“Hee Haw” co-creator John Aylesworth died July 28 in Rancho Mirage, Calif., of complications from pneumonia. He was 81.
The Canadian-born Aylesworth together with Frank Peppiatt created “Hee Haw” as a summer replacement on CBS in 1969. Co-hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark, the show married elements of “Laugh-In” with “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Minnie Pearl, Alvin “Junior” Samples and Louis M. “Grandpa” Jones were among the country music stars who performed on the variety show, which included a braying animated donkey and jokes delivered in a cornfield. It was such a ratings hit that the Eye included it in the primetime sked that fall.
Even though neither was from middle America, the writers were able to connect with rural auds. When the CBS run ended, the duo syndicated “Hee Haw” until 1993.
“We were looking at the ratings, and ‘Laugh-In’ was the leader followed by ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,'” Peppiatt told the Los Angeles Times in a 1970 interview. “We wondered what kind of show would combine both elements.”
Aylesworth and fellow Canuck Peppiatt created other variety shows together including “The Andy Williams Show,” “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall,” “The Judy Garland Show,” “Hullabaloo,” “The ABC Comedy Hour” and the 1965 spesh “Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music,” which won a Peabody. They also partnered on the tuner “Durante,” about Jimmy Durante.
Aylesworth broke into showbiz on Canadian radio, performing in “Penny’s Diary” and “High Newsreel” before seguing to TV writing and performing on “After Hours,” a Canuck sketch comedy that he and Peppiatt co-wrote. Other Canadian shows the duo were paired in were “The Big Revue” and “On Stage.”
He independently wrote for “Cross Canada Hit Parade” and created “Front Page Challenge,” a Canadian quizzer, as well as a memoir, “The Corn Was Green: The Inside Story of ‘Hee Haw.’ ”
In 1958 Aylesworth immigrated to the U.S. to write for the Eye’s “Your Hit Parade.” He wrote comedy for Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Perry Como and Andy Williams and won Emmys in 1972 for “The Julie Andrews Show” and ’76 for “The Sonny and Cher Show.”
As he grew older, he had difficulty landing writing gigs and joined in age discrimination class-action lawsuits against CBS, ICM and CAA. He moved to Palms Springs where he penned “The Comeback of Myrna La Rue” and co-wrote a musical spoof “Palm Springs Confidential.”
Survivors include his wife, Anita Rufus; two daughters; three sons; and a grandson.