In the 1950s, a lot of the top shows were set in residential or suburban areas: Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, and December Bride to name a few. In the early 1960s, the rural sitcom became the hottest genre. In 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies was #1, Petticoat Junction was #4, and The Andy Griffith Show was #5. Filmways offered Paul Henning the chance to produce a new rural show with no pilot necessary. Filmways was created in 1952, and the company was behind many successful shows including The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Pruitts of Southampton, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and Cagney and Lacey.
Paul Henning approached Jay Sommers to create the new rural comedy. Sommers based the series on a radio show he had written in 1950 — Granby’s Green Acres. Granby was based on a book, Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. The radio show only lasted for 13 episodes and starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet. Granby was a former banker who moved to the country to run a farm. He also had a daughter, and the general store owner was a major character, Will Kimble, played in the first episode by Howard McNear. A couple of titles proposed were Country Cousins and The Eddie Albert Show, but the final decision was Green Acres.
Green Acres ran on CBS from 1965-1971 with solid ratings. It produced 170 episodes, all filmed in color. Richard Bare directed most of the shows. At the end of each episode, Eva Gabor would say “This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.”
While the Beverly Hillbillies took a family out of the mountains and put them in Beverly Hills, Green Acres went with the opposite scenario.
The premise of the show was that Oliver Douglas who had been a busy attorney in New York City decides he wants to move to the country to run his own farm. His wife Lisa does not agree. He buys a farm unseen in Hooterville. We are never told where Hooterville is, and I think everyone has their own idea of which state it might be in. The house and farm are more run-down and dilapidated than Lisa ever imagined in her worst nightmare. The citizens of Hooterville are a quirky set of characters.
The debut show was done as a documentary narrated by John Daly, a former newscaster and the host then of What’s My Line. Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared on What’s My Line later in the fall as a thank you to Daly. As you can see below, Oliver’s mother is horrified by his choice.
The theme song is memorable and tells the backstory of the Douglases:
Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be – Farm living is the life for me –Land spreading out so far and wide – Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.
Lisa: No, New York is where I’d rather stay – I get allergic smelling hay – I just adore a penthouse view – Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue
Oliver: The chores
Lisa: The stores
Oliver: Fresh air
Lisa: Times Square
Oliver: You are my wife
Lisa: Goodbye city life
Both: Green Acres, we are there
Snippets of country and New York city were shown while the stars sing, and ends with both of them in the same pose as “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.
Like the Andy Griffith Show, the series worked because of the interaction between these Hooterville citizens who become believable for us. Let’s meet the cast of characters.
Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) – Oliver is intelligent, hard-working, and practical to a fault. He has to deal with a kooky wife, a disapproving mother (played by Eleanor Audley who was only 5 months older than Albert), and the quirky neighbors that surrounded him. However, Oliver has a respect for the wisdom these people have about farming and rural life. Despite the fact that he seems to be the only sane person in the valley, it’s obvious he truly has an affection for the folks he lives with.
Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) – Lisa grew up in a wealthy Hungarian family. Her misuse of the English language is one of her endearing qualities. She has a hard time adjusting to farm life. In one episode she is using a stapler to fix Oliver’s socks. While Oliver is telling her how woman for centuries have sewn socks, Fred Ziffel, the most experienced farmer in Hooterville enters the room and tells her he notices she is mending socks; his wife does it the same way. Despite the fact that Lisa did not want to leave the city, she adapts to living in the country quickly and develops an understanding with the neighbors Oliver never attains.
Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) – Eb is the farmhand who lives with the Douglases. He comes off as naïve, but we understand Eb is much smarter than he lets on. He is always trying to get less work for more money. He calls them Mom and Dad which Lisa loves but drives Oliver crazy.
Mr. Eustace Haney (Pat Buttram)- Mr. Haney is the unethical and dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the farm, which belonged to his family. He is always showing up to sell them something they need at outrageous prices. [Pat Buttram was Gene Autrey’s sidekick in the movies and tv; Smiley Burnette, Charley, who runs the Cannonball, the local train on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, was Autrey’s sidekick in radio and movies and Buttram replaced him when he moved on.]
Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) – Sam was a busy guy; he ran the general store, he was the newspaper editor, was the only printer in town, he was part of the volunteer fire department, he was the justice of the peace, and he’s the postman. Apart from Oliver, he was the smartest and most sane person in the valley, and he and Oliver often commiserated about the crazy life going on around them.
Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) – Mr. Kimball was the county agricultural agent who was supposed to help Oliver adjust to farming. He often loses his train of thought and rarely follows through on the news or information he is supposed to relay.
The Monroe Brothers – Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) are a brother and sister team that Alf portrays as brother and brother in order get work. Their projects are never finished on time, and rarely finished the right way.
Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper/Fran Ryan) – the Ziffels were successful farmers. They had no children, but they had a pet pig that they considered a son.
Arnold Ziffel – Arnold Ziffel was their pet pig and one of the most intelligent people in Hooterville. He understands English, attends the local grade school, lives inside in his own bedroom, can sign his name, and is a bit addicted to television watching, especially westerns. A new pig was used each season because they grew so fast. The Union demanded the pigs be payed $250 a day and were trained by Frank Inn. In 1967 Arnold won a Patsy award.
Some of the other animals featured on the show included Eleanor the Cow; Bertram the rooster; Alice the hen; and Mr. Haney’s dog, Cynthia, a basset hound who had a huge crush on Arnold.
Green Acres had its fair share of guest stars including Parley Baer, Robert Cummings, June Foray, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Joyce, Gordon Jump, Bernie Kopell, Al Lewis, Rich Little, Al Molinaro, Pat Morita, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jesse White.
The show was 25% surrealism, 25% satire, and 50% just plain fun.
Some of the running gags on the show were the fact that people, except Oliver, could see the credits running, and Lisa often commented on them. A lot of the jokes were at Oliver’s expense. He was the only one in town who could not understand Arnold’s grunts. Also, whenever Oliver got passionate about something, he went into a monologue, usually patriotic, and everyone but him could hear fifes playing.
Lisa’s hotcakes were good for many projects, just not eating. The Douglases had a feud with the phone company because they were supposed to move their phone inside. Whenever they had to use the phone, Oliver had to climb up a phone pole to talk. Oliver had a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor which was usually breaking down, catching on fire, or falling apart.
We also had the stark extremes of sophisticated New York living and rural life. Lisa continued to dress in beautiful gowns and furs. They slept in a huge, expensive bed, with an elaborate chandelier over their heads, but their closet had no back so neighbors walked in on and off. The fire department marching band often practices at Sam Drucker’s store but for all five years whenever they practice, they only know one song, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.
Although Lisa continues to threaten to move back to New York City, aided and abetted by Oliver’s mother, we know she loves him and will never leave without him. Despite their arguments, Lisa and Oliver are frequently seen kissing and hints are given about them retiring to their room together. In real life, Albert and Gabor were dear friends and they are both buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Tom Lester, Eb, credited Albert with helping him as an actor and being a surrogate father to him; the two remained close friends until Albert passed away.
There are many cross-overs with Petticoat Junction and the Beverly Hillbillies. Sam Drucker was featured in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Some of the characters visited each other on various episodes. It is funny that Bea Benaderet starred in Petticoat Junction as well as the radio show Granby’s Green Acres which means Green Acres was based on her radio show and was a spin-off of her television show. In 1968, a Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving Show united cast members from all three shows.
With 170 episodes, it’s hard to come up with the best five, but after looking at various polls and tv guide reviews, I will do my best to represent the majority’s votes:
“Music to Milk By” – Eb wants to win a radio contest and he has to listen day and night which cuts into his chores, especially when the cow swallows the radio.
“I Didn’t Raise My Pig to be a Soldier” – Arnold Ziffel gets a draft notice. Oliver acts as his attorney before the draft board. They are assuming Oliver is making fun of them with the pig and the real Arnold is elsewhere. After a lot of explanations and some time in jail, Oliver convinces them Arnold is really a pig. The end of the show has Oliver back before the draft board because Ralph Monroe, a woman, who they think is a man, has been drafted.
“The Hooterville Image” – The town agrees Oliver needs to do chores in overalls. He has been farming in a vest and dress shirt. They finally convince him to become more accepted by switching his attire until they see the overalls Lisa’s dress designer came up with.
“The Computer Age” – Ralph Monroe joins a computer dating service. Oliver and Lisa disagree on whether that is a good idea. Oliver thinks it is. He also thinks computers are the best way to run a farm. To prove her point, Lisa uses the service to see if she and Oliver would have been paired up.
“A Star Named Arnold is Born, Parts 1 and 2” – Arnold appears in a play at the local theater. Lisa arranges for an old friend to give him a chance in show business. In the second part, Lisa and Oliver chaperone his trip to Hollywood to star in a motion picture.
Oddly enough the top four were all from season 2, and “A Star Named Arnold Is Born” is from season 3.
In Spring of 1971, Green Acres was still pulling in good ratings. However, the Rural Purge of 1971 got rid of all shows that had country leanings whether they were audience favorites or not.
In full disclosure, I loved Petticoat Junction growing up, and I could not stand the Beverly Hillbillies. I thought Green Acres was okay but if I missed it that was okay too. As I’ve gotten older, I still love Petticoat Junction, and I still don’t care for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I have developed a much greater appreciation for Green Acres. If a show was capable of having a sense of humor, this one did. It never took itself seriously. Eddie Albert was willing to be the straight guy to the rest of the ensemble. The character interaction worked, and no dialogue came off as too zany. The citizens might not have always agreed or understood each other’s lifestyles, but they had affection and respect for each other. Lisa’s reading the credits and different characters addressing the audience brought us in on the jokes and made us part of the Green Acres family. Now when I watch the show, I laugh out loud – a lot! I don’t laugh at the characters, I laugh with them. For being a rural sitcom, this show has some sophisticated humor. If you have not watched the show in a while, you owe it to yourself, as well as the cast and crew who created it, to get to know the folks in Hooterville.