Hee Haw began its long life on CBS but was only there for two seasons. The show fell victim to CBS’s “rural purge,” where shows with more rustic appeal, like Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry, RFD, and Lassie were canceled. CBS wanted to target a younger and more urban audience. Pat Buttram, who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres, said, “CBS canceled everything with a tree in it — including Lassie. Congress held hearings on the quality of TV after the purge. CBS launched “The Waltons” the following year, and scheduled it against competitors’ popular shows, to try and prove to Congress that rural programs were no longer desired by the public. The series became a hit. After the purge, few sitcoms were set in the South for decades.
Here are some fun facts about the show, its stars, and its impact.
-Despite its Southern theme, Hee Haw was created by two native-born Canadians, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth. The show was conceived as a country version of “Laugh-In.”
-A story shared in an article in Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper famously illustrated the show’s popularity. The story goes- A hospital in east Texas called a woman named Mrs. Cully to inform her that her husband had been in an accident and had been brought to the hospital with a broken leg and other injuries. The nurse asked her to come at once. Mrs. Cully replied, “Thank you for calling, honey, but I can’t come right now. Hee Haw’s on.”
-Evangelist Billy Graham appeared as himself in a 1979 episode.
-Stringbean, who was an original cast member, was murdered in 1973. He was one of the most popular artists on the Grand Ole Opry. He and his wife were shot to death in their home one night after returning home from the Opry. Their bodies were found the following day by their neighbor, Grandpa Jones.
-Regular Gerald Smith, also known as The Georgia Quacker, wrote two number one country songs, “What Part of No” for Lorrie Morgan and “Every Second” for Collin Raye. He also wrote songs recorded by George Strait and George Jones.
-Series regular Linda Thompson dated Elvis Presley for four years. She later married Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn, and they had two sons. Her subsequent marriage was to music powerhouse David Foster. She has written or co-written several successful songs.
-Susan Raye appeared on Hee Haw for nine seasons. She was a singer whose first big break came from host Buck Owens. She recorded three top-thirty albums with Owens, plus a Christmas album. As a solo artist, she had four top ten hits; “(I’ve Got A) Happy Heart,” “Pitty, Pitty, Patter,” “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That,” and her signature song, “L.A. International Airport.” Three of her solo albums reached the top ten on country charts.
-Lulu Roman was born Bertha Louise Hable in a Texas home for unwed mothers and placed in an orphanage. While a cast member on Hee-haw, she battled drug addiction. She got sober and became a Christian, which led to a successful stint as a gospel singer. In 1999, Lulu was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was nominated for a Dove Award in 2002. Her project “Seven Times” hit number two on the Cashbox chart.
-Co-host Roy Clark had an incredible music career but also had acting as one of his talents. He played a dancer in the 1968 film “Funny Girl,” appeared on Beverly Hillbillies three times as Cousin Roy and Mother Myrtle, and made guest appearances on “Love, American Style,” “The Odd Couple,” and the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
-Junior Samples was a carpenter and sometimes stock car driver. He became a comedian after the success of his fishing story on a radio program, which became a 1966 record, “World’s Biggest Whopper.” Samples was once arrested in his hometown of Cumming, GA for showing up drunk at the local jail to bail out a friend who had been arrested for drunk driving.
-Co-host Buck Owens’ once supported himself as a truck driver. He had 21 number-one hits on the country charts. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
-Before Kathie Lee Gifford hosted her morning show with Regis Philbin, she was a star on a Hee Haw spin-off, Hee Haw Honeys. Then known as Kathie Lee Johnson, she appeared in all 24 episodes and provided some of the songs used.
-Musical guests on Hee Haw included Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Ray Charles, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn. Other guests included Mickey Mantle, Ernest Borgnine, Johnny Bench, John Ritter, and Leslie Nielsen.
-Elvis Presley’s dad, Vernon, made a cameo appearance on the show after the singer’s death. He shared with the audience that Elvis had been a big fan.
-The song from the regular sketch, Pfft! You Was Gone was initially recorded by country artist Bob Newman in 1952.
Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and thought I’d found true love,
You met another, and PFFT! You was gone!
-Series regular Barbi Benton was a long-term girlfriend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and appeared on the cover of Playboy four times. She had a top-five hit on the country charts with “Brass Buckles” in 1975. Hefner made a guest appearance in 1974.
-The song Blue Yodel (T for Texas) has been recorded by numerous artists, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Beatles. Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones has the best-selling version of them all. His 1963 recording went to number five on the U.S. Hot Country charts.