The Beverly Hillbillies was in desperate need of more writers as the series progressed

For Henning, knowing a thing or two about hillbilly history was just as important as other skills listed on a resume.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

In the 1960s, a writing team usually consisted of two people. Anything more than that would simply be called a "stable of writers" — something Paul Henning lacked in the early seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Paul Henning was the writer, producer and creator of the hit series which made its onscreen debut in 1962. During the first few seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies, Henning put all of his time and dedication into being the sole writer on the show. 

But in 1966 — for the first time in his four-year tenure as the creator — this head writer finally found his "stable." He had an actual writing team.

His team included Ronny Pearlman, Buddy Atkinson and Mark Tuttle. Tuttle was the only writer to be with Henning from the start. While there was nothing unusual about a TV series having four or more writers, it came as a big adjustment for Henning.

According to a 1966 interview with the Calgary Herald, Henning said he was doing the long and grueling task of being the main writer for the series, with the sole help of Mark Tuttle, who he brought on midway through the first year.

Henning originally employed Tuttle as his assistant and on-the-job trainee. We think it's safe to say he got his training hours in... and then some! Henning kept his eye out for writers who would match his message on The Beverly Hillbillies. 

Knowing a thing or two about hillbilly culture was just as important to him as other skills on a resume. 

"My problem was that almost all script writers are big-city boys born and bred — and it figures," Henning said. "In the big city is where one is most likely to acquire the glibness, sophistication and education it takes. But the big-city boy doesn't have the inherent understanding of nature, customs and lore of the type of native, rural, southern Americans represented by Jed Clampett and his kin."

Henning grew up in western Missouri where he would attend a camp deep in the Ozark Mountains. He met people along the way, and those random hillbilly hikers inspired many of his future characters, including those in The Beverly Hillbillies.

Until he could find the right writers, he held himself and Tuttle to a grueling work schedule with over 70 episodes being written between the first three seasons. 

According to the interview, Henning even transformed his office at the General Service Studio into a living quarter where he would stay and write night and day.

With the show growing in popularity, and with the lack of time, Henning did a deep search and found two former country-boys who were ready to write: Atkinson and Pearlman. Both of them had the experience of a big city, but with the background of rural culture. 

"You can't turn out a good Beverly Hillbillies script merely by substituting lingo like 'cain't,' 'branch water,' and 'side meat' in place of standard English," Henning said. "You have to really know those people in your bones."

Henning said compared to the writing job, the admin tasks involved in producing were a breeze for him. It was clear he had spent most of this time in his career thinking about how to better The Beverly Hillbillies. He and his new stable of writers rode all the way to success.

"As anyone knows who writes regularly for a living, it's an agonizing way to keep food on the table," Henning said.

Watch The Beverly Hillbillies on MeTV!

Weeknights at 9 PM, Saturdays at 6 & 6:30 AM, Sundays at 2 & 2:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

8 Comments

daDoctah 3 months ago
I remember an early BH episode where Mrs Drysdale was stunned to find that Jed's family might have been in the country even before her own Mayflower ancestors. Jed was trying to explain that, for some reason, folks seem to set a lot of store in who was here earliest, and Granny reckoned that would make the "Injuns" highest of all, and had to be gently told that that wasn't exactly how it worked.

The show stayed mostly clear of politics, but that little conversation was a stunning exception.
15inchBlackandWhite 3 months ago
I always thought that Rob Petrie on the old Dick Van Dyke Show had one of the toughest jobs ever. He had to crank out an hour of material week after week on a six-day deadline. AND......it all had to be FUNNY! Man, that's pressure!
Runeshaper 3 months ago
I'm glad Henning got some help!
Andybandit 3 months ago
I love Granny Daisy Moses. The show would not be the same without her.
Pacificsun 3 months ago
I think this is a good story about tracing Paul Henning's struggle in making the THB's right. The tale of another writer with a specific vision. Most of the beloved Classic TV Series have this challenge. MASH is a perfect example. And will argue even a greater challenge in putting the right message out there. What could've been explained in an interesting way, in order to enrich this article is the following.

'Knowing a thing or two about hillbilly culture was just as important to him as other skills on a resume."

What exactly is Hillbilly Culture? And even better, why not pull some examples right from the best TBH's episodes. After all, this was the problem Paul Henning was actually facing. And, the point of the article.
daDoctah Pacificsun 3 months ago
Northerners often don't understand just how wide and varied the culture of the South can be. Yankee Stan Freberg told in his autobiography of the time he asked Daws Butler to use a southern accent for some character, and Butler asking him "what kind?" before demonstrating about a dozen different ones in rapid succession.
Pacificsun daDoctah 3 months ago
I can hear the difference between TBH and Gomer Pyle. But writing to reflect the "culture" as referenced in the story is independent of an accent. Am just guessing, that it's a matter of preference regarding food and special recipes. Liquor (Moonshine). Music and entertainment. Costuming. Outdoor interests. And if that's the case, IMO, Paul Henning did a wonderful job in bringing TBH characters to life! Because he touched on all those aspects.

By contrast, TAGS approached "Southern Charm" very differently, minimizing appearances. But stressing storytelling (through dialogue and storylines).
Pacificsun Pacificsun 3 months ago
My point was to stress that if a story is to be introduced here, regarding a theme, as explained through Paul Henning's challenges. Then it needs to be fleshed out with examples.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?