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Image: AP Photo
Bea Benaderet"s first major starring role on television was sadly her last. She headlined the sitcom Petticoat Junction, which ran for seven seasons from 1963–69, though she passed away three episodes into the sixth season. The show had been created with her in mind as the lead, by longtime friend Paul Henning.
Of course, Benaderet was no newcomer. She was a beloved actress by that point, albeit one that had been more heard than seen. The San Francisco raised performer had a long resume of radio and cartoon voice-over work. She had popped up here and there on The Beverly Hillbillies, in the recurring role of Cousin Pearl Bodine.
She nearly had a much larger role on TV, one that would have launched her into superstardom a decade earlier. We begin there…
1. She was the first choice to play Ethel on "I Love Lucy."
It was The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show that kept Bea from being cast as Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball had already picked Benaderet out for the part, as the two had clicked together working on radio. But Benaderet signed with the Burns show first, and so Vivian Vance became Lucy"s best bud instead. Benaderet"s show ultimately lasted a year longer than Lucy"s, plus her character continued for two years, featured on The George Burns Show. So, we say everything happened as it should. Still, you have to wonder how Benaderet would"ve looked in Vance"s shoes in more than a few memorable scenes of the iconic sitcom.
2. She was the voice of Granny in Looney Tunes cartoons.
There are many grannies on television, but who could forget "Granny," the sweet lil" ol" owner of Tweety? Sylvester was a thorn in her side, as she tried to protect her adorable canary. In fact, Benaderet was Warner Bros. first choice when it came to adult female characters inMerrie Melodies and Looney Tunes animated shorts. She also gave voice toLittle Red Riding Hood in Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944) and Witch Hazel in Bewitched Bunny (1954).
Image: Warner Bros.
3. She also auditioned to play Granny on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
With all that animated Granny experience, it made sense that Benaderet sought to play an in-the-flesh Granny for Paul Henning"s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Henning and Benaderet had history. He had been a writer for theBurns & Allen radio program, on which Benaderet had portrayedBlanche Morton. Both Henning and Benaderet, admittedly, had reservations about her playing Granny — they both felt she might not be the right physical type for the role. Nevertheless, Bea gave it a go in auditions. When Irene Ryan tried out, even Benaderet had to admit she was the perfect actress for the part. "There"s your Granny!" she declared to Henning.
Image: AP Photo
4. She was the voice of Betty Rubble.
June Foray provided the voice of Betty in "The Flagstones," the pilot of The Flintstones. However, when the series kicked off, the supremely talented Bea Benaderet took over the role. And here"s where it gets interesting! Benaderet had previously voiced Granny in Looney Tunes cartoons. She was replaced by — you guessed it — June Foray. Benaderet is pictured here, on the right, with Jean Vander Pyl, the voice of Wilma Flintstone. After Benaderet left The Flintstones, Gerry Johnston would assume the role of Betty in seasons five and six.
Image: The Everett Collection
5. She passed away during the production of "Petticoat Junction."
The lighthearted rural comedy had the misfortune of two older residents of Hooterville dying, not far from one another. First was longtime country and western star Burnette, who was Charley Pratt on the sitcom, engineer of the Canonball train. More significant was the loss of Benaderet a season later, a.k.a. matriarch Kate Bradley, proprietor of the Shady Rest Hotel. Though at first the stories said that Bradley was merely "out of town," Petticoat alluded to notion of the mother being dead, with later mention of a guest staying in the "Kate Bradley Memorial Suite." Benaderet"s void was filled by June Lockhart.
6. Her husband died a day after her funeral.
Benaderet"s second husband, radio actorGene Twombly, passed away the following day after her funeral, just four days after her death. He was buried next to her inValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood.
Image: Arthur Dark / Wikimedia Commons
7. A memorable Kristin Wiig character on "Saturday Night Live" was likely inspired by Bea.
One of Wiig"s many recurring characters on Saturday Night Live was Mindy Elise Grayson. Even SNL loyalists might not recognize the name, but you probably recall the sketches. Grayson was an aging Broadway actress who constantly appeared on a game show called Secret Word, which was a clear spoof of Password. You can watch a recent example of the skit and character on YouTube.We suspect this character might have been based on Bea Benaderet.In the 1960s, Benaderet appeared on Password. Host Allen Ludden presided over Password. In one particular episode, Benaderet could not prevent herself from repeatedly spitting out the password. It"s hilarious and rather endearing, frankly. Watch it.
What a talent Bea was. My daughter and I love watching shows from my childhood (1963+) and over time we"ve become very familiar with character actors which seem to pop up in numerous shows. Bea Benaderet is one of our favorites. Absolutely love her on the the Burns and Allen Show, Beverly Hillbillies, the Flintstones, and Petticoat Junction. Not to diminish Vivian Vance"s perfect performance as Ethel Mertz, still, I would have loved to see Bea and Lucy create some comedy magic.
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Her on screen husband from Burns and Allen played a General looking for a camera on Petticoat Junction
There was no Kate Bradley memorial suite.Kate"s long absence is mentioned in passing in season 7 "Make Room For Baby", the Bradley sisters and baby Kathy Jo return from swimming in the water tower. Steve has paternal qualms about his daughter"s safety, to which Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo wistfully reply: "Mom taught all of us to swim before we could walk. And in the same old water tower, too."
* Her real life son appeared on a few Petticoat Junction episodes. She was great as Gracie Allen"s neighbor and best friend Blanche Morton. ☺
A woman asks Harriet to help her get an eviction order rescinded. The chief gives Parker a new radar gun - and soon comes to regret it....
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