Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bea Benaderet: Stardom After 50

Bea and Gale Gordon on My Favorite Husband.
If I lived to be ninety or so, I might get around to researching and writing books about all the performers whose careers have caught my attention over the years. Somewhere fairly high up on that list would be the fine character actress Bea Benaderet (1906-1968), who did yeoman's work in radio's My Favorite Husband, television's The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show in the 1950s, as the voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones, and finally as the star of her own sitcom, Petticoat Junction. Those few credits, of course, scarcely scratch the surface of her resume, bursting with memorable radio and TV performances before her career was cut short by her death at the age of 62.

Always in demand for character roles, Benaderet claimed she was caught by surprise when, after playing Cousin Pearl on the first year of The Beverly Hillbillies, creator/producer Paul Henning offered her a show of her own. "It was entirely his idea," she told syndicated columnist Bob Thomas in a 1965 interview. During her second season on Petticoat Junction, she said, "Sometimes I think, 'Goodness, this business of appearing in every scene of the script is too much work.' But let a script come along in which I'm not in all the scenes, and I go, 'Grrrrr.'"

After Bea's death in 1968, Petticoat Junction was never quite the same, despite the addition of the capable June Lockhart as motherly Dr. Janet Craig. But there's still plenty of Bea to be seen and appreciated, and surely someone will get around to writing a book that pays her the tribute she deserves. Who knows, it might even be me.