As the Hooterville Cannonball rumbled down the tracks in the opening credits of Petticoat Junction from 1963 until 1970, families across America gathered for another visit to fictional Hooterville, where a spunky widow and her three beautiful daughters ran the Shady Rest Hotel.
Created by the same team responsible for The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, Petticoat was part of the rural revolution that reshaped TV programming during the early 1960s. “There wasn’t any violence, swearing, and nothing risqué,” Lori Saunders, who played brunette Bobbie Jo, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “It was a healthy show you could watch with your children.”
A wholesome family feeling also bonded the show’s cast and crew. “We were one of the friendliest sets around,” Linda Kaye Henning, who played red-haired tomboy Betty Jo, told Closer. “We all got along.”
Sometimes the younger cast members had too much fun together. Lori remembered laughing so hard with Linda and Meredith MacRae, who played blonde Billie Jo, that they disrupted the set. “We were shooting a church scene. One of us would make another giggle and then we’d all break out laughing,” she remembered. “We just couldn’t stop — I think we had to do five takes that day!”
The actress also got up to some mischief from a promotional stop in Atlantic City. “We did a matinee and two evening shows with singing and a little dancing — basically a big blitz for Petticoat,” remembered Lori. “We were wearing these white, thigh-high boots and we were so tired of them. After the show, we took them off and dumped them in the ocean!”
The genuine affection that bound the Petticoat gang also helped them survive the long illness and death of the show’s star, Bea Benaderet, who played the girls’ mother, Kate. “She had a tough time of it, but she was always a professional,” recalled Lori of Bea, who died from lung cancer in 1968. “Toward the end, we were shooting a scene and her hand was shaking. I put my hand over hers and we finished the scene that way.”
Petticoat lasted for two seasons after Bea’s death. The writers sent her character off to live with relatives but occasionally a note from Kate arrived — creating many emotional moments on set. “The toughest day was when they had a letter written from Kate to Betty Jo. They had recorded Bea reading it, and I just tried not to burst out into tears during the scene,” Linda said.
In 1970, the era of rural comedies ended and the network canceled the series — although the love among the Petticoat troupe lived on. “After our show was off the air, every now and then I’d see somebody from our crew on another set, and it would be like old times,” Linda said. “We were all a family.”
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