman) and her gangly daughter Henrietta (Susan Walther, then Lynette Winter), barber Bert Smedley (Paul Hartman), and train conductor Wendell Gibbs (Byron Foulger). The most omnipresent of the recurring characters was Charles Lane as Homer Bedloe, the delightfully flint-hearted vice president of the C.F.&W., who never tired of hatching sinister schemes to put the antiquated Hooterville Cannonball out of business.
After two black-and-white seasons, the series switched to color for season three in 1965, the same year that Petticoat Junction's spinoff series Green Acres made its CBS debut. Thereafter, the casts of the two series made innumerable crossover appearances, with Petticoat Junction's Frank Cady and Green Acres co-stars Tom Lester (as handyman Eb Lawson) and Kay E. Kuter (as farmer Newt Kiley) virtually becoming regulars on both shows. At the beginning of season four, Mike Minor joined the cast as Steve Elliott, a pilot whose plane had crashed just outside the Shady Rest. After a lengthy courtship, Steve married Kate's oldest daughter Betty Jo -- just as actors Mike Minor and Linda Kaye became husband and wife in real life. In addition to the aforementioned turnover in the actresses playing Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo, there were several other cast changes and dropouts during Petticoat Junction's eight seasons. Sadly, two of these were dictated by mortality: supporting player Smiley Burnette died in 1967, and series star Bea Benaderet passed away at the beginning of the 1968-1969 season (upon Kate Bradley's departure, Uncle Joe assumed ownership of the Shady Rest). In the course of the same season, June Lockhart joined the cast as lady doctor Janet Craig, who had arrived in Hooterville to replace retiring town physician Dr. Barton Stuart (Regis Toomey). The producers had hoped that same rapport which existed between Bea Benaderet and Edgar Buchanan would be replicated by Buchanan and Lockhart, but this was not to be. After 221 episodes, Petticoat Junction was canceled on September 12, 1970, the first casualty in CBS's drive to "de-ruralize" its network demographic and appeal to a more urban, sophisticated audience.