Producer Paul Henning almost worked himself to death
"I think I was having withdrawal symptoms."
It's a fine line when it comes to being devoted to one's work. Sure, we all want to do a good job, and that may involve a little extra. We burn the midnight oil at both ends of the candle, in hopes of getting ahead. Sometimes, the effort is recognized, and sometimes we double down and push even harder. Then, one day, we turn around and realize we've been swallowed up by a whale. Work has consumed us and there's little left for the rest of what we love. It's a tightrope, and doing too much or too little can be a disaster.
This was one of the great struggles in the life of Paul Henning. TV fans will recognize that name from the opening credits of shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. His rural comedies populated a large selection of CBS' offerings in the sixties, and each show has lived on through reruns, becoming cultural touchstones along the way. There's no doubt that Henning changed television forever, but at what cost?
In 1964, Henning was one of the busiest men in television, but he still made time to speak with Margaret McManus of The Buffalo News. At the time, he had just been given a grim order from his physician. He was told, with no room for interpretation, to "slow down."
"I was surprised," said Henning. "I was never bothered with hypertension, that sort of thing. But I haven't had one day off since the show went on the air."
"Last Sunday, just after we'd gotten in, we went out to Bronxville to visit some old friends and I didn't know what was the matter with me. I felt terrible.
"Here I was, sitting around, no deadline to meet, and I'm supposed to be having a great time, and I could hardly concentrate on the conversation. My head ached. I felt sick. It was the first Sunday in so long that I wasn't sitting at the typewriter. I think I was having withdrawal symptoms."
Henning just couldn't stop. When McManus asked what a less demanding lifestyle could look like, Henning said he often fantasized about writing movies, instead.