Several years ago, when I was a reporter for The Examiner in Independence, Mo., I was asked if I wanted to write a story on Paul Henning. Because I spent a disproportionate part of my childhood watching reruns on KSHB-41, I didn’t need to be told that Henning was the creator of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” What I didn’t know, however, was that Henning grew up in Independence.
I spent a good hour on the phone with Henning one afternoon. His hearing wasn’t very good, so I used the phone in the darkroom so my yelling wouldn’t disturb everyone in the newsroom. While the whole conversation was a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming experience, I especially treasure the end of the interview, when Henning and I traded our favorite “Hillbillies” moments.
In one of my favorite “Hillbillies” episodes, Mrs. Drysdale is committed to the hospital to get some reprieve from all the stress her neighbors have put her through. Of course, being kind country folk, Jed and kin go out of their way to visit her as frequently as possible. Inevitably, each visit ends the same, with Jethro fiddling with the buttons on the bed and Jed telling him to leave it alone and come along. Of course, immediately after the Clampetts leave, Jethro’s button-pushing elevates Mrs. Drysdale’s bed and sends her flying out the window.
I’ll never forget laughing with Henning as we both recalled this moment, and he told me how he thought it up. Henning died five years ago this month. Here’s the resulting story, “The Ballad of Paul Henning and the Beverly Hillbillies.”