(first posted 2/11/2016) Premiering on CBS television on September 26, 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies became the highest rated show on television in the United States within a matter of weeks, a place it maintained for its first two seasons on the air.
Focused on Jed Clampett (played by Buddy Ebsen), who struck millions of dollars in oil on his property in “The Hills”, the show was very much a fish out of water type situation comedy. The premise was Jed wanted his wild-child daughter Elly May to have a better upbringing and an atmosphere to make her more lady-like. After urging by his cousin, Jed decided to move to “Californee”, specifically Beverly Hills. Accompanying Jed and Elly May to California was his mother-in-law Daisy Moses (referred to as Granny) and nephew Jethro Bodine.
Before I jump into the variety of cars seen throughout the series until its cancellation in 1971, a little initiation is required for those unfamiliar. This television show introduced such phrases as “cement pond” and “double barrel slingshot” into the vernacular plus enlightened viewers with such culinary delights as pickled crow gizzard, boiled possum, and gopher gravy. It was an early, and delightfully heavy, practitioner of double entendre and malapropism, such as referring to marinara sauce as marijuana sauce.
The origins of the double barrel slingshot can be found in this clip.
Jed’s money was kept and managed by his banker and next door neighbor Milburn Drysdale. Early in the series, Drysdale’s Imperial was a frequent site. As time went on, a car in Drysdale’s ownership was less frequently seen.
Toward the end of the series run in 1971, there was another Drysdale Imperial to make an appearance. There is something oddly hypnotic about fuselage bodied Chrysler products.
With the show being set in upscale Beverly Hills, there was the frequent need to project the affluence of the persons interacting with the Clampetts. To accomplish this, Imperials of various guises were frequently seen, such as this Imperial Crown convertible…
Along with another convertible in black or some other dark color.
The four-door hardtops could be found also, primarily if the visitor was being chauffeured. The product placement by the Chrysler Corporation was delightfully rampant and charmingly obvious.
Many of the self-driven visitors to the Clampett Estate were fond of A-body Mopars. I will readily admit to having seen a number of the early episodes recently; the driver of this Valiant convertible was a French lady whose french poodle was impregnated by the Clampett’s bloodhound, Duke, despite her being betrothed to Mrs. Drysdale’s poodle.
Jed and the lady had a similar attraction but presumably nothing became of it.
Often people who learned of the Clampett fortune would attempt to swindle this not so naive family. Chickadee Laverne was a professional stripper who arrived at the Clampetts for an engagement; she was thinking it was a performance showcasing her inclusion of a raccoon into her act. The Clampetts thought she was going to marry Jethro.
At one point Jed asked Chickadee about where she was before coming to California. She responded she “came from burlesque – in New York.” Jed responded with a big smile and said “Burlesque, New York. That sounds like a mighty fine town.”
Other times, the shyster drove a nice, older Chrysler New Yorker convertible.
Not all of the Valiant’s pulling up to the front door were convertibles, such as this Valiant wagon with a business name plastered on the door.
In fact, there were a lot of service vehicles seen during the course of the series, such as this sharp half-ton Dodge that was owned by an asphalt company.
For those not fond of pickups, there was an occasional Dodge Panel Van to be seen.
Incidentally, this panel van was seen the episode The Giant Jackrabbit. The ratings of The Beverly Hillbillies were so high this episode was the highest rated half-hour of television ever at the time of its first broadcast and this episode remains the most watched half-hour episode of a situation comedy ever in the United States.
Also incidentally, actress Sharon Tate appears in The Giant Jackrabbit. Tate was one of the victims of the Manson Family murder spree in 1969.
Early on, with their acclimating to the vast cultural differences found in Beverly Hills, the Clampetts had frequent dealings with law enforcement who would show up in their 1963 Dodge 330.
This despite their heading to the estate in a 1959 Dodge – two door!
It wasn’t unusual for the Clampetts to get these officers drunk on some home-brewed rheumatism medicine or for one of them to become so enamored of Elly May in a swimsuit they would forget their purpose for visiting. The show insinuated Elly May as being about fifteen or sixteen years old despite actress Donna Douglas being in her early 30s and the mother of an eight year-old when the show premiered.
Perhaps the same distraction happened for the film editor if he thought a 1959 Dodge looked like a 1963 Dodge.
Every once in a while, European cars could be found in Beverly Hills. Often these were a Rolls-Royce, in keeping up with the moneyed theme.
Another time, there was an MG featured that belonged to a disgruntled secretary at the Commerce Bank.
Sadly, it succumbed to a well placed karate-chop.
The Clampetts also owned a castle in England. When they visited, there were plenty of European cars to be seen.
The bulk of the time, Commerce Bank president Milburn Drysdale was being carted around by his secretary Jane Hathaway. With Drysdale being portrayed as an unrepentant skinflint, it simply made more financial sense for him to rook his secretary into driving, saving fuel money by not piloting the Imperial around.
Miss Jane had very good taste in cars and must have been quite reasonably paid by Drysdale as she curiously had a new Dodge B-body convertible every season. However, Miss Jane was in a Plymouth for the first season, as seen one picture up. Likely even Chrysler didn’t want to bring any more undue attention to the homely 1962 Dodge.
However by the end of the series, Miss Jane had transitioned to an E-body. Her cars were always red. Interestingly, Miss Jane’s B-bodies often lacked a windshield and the cars found in the color episodes often had had their badges painted body color.
Despite the sheer variety of primarily Chrysler branded products seen in the show, the automotive star was a haggard 1921 Oldsmobile that started life as a Model 41 Roadster. Intended as a salute to the Jobe Family Truckster from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, this Olds pickup didn’t even belong to Jed; it belonged to Jethro’s mother, Pearl.
The truck was the frequent butt of jokes and good natured humor throughout the series, such as the occasional dose of rheumatism medicine into the fuel tank that yielded phenomenal acceleration and top speed.
At one point, Jethro tired of the backwardness and tired looking appearance of the pickup. Being given an unknown amount of money by Jed, Jethro was ridiculed for how he had the truck warmed over.
A second attempt didn’t yield a better received result.
This customized truck, like the original, had been breathed upon by famed car customizer George Barris. Like the original, the custom used a 1921 Oldsmobile as its basis. A George Barris website stated this Olds had been purchased from a collector and was customized in 1968. The running gear is from a 1969 Oldsmobile 442.
The original pickup from the show was donated to the Ralph Foster Museum by the show’s creator, Paul Henning. Located on the campus of The College of the Ozarks, the Olds has been on display at this Branson area museum since its donation in 1976. Interestingly, the only other car on display is a Rolls Royce.
As an aside, this museum has been called the “Smithsonian of the Ozarks”; having been to both museums, that comparison isn’t completely invalid.
The Beverly Hillbillies ran for 274 episodes and has been in syndication ever since. A deceptively intelligent show, it is also a great half-hour retreat into a different time.
Plus, if you ever get to the Branson area, you can even get a less than flattering picture of yourself taken in this slice of television history.
All pictures of cars from the show were obtained from www.imcdb.com