Paul Henning, who created the hit TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies” and wrote its theme song, died Friday of natural causes in Burbank. He was 93.
Henning created “The Beverly Hillbillies,” which debuted in 1962 and ran until 1971 on CBS, based on his encounters with residents of the Ozarks during camping trips as a youth.
Although thoroughly mocked by critics for its downscale humor, the show shot to No. 1 within three weeks of its debut. It stayed at or near No. 1 its first two seasons, and continued to reside in the top 20 throughout the rest of its nine-year run.
He produced and wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and wrote the words and music to “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which was sung by Jerry Scoggins while Nashville bluegrass stars Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs played guitar and banjo.
In 1963, Henning created “Petticoat Junction,” a “Hillbillies” spinoff. The first two shows were so popular that the network wanted another spinoff; comedy writer Jay Sommers created “Green Acres,” with Henning serving as executive producer and helping cast and launch the new show.
Cast members on all three of Henning’s shows made guest appearances on one another’s programs.
Born on a farm in Missouri, he graduated from the Kansas City School of Law but soon went to work writing for radio, including “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” He also created, produced and wrote sitcom “The Bob Cummings Show,” which ran from 1955-59.
For the bigscreen, Henning co-wrote “Lover Come Back,” a 1961 romantic comedy starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day, which earned him and co-writer Stanley Shapiro an Oscar nomination. Henning and Shapiro also co-wrote “Bedtime Story,” a 1964 comedy starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. The film served as the basis for 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
In 1996, Henning received the Writers Guild of America West’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television — the guild’s highest award for TV writing.
When he decided to shoot several episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in Silver Dollar City, Mo., near Branson, Henning bought a large parcel of land, which is now the Ruth and Paul Henning State Forest. Ruth Henning died in 2002.
He is survived by two daughters, a son and two grandsons.
Donations may be made to the Living Desert Zoo and Garden in Palm Desert, Children Intl. or Doctors Without Borders.