The '60s was a decade of discord, with antiwar activism, racial strife and a cultural clash between "hippies" and "the establishment." But the majority of Americans didn't turn on and drop out. Instead, they tuned into TV shows that transported them each week to simpler places and times.
"You could forget about your cares. It was time to relax at the Junction," says Linda Kaye Henning, who played Betty Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, which aired from 1963 to 1970 and was rated among television's most-watched shows for several of those years. Her father, producer Paul Henning, was also behind two other popular shows of the era, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.
In such a troubled time, says the actress, "Audiences could tune in for a half hour and enjoy knowing that things would turn out OK."
Petticoat Junction was set at the Shady Rest Hotel just outside of the fictitious rural town of Hooterville on the train line of the CF&W Railroad Co. The inn was run by Kate Bradley (Bea Benaderet), who was raising a trio of lovely daughters, Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo and Billie Jo (variously portrayed by Henning, Pat Woodell, Lori Saunders, Jeannine Riley, Gunilla Hutton and Meredith MacRae) with the help of slow-moving Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan).
Petticoat Junction found a spot on TV's make-believe map following the runaway success of a show that happened to feature another tightly knit, rural familyalbeit one that had been transplanted to upscale Beverly Hills.
When The Beverly Hillbillies became a smash, CBS asked creator Paul Henning for a second show. In a 1990 interview included as a special feature on the Petticoat Junctionthe First Season DVD, Henning reveals how it came about.
"My wife had been telling me about her early days in Missouri, where her grandparents had a hotel beside the railroad tracks. Traveling salesmen would come because the rates were very reasonable and there was home cooking." Henning thought there were the seeds in there somewhere for a TV showand he was right.
Where are the residents of the Shady Rest now? Benaderet died in 1968 from lung cancer at the age of 62. Buchanan passed away in 1979 at age 76 from a stroke. A cancerous brain tumor ended MacRae's life at age 56 in 2000.
Michael Minor, who played Steve Elliott on the show and was married to Henning both on the show and (for five years) in real life, is retired following work in the theater and on daytime TV. Saunders is married and lives in California. Riley continues to work in theater. Woodell follows her singing career all over the world. Hutton, now retired, was a regular on the long-running Hee Haw series.
"We are all busy in what we are doing, and we live in different areas, but we are all friends," says Henning, who manages Trinkets & Treasures, a gift store in the San Fernando Valley, serves as a volunteer teacher at the Los Angeles Zoo, and scratches her acting itch as part of the California Artists Radio Theater.
Earle Marsh, TV expert and author of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present, suggests that more TV sitcoms from the '60s need to find their way back to the airwaves as reruns or DVD releases. "With the state of our economy, right now people need something to make them feel goodbecause what is out in the real world is not making them feel good.
Sounds like time for another trip to the Junction!