BRANSON, Mo. | After I wrote a recollections column about my first and only visit to Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Mo., back in 1977, readers commented that the destination's rural appeal likely was a draw because of my family's farm roots.
Not only is this observation true, but during my youth, my family had (and still has) a fondness for the series of "rural comedies" that became the claim-to-fame of CBS in the 1960s and 1970s. From "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Hee Haw" to "Green Acres," "Petticoat Junction" and "The Beverly Hillbillies," we watched them all during both first-run airing and later in re-runs.
"The Beverly Hillbillies" and the hype surrounding a string of five episodes all filmed at Branson's Silver Dollar City for season eight and airing all during the month of October 1969 influenced my family to want to visit this new tourist attraction.
Much of the plotline for these shows shot in Branson concerned Granny, played by Irene Ryan, trying to find a husband for granddaughter Elly May, played by Donna Douglas. The Clampett family traveled back to "the hills" to visit and a competition ensued between Granny and her Ozark arch-rival Elverna Bradshaw, played by character actress Elvia Allman.
The episodes not only included background glimpses of the real park visitors strolling about and enjoying the rides and attractions, but also scenes with Buddy Ebsen, playing Jed, socializing with hotel clerk Shorty Kellems played by Shug Fisher.
Scenes also were shot with the Clampett family characters visiting with the real featured Silver Dollar City personalities showcased at the park, like the blacksmith Shad Heller, soapmaker Granny Ethel Huffman and woodcarver Peter Engler.
Meanwhile, other scenes were shot on location in the woods of the Ozark Mountains showing bank secretary Miss Jane Hathaway, played by Nancy Kulp, doing her favorite hobby: birdwatching.
Creator Paul Henning also made sure these episodes showcased some of the surrounding "yet-to-be-built-up" Branson locations and businesses, with references to Jim Owens and his White River Boat Trips.
During the 1969 airing of these episodes, large billboards were displayed around Missouri alerting travelers to tune in to "The Beverly Hillbillies" on CBS during the month of October to see Branson and Silver Dollar City highlighted.
In fact, country singer and "Hee Haw" host Roy Clark, who's now 78 and was born and raised in Meherrin, Va., first became aware of Branson when he guest-starred on episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in 1969 as Cousin Roy.
In 1983, he became the first celebrity headliner to build his own theater to perform throughout the year. He sold his theater in 1997 and returned to touring.
Philip Potempa is writing while traveling in Missouri this week. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 852-4327.
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