Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe there was the “Henningverse,” a trio of blockbuster comedy shows in the 1960s from writer/producer Paul Henning: The Beverly Hillbillies, which inspired the creation of Petticoat Junction, which itself resulted in the spinoff Green Acres. All told, that’s a lot of classic TV and a lot of laughs.
Petticoat Junction, which ran on CBS from 1963 to 1970 for a total of 222 episodes, is set largely at the Shady Rest Hotel in Hooterville and run by widower Kate Bradley (Bea Benaderet). Her Uncle Joe Carson (Edgar Buchanan) is supposed to be helping her out, but doesn’t really do much of anything, though everybody loves him anyway. Playing much bigger parts in the storytelling are the misadventures of Kate’s three daughters, redhead Betty Jo (Linda Kaye Henning), brunette Bobbie Joe (Pat Woodell followed by Lori Saunders) and blonde Billie Jo (Jeannine Riley followed by Gunilla Hutton who was followed by Meredith MacRae).
The Petticoat Junction cast
Here, we climb aboard the Hooterville Cannonball and take a trip back in time to the Shady Rest for a look at the Petticoat Junction cast.
Bea Benaderet as Kate Bradley (Seasons 1-6)
Born April 4, 1906 in New York City, Bea Benaderet got her start as a performer on radio, where she would appear on shows featuring the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen and Lucille Ball. Her vocal abilities were such that she began supplying it for various supporting characters in Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes animated shorts (including as Tweety’s owner, “Granny”). From 1960 to 1963 she provided the voice for Betty Rubble on The Flintstones.
Lucille Ball actually wanted Bea to play Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy, but she was signed to play Blanche Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950 to 1958), so the part went to Vivian Vance.
Her other starring or recurring TV roles included The Jack Benny Program (in various episodes aired between 1952 and 1955), The George Burns Show (1958 to 1959), Peter Loves Mary (1960 to 1961) and as Cousin Pearl Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962 to 1963, 1967). Besides playing Kate Bradley on 164 episodes of Petticoat Junction, she portrayed the character in six episodes of Green Acres.
Bea was forced to leave Petticoat Junction early in its sixth season due to a battle with lung cancer, which would claim her life on October 13, 1968 at the age of 62. She was married twice and has two children.
Edgar Buchanan as Uncle Jo Carson
William Edgar Buchanan II was born on March 20, 1903 in Humansville, Missouri. His first career was as a dentist, running a practice with his wife, Mildred, but he gave that up in 1939 at the age of 36 when he decided to become an actor.
Amazingly, he would go on to appear in more than 100 films between 1939’s My Son is Guilty and 1974’s Benji. His TV debut was in an episode of Make Room for Daddy in 1953 and he made dozens of appearances between then and a 1973 episode of Love, American Style, with, of course, Patticoat Junction occupying much of his time between 1963 and 1970.
Buchanan was married to Mildred from 1928 until his death in 1979 at age 76 from a stroke complicated by pneumonia.
Linda Kaye Henning as Betty Jo Bradley
Although Linda Kaye Henning, born September 16, 1974 in Los Angeles, appeared in a few films, she spent most of her career on television, where she made her debut on a 1962 episode of Mister Ed.
From there, she appeared in episodes of Julie Newmar‘s My Living Doll, Family Affair, Happy Days, Barnaby Jones and many others, most recently playing a character named Mrs. Mallory in five episodes of the TV series Sliders in 1995. She played Betty Jo on both Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. In her personal life, she was married to Petticoat Junction husband Mike Minor from 1968 to 1973, and then married Leon Ashby Adams in 1994. She is currently 79.
Jeannine Riley as Billie Jo Bradley (Season 1-2)
Following a number of TV guest appearances, Jeannine Riley beat out 300 competitors for the role of Billie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction. Born October 1, 1940 in Fresno, California, she decided to leave the series after the first two seasons so she could pursue stardom on the big screen. Following the series, she appeared in a total of eight movies between Jerry Lewis‘ The Big Mouth in 1967 and Timebomb in 1991. In 2020 she wrote the nonfiction book The Bolder Woman: It’s About Time. She’s 83 years old.
Gunilla Hutton as Billie Jo Bradley (Season 3)
Born May 15, 1944 in Gothenburg, Sweden, Gunilla Hutton was the second actress to play Billie Jo Bradley. While she appeared on a few shows as a guest star, she was a regular cast member on the TV series Hee Haw, which led to her recording several singles. She is 79.
Meredith MacRae as Billie Jo Bradley (Seasons 4-7)
Meredith MacRae had an extensive career in film and television. Born May 30, 1944 in Houston, Texas, her breakthrough role was as Sally Anne Morrison Douglas on the sitcom My Three Sons, joining that show in Season 4 and remaining with it until the start of Season 6, when she married Tim Considine‘s Mike Douglas, the two of them marrying on the show and leaving.
She segued from My Three Sons over to Petticoat Junction in 1966, and being the third actress to play Billie Jo, she turned her from a typical “dumb blonde” into an independent woman pursuing a career in singing.
Besides other guest star roles, she made the rounds of many game shows between the 1960s and 1990s, while in the 1980s she was the host of the Mid-Morning Los Angeles talk show that had an eight-year run. She’s also worked tirelessly with various cancer organizations. She herself would be a victim of brain cancer, dying of the disease on July 14, 2000. She was only 56. Meredith was married three times and had one child.
Pat Woodell as Bobbie Jo Bradley (Seasons 1-2)
Although Pat Woodell, who was born July 12, 1944 in Winthrop, Massachusetts, initially intended to become a singer, she shifted to acting and made her TV debut on a 1962 episode of Cheyanne. This would be followed by appearances on Hawaiian Eye, The Gallant Men and 77 Sunset Strip before landing the part of Bobbie Jo on Petticoat Junction, which did give her a chance to do some singing.
While she never had great success as a singer, she did tour as a singer with comedian Jack Benny and recorded an album, but it didn’t make much of a splash. There were several more guest appearances before she retired from acting in 1973. Married twice, she died on September 29, 2015 at age 71, having battled cancer for two decades.
Lori Saunders as Bobbie Jo Bradley (Seasons 3-7)
Lori would take her role as Bobbie Jo Bradley over to The Beverly Hillbillies for seven episodes and Green Acres for three. After Petticoat Junction, she joined the cast of the former for its final season. From 1973 to 1974 she co-starred with Gilligan’s Island‘s Bob Denver in the sitcom Dusty’s Trail and did a few guest appearances. Herfilm credits include The Girls on the Beach and Mara of the Wilderness (both 1965), Blood Bath (1966), A Day at the White House (1972), So Sad About Gloria (1973) and Captive (1980). Saunders, who was born October 4, 1941 in KansasCity, Missouri, has been married to Bernard Sandler since 1961. They have two children. Lori is 82.
Frank Cady as Sam Drucker
Frank Cady, born September 8, 1915 in Susanville, California, has the distinction of playing the same recurring character on three different television shows simultaneously. He Sam Drucker, the general store manager in 168 episodes of Petticoat Junction, 142 episodes of Green Acres and 10 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. As Jed Clampett might say, “Woo-doggie!”
Cady made his uncredited acting debut in 1948’s He Walked by Night and appeared in 35 theatrical and TV movies, the final one being, appropriately enough, Return to Green Acres in 1990. Besides many guest appearances on different shows, he appeared in 71 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet between 1954 and 1965. His final TV role as the ABC Weekend Special, “Soup for President,” in 1978. He was married to Shirley Cady from 1940 until her death in 2008, and they had two children. He died on June 8, 2012 at age 96.
June Lockhart as Dr. Janet Craig (Seasons 6-7)
Following the death of Bea Benaderet, actress June Lockhart was brought on the show for its final two seasons, but not to replace her as Kate Bradley. Instead, she played new character Dr. Janet Craig. For Lockhart, this was just one more stop along the way for her incredible television legacy. Between 1958 and 1964 she played Ruth Martin on the series Lassie, after which she would star in Lost in Space as Maureen Robinson from 1965 to 1968. Before and after those and Petticoat Junction she made many numerous guest appearances and starred in TV movies.
On the big screen, she first starred in 1938’s A Christmas Carol as Belinda Cratchit and appeared in 35 more, ending with 2019’s Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm. Lockhart has been married twice and has two children. She is 98.
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