Friday, December 17, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #32: Petticoat Junction

Just Enough Information: Admit it, this first picture is your best memory of Petticoat Junction. Also, that premise-explaining theme song (which got edited out again for some reason).

And no, standing up and looking from a different angle won’t get you any closer to the Promised Land.

The second of three interrelated Paul Henning-produced rural comedies (The Beverly Hillbillies beat it to the air by a year), Petticoat Junction ran from 1963 to 1970 on CBS. The show starred Bea Benaderet (top-billed at last) as Kate Bradley, widowed mother of three water tower-swimming girls and proprietor of the Shady Rest Hotel. Edgar Buchanan was her Uncle Joe Carson, who acted as her work-dodging assistant. Betty Jo, Billie Jo, and Bobbie Jo, were Kate’s daughters, Betty Jo played by Linda Kaye (Paul Henning’s daughter). In this episode, Bilie Jo is Jeannine Riley, while Pat Woodell is Bobbie Jo, but both roles would eventually succumb to Darren Stevens Disease—twice for Billie Jo. Symptoms include a sudden unexplained change of actress in the role. For suggested treatment, consult your script supervisor.

When you view the relatively sane Petticoat Junction side-by-side with the positively unhinged Green Acres (which debuted in 1965), you get images of Kate and Uncle Joe getting a weird worried look in their eyes when anybody mentioned business in Hooterville. Oh, it used to be all right, but everything went to Hell when those Douglas people moved in. The Shady Rest is halfway between Pixley and Hooterville (25 miles to both), but close enough that both shows count Frank Cady’s Sam Drucker as a regular

Another sign of the changing tide in television: the show that replaced Petticoat Junction on the CBS schedule was The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The Christmas Episode: “Cannonball Christmas”. Original Broadcast: December 24, 1963.

Homer Bedloe, hatchet-faced executive of the C. & F.W. Railroad, is a man with an axe to grind.

Hatchet-faced? Axe? Ha! I kill me!

Early on in the first season, Bedloe was the vice-president assigned to investigate the seemingly-forgotten spur line between Hooterville and Pixley. The train in question on that line is the Cannonball, beloved by all and vital to the Shady Rest trade. Bedloe’s job was to investigate and shut the line down, an assignment at which he failed. Then he tried again, and thanks to some wily sitcom hijinks, he failed again. Compounding that, the railroad president Norman Curtis did some nosing around of his own and really took a liking to the Shady Rest, the Cannonball, and all that lot.

By Christmas 1963, Bedloe was beginning to take it all very personally, and on today’s episode, Bedloe is going behind Curtis’ back to bring the Cannonball to an end just as Kate and the rest are preparing the engine for the annual Christmas run, caroling and delivering presents to the folks through the valley. Bedloe takes an unseemly amount of joy delivering the legal papers which seize the Cannonball, and gets even nastier when sitting in the Shady Rest lobby while talking cheerfully about the hotel’s presumed demise.

All of which makes it very satisfying when Curtis finally gets a whiff of what Bedloe is up to and sets out to put things right. Oh, like you thought that wasn’t going to happen. Bite me, spoiler Nazis.

Petticoat Junction is a fairly decent show, even if it’s swimming in the type of “country-folks wisdom beat city-folks cynicism” stuff that Green Acres avoided just by being bat-guano insane most of the time. Even though it could never be mistaken for social realism, it’s also the one player in Henning’s big three that’s got at least a toe in reality. You can take as a warning or a recommendation, but it’s still mildly loopy when the situation calls for it the way all the best 60s sitcoms are.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If you set out in an official capacity to destroy somebody’s Christmas, don’t let your supervisor find out…especially if he has a sense of humor when it comes to doling out retribution.

Spot ‘Em: Homer Bedloe, nemesis of the Cannonball and small-town values, is one of the best-remembered recurring TV roles of the seemingly inescapable Charles Lane. He’s better known around this time of year for being in It’s A Wonderful Life, but has at least 338 credits in his IMDB entry (including the hardnosed editor on Dear Phoebe…see how these things turn back on themselves?) from a career which stretched across eight decades.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: The aptly named Christmasfellow2008 posted this one (with all the right music) in…wait, what year again?

Next: Paul Winchell!

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