In the 1960s, TV audiences became enamored with sitcoms about rural living, thanks to three series created by screenwriter and producer Paul Henning: The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. Petticoat Junction told the story of the fictional Shady Rest Hotel, its proprietor, Kate Bradley, and her three beautiful daughters, Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Billie Jo. Over the years, various actresses played the roles of Bobbie Jo and Billie Jo, but only one actress ever played Betty Jo—Paul Henning’s real-life daughter, Linda Kaye Henning. She starred on the CBS sitcom for a total of eight years before it wrapped in 1970, gaining a major following of fans along the way. Read on to see the spunky redhead now at 80 and to find out where her career took her after she left Hooterville for good!
Before starring on Petticoat Junction, Henning played Betty Jo on The Beverly Hillbillies and later appeared on Green Acres as the same character in crossover episodes.
Though Petticoat Junction was Henning’s best-known role, she also appeared on several other popular shows. She went on to make brief appearances on Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, The Facts of Life, The New Gidget, and The Ed Sullivan Show. In the ’90s, she joined the cast of the sci-fi fantasy show Sliders, starring Jerry O’Connell.
Petticoat Junction was known as family-friendly entertainment, and Henning says that its wholesome tone was set by the show’s cast and crew. “We were one of the friendliest sets around,” Henning told Closer Weekly. “We all got along.”
She added that even after the show wrapped, the team stayed close. “After our show was off the air, every now and then I’d see somebody from our crew on another set, and it would be like old times,” the actress said. “We were all a family.”
In more ways than one, the cast and crew literally were family. Besides Henning being the daughter of the show’s creator, she also went on to marry her onscreen sweetheart and co-star, Mike Minor, in 1968—just one year after their characters married on the show. However, the pair divorced in 1973, and Henning later married the actor Leon Ashby Adams in 1994.
Bea Benaderet, the actress who played the girls’ mother, Kate Bradley, developed lung cancer while shooting the show. Henning recalled while speaking with Closer Weekly that the cast’s genuine closeness made the loss that much greater when she died in 1968, two years before the show wrapped.
“She had a tough time of it, but she was always a professional,” said Henning’s co-star Lori Saunders, who played Bobbie Jo. “Toward the end, we were shooting a scene and her hand was shaking. I put my hand over hers and we finished the scene that way,” she recalled.
Henning says that after she passed away, there were many emotional moments on set during their final two years of shooting. The show’s writers explained Benaderet’s absence by sending her character elsewhere to care for a relative and pre-recorded a series of letters from Kate to her daughters, which they spread out through several episodes. “The toughest day was when they had a letter written from Kate to Betty Jo. They had recorded Bea reading it, and I just tried not to burst out into tears during the scene,” Henning told Closer.
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In 1983, the ladies from Petticoat Junction reunited to appear on Family Feud for a two-week special series called “TV’s All-Time Favorites.” Cast members Frank Cady, Gunilla Hutton, Meredith MacRae, as well as Henning and Saunders, competed against a team of cast members from The Brady Bunch. Other episodes of the series included the casts of Gilligan’s Island, Leave It to Beaver, Lost In Space, Hawaiian Eye, Batman, and more.
More recently in 2015, the three Bradley girls got back together to shoot a promo for MeTV, which was airing reruns of Petticoat Junction at the time. In the green-screened ad, the three actresses recreated the show’s iconic title sequence by standing behind their draped petticoats as they announced the show’s return. And even 45 years after the show wrapped, fans were thrilled to see the on-screen sisters back together once again.