Paul Henning, producer of 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' found major success in rural comedies
With 'The Beverly Hillbillies', 'Petticoat Junction' and 'Green Acres' under his belt, Paul Henning was the king of rural comedies.
In the '60s to early-'70s, many popular shows were centered around everyday families living in rural areas. The stories of rural living were told by many; however, Paul Henning is one of the most successful producers of the genre because he lived that lifestyle.
He grew up on a farm in Independence, Missouri, in 1911. As a teenager, he worked at a drugstore and met Harry S. Truman, before he was president, who told the young native he should become a lawyer.
Henning took the advice and even attended Kansas City School of Law, but his true passion was to be a singer on the radio. He got a job at a local station where he created filler songs that started his writing journey.
In 1939, he married Ruth Barth, and the two went on to have three children that the producer often used as inspiration for characters. Henning based the character "Elly May Camplett" on his daughter, Linda Kaye Henning.
With writing becoming more popular, he decided to focus on this craft and leave behind his singing dreams. In no time, Henning started writing for many series and screenplays, and he co-produced Lover Come Back in 1961, which got him an Oscar nomination for Best Writing: Original Screenplay.
His wife often shared stories about her family, and they visited her grandparents at the small hotel they owned. This eventually became the concept for Petticoat Junction.
His family had so many personal rural living experiences, he needed an entire series to showcase them. In 1962, it happened.
Henning created the CBS series, The Beverly Hillbillies; a sitcom focused on his experiences camping in the Ozarks. He held the sitcom close to his heart, co-writing 200 of the 274 episodes. This includes every episode of seasons one, two, three, eight and nine.
He also wrote the theme song for the show. Its popularity multiplied, becoming one of the highest-rated shows of all time. CBS gave Henning another half-hour time slot because of the success, which the producer used to introduce Petticoat Junction.
As expected, that series was also successful and starred one of his children. In 1965, Green Acres debuted with Henning as the casting director and executive producer.
Fans would often see crossovers of the shows, as Petticoat Junction and Green Acres were in the same fictional Hooterville universe.
Although the ratings were still high, CBS wanted to look forward and leave rural comedies behind due to "changing times." In 1970, Petticoat Junction ended with The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres following a year later.
Paul Henning found the best way to use life experiences to find significant success in rural comedies.