Posts Tagged ‘Paul Henning’

“So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills, that is. Swimmin’ pools, movie stars.”
The Ballad of Jed Clampett by Paul Henning

Yesterday the city of Beverly Hills, California celebrated its 100th anniversary.They had a concert last night at the Saban Theater where they performed works by some of the city’s famous past residents (George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter) and Betty White sang the Beverly Hills High School fight song.

A song they probably didn’t sing unless someone poured moonshine into the punch bowl is the most well-known song ever where the city is mentioned—the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Beverly Hills isn’t the wealthiest community in the United States, but it has a long history of being associated with rich and famous celebrities, as well as top Hollywood movers and shakers. While selling housing lots 100 years ago was difficult, there’s a reason it’s more well-known around the world than nearby Brentwood, Bel Air, and Pacific Palisades—movie, music,  and TV references.

Beverly Hills is not only iconic, it is a feeding ground for dramatic irony. Just mix something that you don’t normally associate with Beverly Hills and there’s conflict, contrast, and comedy. Three fish out of water scenarios that quickly come to mind are 1) the low rent prostitute on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive (Pretty Women), 2) the Detroit cop with a beat up Chevy on “vacation” in California (Beverly Hills Cop), and 3) a suicidal homeless man taken in by a bored rich couple (Down and Out in Beverly Hills).

But you can’t beat the story about a man name Jed, a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed—yet by a strange twist of fate ends up a millionaire living in Beverly Hills. The creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, Paul Henning, was actually a trained lawyer and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Love Come Back).

Henning was born in Independence, Missouri and raised on a farm there, and later attended Kansas City School of Law. But it was camping trips in Missouri as a youth shape that laid the groundwork for one of the longest lasting and most endearing shows in TV history.

“I’d always had a great affection for hillbillies. And I think that started when I was a Boy Scout. I went to camp in the Ozarks at a place called Nole, Missouri. It was right on the border of Arkansas and we’d take 14 mile hikes, and when you go seven miles into the woods….
Paul Henning interview on Emmy TV Legends
(And it’s obvious from Henning’s tone that he doesn’t use hillbilly in a derogatory way.)

Henning’s thoughts drifted off at that point in the interview, but what he alluded to is once you get off the beaten path you met some interesting people. And that’s no different today. Later in that interview Henning talked about taking a driving trip in 1959 through Civil War areas here in the States and coming up with the idea for The Beverly Hillbillies.

If you like hearing how stories originate, this is well worth reading:

“I remember as we were driving along the highway I said, ‘Imagine someone from that Civil War era sitting here in this car with us, going 60 miles an hour down a modern highway.’ You know, what an experience that would be—how unbeliveable that would be. And that got me to thinking about transplanting someone from an era like that into the modern-day world. And I think that’s where the idea [for The Beverly Hillbillies] came from because in my experience as a Boy Scout in the Ozarks I found there were pockets of historical places where people resisted modernization. They resisted roads being built. So this was the germ of the idea. If you could find someone from a remote, protected spot—you know, they didn’t have radio, they didn’t have television, telephone, anything—to transplant them by some means into a modern world and that was the beginning of The Beverly Hillbillies...My first thought was New York. And I thought this would mean expensive location trips and why not transplant them to Beverly Hills were you have the same sophestication—maybe more. And to make that possible they somehow had to become affluent and that’s how Jed was out shooting at some food and up from the ground came a bubbling crude. And all of a sudden they are millionaires. There had been a musical group called The Beverly Hill Billies and I didn’t know any of them personally but this title stayed with me and it seemed so apt. And I thought The Beverly Hillbillies is perfect.”
Paul Henning Interview. Archive of American Television

That simple idea turned into the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies which ran from 1962 to 1971 for a total of 274 episodes. Though not a critic’s favorite, it was the top rated show on TV in its first two seasons.  Some rural themed programs followed including Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

And there are echoes of the story/concept/theme found more recently in the Oscar-winning Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire and on the all-time top rated non-scripted TV program Duck Dynasty. Two movies that come to mind that preceded The Beverly Hillbillies, but could be seen as kin, are Tobacco Road (1941) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

Just in case you’ve never seen The Beverly Hillbillies, below is the episode The Giant Jackrabbit (written by Henning and Mark Tuttle) which was the single most watch sitcom episode of its day and still ranks as one of the most watched 30-minute sitcom programs of all time.

P.S. A nice Iowa-Beverly Hills connection; The largest talent agency in the world WME with headquarters in Beverly Hills has as its co-CEO Patrick Whitsell from the rural community of Iowa Falls, Iowa (population 5,146). In fact, Whitesell and his father made news recently when they bought and restored a historic movie theater/opera house in Iowa Falls and Hugh Jackman arrived for a screening of his movie Prisoners. See the post The Iowa Falls—Hollywood Connection.

P.P.S. By the way,  the largest home is Beverly Hills is well below half the square footage as the 90,000 sq. foot house in Orlando, Florida featured in the documentary The Queen of Versailles. But in Orlando you won’t have movie stars and other Hollywood movers and shakers as neighbors. Location. Location. Location. (Though Shaq, Tiger, and Arnold Palmer have homes in the area.)

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Screenwriting from Arkansas
Screenwriting from Missouri
The Serious Side to Gilligan’s Island

Scott W. Smith

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“A hero who has no faults probably doesn’t have much of a personality.”
Dale Launer
Therese Walsh Interview

Before screenwriter Dale Launer hit it big with his first produced screenplay Ruthless People (1986) he wrote “about 1o screenplays of dubious quality” while paying the bills at a variety of jobs that included selling stereos, refinishing furniture, and fixing up old Porches and selling them.

After Ruthless People he had the unusual opportunity to meet with Mick Jagger and discuss the possibility of writing a script for Jagger and David Bowie.

“I had an idea that I thought would be a good vehicle for Jagger and Bowie. I remembered an old movie from the early ’60s with David Niven and Marlon Brando playing con men competing with each other. So I called her (Gail Davis at Bowie’s production company) back and told her the story: David Niven is a gigolo-con artist who works the French Riviera pretending to be a deposed prince trying to raise money for an anti-Communist freedom fighters. Rich, middle-aged American women are eager to support his cause and take him to bed.

On a train, Niven runs into Marlon Brando, an arrogant nickel-and-dimer who’s hitting on women for lunch and a few francs with a sob story about his sick grandmother. Brando begs the master con for lessons, but soon thinks he’s surpassed his teacher and starts to work Niven’s territory. To get rid of Brando, Niven agrees to a bet. They’ll find a rich woman, and the first man to extract $50,000 from her is the winner; the loser must leave town.”
Screenwriter Dale Launer
Premiere January 1989

That movie was Bedtime Stories and released in 1964. Jagger and Bowie never made the remake. But Launer got the rights and wrote the script that was an Eddie Murphy vehicle  for a while before becoming a hit movie featuring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

Launer followed the success of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the hit My Cousin Vinny, for which Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. And I believe Love Potion No. 9 (1992), which Launer wrote and directed, was Sandra Bullock’s first starring role in a feature. A few years ago he sold the spec script Bad Dog to DreamWorks for $3 million, but it has not been produced.

Original credited writers of Bedtime Stories were Paul Henning (1911-2005) who worked as a producer of hundreds of TV shows including Green Acres, The Beverely Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction, along with Stanley Shapiro who won an Oscar for the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson film Pillow Talk.

And in case you wondered if a remake of the remake is due since it’s been more than 20 years since the release of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—a couple years ago there was talk of a female version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels being in the works. (And a musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels had a 626 performance run on Broadway a couple of years ago.)

Lauder has a website (www.dalelauner.com) with various articles about writing and digital filmmaking. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fun film and is a nice bookend to The Sting for you to view if you’re writing a script about con-men or con-women. Here’s the trailer from the film which Roger Ebert reviewed as,  “Caine goes the high road, with visual and verbal humor. Martin does more pratfalls than in any of his movies since “The Jerk,” and he has one absolutely inspired scene in a jail cell.”

Scott W. Smith

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