"The Beverly Hillbillies" and their Truck
Jed Clampett may have once said, "Wellllll, doggies! Done looks like Jethro is gone to bein' a double naught spy. He's commenced to puttin' a pair of Granny's shotguns on the back o' the truck with a pull string fer reemote control, thowed a spring under my seat so's he can eeject them bad guys off'n the truck, and went and sprung-loaded a warsh tub over the driver's place so's he can ricochet off any o' them furrin' agents' bullets. He went and got him the pot bellied stove from the cabin out back to make up a big smoke screen, and done used some jugs filled with possum oil to make a slick spot to spin off them cars when he's being chased. Now he's fixin' to use the seement pond to test some sort of undeewater submarine shenanigans. Ya know, one o' these days, I gotta have a loooong talk with that boy."
Jethro's days as a secret agent may have been limited, but the appeal for "The Beverly Hillbillies" is not. Premiering on Sept. 26, 1962, the first episode was seen by few but advertised by many. The fortunate ones that saw the premiere could not wait to tell their friends what they had just seen, and the show became an overnight phenomenon, eventually capturing 8 of the 20 most-watched TV episodes of all time, eclipsed only by the final episode of M*A*S*H, "Dallas" (Who shot J.R.), the final episode of "The Fugitive", and "The Ed Sullivan Show" when he had on some long-haired quartet from Liverpool. Over 36 million people saw the second show; no other program has reached number one as fast (This is older information; the last episode of "Seinfeld" and others may have topped some of these). The show was number one all of 1963, and was in the top 20 ratings all nine years of its run. English teachers across the country literally pulled their hair out when people started talking like the Clampetts, though I'm not sure how many of Granny's "vittles" recipes caught on.
Jed and kin moved from a tiny cabin in The Ozarks to the massive Kirkeby mansion in Bel Air, Californy, not Beverly Hills. Located at 750 Bel Air Road, the house was only available for filming during the first three years, all in black & white; the impact of tourists and fans prevented any further on-location filming. No color shots were made. I took this picture of the house at night in 1984 during the Olympics. Sorry it's not better, but at least they won't sue me for it. This view of the front of the house from the street is gone forever; today, a high wall and trees stand where the pull-off gates, and driveway once existed. I guess fame has its price - fans actually came to the door and thought Granny lived there. Today, Nancy Reagan resides directly behind the mansion's grounds. But even though the Clampetts lived there in the lap of luxury, they never gave up the rickety old pickup truck that brought them from the mountains of Missouri to the hills of Beverly.
Originally a 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster, famed car customizer George Barris (The Batmobile, Munster Koach, A-Team van, etc.) did such an amazing job preparing the truck for the series that many people think he did nothing at all to the truck. Actually, he combined a touring car body with the frame of a flatbed truck. After building a 1:25 scale model of the vehicle, I feel a connection to it. The truck seemed to change a bit through the series (since five examples were actually used), such as windshield post heights, areas of shading on the body, and bulb horn position, so compromises had to be made on the model. In one interview, Jethro (Max Baer Jr.) said the truck did not drive very well, and in fact, you can see it wobbling down Sunset Boulevard in the opening titles of the show with the beautiful Elly Mae and Granny enjoying the view.
One episode tells that Jethro sees James Bond in Goldfinger and decides to become a secret agent. He adds a hard metal hat, car coat, and shoe with a transistor radio in the heel to his wardrobe. Somehow he modifies the truck on his 50-cent-a-week allowance, then Granny tells him to take her to the market. She jumps into the right front seat and sees what she thinks is an assist handle, then pulls on it. Granny gets ejected and lands on a tree limb high above the front of the mansion. Other episodes allow Jethro to turn the truck into a helicopter to avoid LA freeway traffic, after which he crash-lands it in front of the mansion. He also builds a 15-second car wash by dipping the truck into the seement pond. The truck goes in just fine, but Jethro can't figure a way to hoist it out. We see bubbles as the truck runs while submerged. And in one of the final episodes, Jethro defeats the truck's smog effect by changing it into first a stem-powered vehicle, then electric. But then he has a problem finding a 3,000-mile-long extension cord and abandons the idea.
In another great episode, Jethro decides the family is not "with It", and decides to soup up the truck. In reality, Barris found an additional 1921 Oldsmobile Roadster and went to work. After stripping the classic truck to the frame, he added a 1969 Olds 442 engine, automatic transmission, Cragar mag wheels, Firestone Indy Super Sport tires, painted it Fire Red Metalflake with yellow rocker panel racing stripes, installed four bucket seats with chrome roll bars over each pair, and put two parachutes on the rear for added braking capability. For a connection to the old truck, he fitted a brass still-type horn in the same place. The model kit I built (AMT ERTL 31753) offered the ability to build either version.
But in my favorite "Beverly Hillbillies" episode, Jethro decides he needs a playboy pad and something called "qwizeen" after cleaning out girlie magazines from Mr. Drysdale's garage. He finds a small travel trailer at the city dump, packs it full of furniture and a stereo, then pulls it behind the truck down to the Commerce Bank and the "Kit Kat Klub" and waits for female company. Luckily, a house cat comes by and laps up milk with Jethro while he cyphers to it. At the end of the show, after being towed down to the beach, his trailer is lifted by the outgoing tide and Jethro proclaims, "Yee-Ha! I got me a yacht!"
In July 1967, show creator Paul Henning decided to film several episodes in England, so they loaded up the truck for quick overseas shipment by dismantling it. While shooting in London in costume and with the truck, the cast and crew were mobbed. Seems they were just as popular across the big pond as they were here, so the production company returned the next year and filmed again at the castle Jed had supposedly inherited. "Fabersham" to you, too!
Luckily, one of the old trucks still exists and is available for public viewing. On May 6 1976, Henning donated the truck to the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo., just two miles from Branson. Our family friend Lottie was kind enough to take this picture of the truck just for me when she was there.
In 1993 The Beverly Hillbillies movie hit the big screen. With an all-new cast, an all-new old truck was built, and an all-new mansion was used. Buddy Ebsen (Jed) reprised his TV role of Barnaby Jones in one scene, a nice reference to the original series. But we viewers still flock to our sets to see the Clampetts on reruns, their innocent humor timeless, watching the decorated truck carry Granny in the Possum Day parade or totin' the humiliated Margaret Drysdale and Claude (her poodle) to see Milburn down at the bank.
So until next time ... "Set a spell ... take your shoes off ... Ya'll come back now, ya hear?"
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Barris Kustom Industries (Barris.com), and "The Beverly Hillbillies" by Stephen Cox, are credited for the facts of this post. The black & white photo of The Clampetts and their souped-up truck is from "The Beverly Hillbillies" by Stephen Cox. The TV show is credited for the laugh lines on my face.