Mourning in Hooterville: The Nicest Guy Is Dead

Sam Drucker who ran the Petticoat Junction and Hooterville general store .

Mr. Drucker took care of the mail too.

Hooterville and Petticoat Junction suffered a tragic loss today with news that Sam Drucker, owner and manager of Drucker’s General Store has died. He was also postmaster, editor of the Hooterville World-Guardian and Justice of the Peace. He was known as a rational, kind and understanding figure in a land run amuck with quirky characters like the deceitfully harmless charlatan Mr. Haney, the Ziffels who raised a pig as a son, and perpetually cranky, lazy and cheap Uncle Joe Carson, co-owner of the Shady Rest Hotel.

At least, that’s the way one might have sub-consciously taken in the news today that Frank Cady, the actor who depicted Sam Drucker on the popular CBS television shows Petticoat Junction and Green Acres died last week at age 96 years old. Rationally, all but children knew he didn’t live and work in some vague rural town, but in Los Angeles. He depicted the Drucker character for the run of the programs, only seven years on Petticoat Junction and six years on Green Acres. He didn’t make a living for the rest of his life playing the general store owner at fan shows or the like.

In Rear Window, Cady’s character lived in the apartment across from Jimmy Stewart’s, And his dog got killed in it.

In real life, he was far more than a nice old-time grocer.  A native Californian, he was a writer from a young age, working on a local Oregon newspaper as a teenager and going on to earn journalism and drama degrees from Stanford University. After serving with the U.S. Army in World War II, he began his acting career in radio and went on to do many single-episode appearances on television shows as well as small film roles including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). He was turned down for the role of Otis the Drunk on the Andy Griffith Show. He said he didn’t want to play the typical television drunk, an often sad, down-trodden character, but that’s what the show’s producers had wanted.

Yet, like others who characterized their roles on television and film so convincingly, Cady amused and moved the imagination of both those who knew someone like him or those who were first made aware of such people.

This was nothing earth-shattering. He didn’t change lives with his emotional range.

But, he used his talents to help shape some amusing weekly television shows a half-century ago. In doing so, he may have also helped dispel the increasingly urbanized American view of those who chose to spend their lives in rural areas that all such people were hopeless rubes or closed-minded bigots.

Always rocking on the porch and ready to criticize everyone else, Uncle Joe represented the lazy don’t-change-anything archetype in contrast to Sam Drucker’s can-do upbeat energy.

Mr. Haney was a b.s. artist who took fiendish delight in cheating Hootervillians out of pocket change.

More importantly, he subtlety provided a nation an almost naively warm fellow who accepted townspeople  just as they were, characters most of us would consider tedious, appalling, odd or offensive,.  And that likely had some affect on the psyche of a nation, just after watching the evening news with color broadcasts increasingly showing their bloodied sons being carried in stretchers and other carnage of the Vietnam War, race riots and the young protesting against the establishment.

It was hopeful to think there might still be people like Mr. Drucker around the corner. A pleasant antidote counter-acting the duplicitous Mr. Haneys and sourpuss complainer Uncle Joe’s of the world,  Frank Cady’s portrayal of Sam Drucker perfectly embodied the archetype Nicest Guy.

Without having to exaggerate the cultural significance of Petticoat Junction, in a small way that was easily forgotten, nor barely worthy of even discussion, he at least planted the idea that not everyone was so bad.

The real life Frank Cady.

Doing so good by Sam Drucker, however, was apparently not always in the best interests of Frank Cady.  As he told a reporter from the Oregonian in 1995:

“You get typecast. I’m remembered for those shows and not for some pretty good acting jobs I did other times. I suppose I ought to be grateful for that. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be remembered at all. I’ve got to be one of the luckiest guys in the world.”

The remark made the link between the person who was Cady and the persona who was Drucker that much closer, and it was a sensibility of authenticity that was transmitted in his brief, weekly moments before the nation.

The Nicest Guy, especially with old ladies and dogs.

And just as serial novels, comic strips, and radio shows once did, and the Internet’s YouTube and other venues now do, any person of any age in any culture can get a little lift from Sam Drucker. Who will never really die in the imagination.

Here’s a clip of Petticoat Junction which opens with a scene showing Cody/Drucker explaining modern marketing techniques to Kate (played by actress Bea Bernadette):

 


Categories: Americana, Pop Culture, Regionality, Television

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3 replies »

  1. THANK YOU CARL FOR THESE WORDS FOR SUCH A FINE GENLEMAN AND ACTOR. PEOPLE OF SUCH CHARACTER LIVE IN OUR HEARTS FORVER.

  2. I didn’t realize that he was the man in “Rear Window”, but I am not surprised. I remember him from a Christmas episode of “Ozzie and Harriet”. I am hopelessly annoying whenever I watch old movies or television shows as I am forever remembering, or trying to remember, what else the actors were in. Thank goodness for IMDB!

    While you are right that he didn’t change anyone’s life (that we know of), I really think that those wonderful character actors who people countless films and television shows from the “Golden Age” were important players. Not just in the productions themselves, but they form a sort of running link in our lives. I, for one, always seem to have some old movie or television show or radio program on while I am working. I love to watch/listen to “I Love Lucy”, “Leave It to Beaver”, “The Donna Reed Show”, and the extra actors are virtually interchangeable. Although we know that life wasn’t quite as simple as the shows make it look, they are, at least, comforting and entertaining and, at best, stylish, reflective of their times and even groundbreaking. One of my favorite classic tv episodes of all time comes from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”… It’s the one where Rob and Laura think that their baby was switched at birth with another couple, only to find that the other couple in question is African-American. While it’s still funny today, I imagine that it was rather edgy for the time and helped to put forward a totally different image of how people of different races really did interact.

    As an aside, Edgar Buchanan (pictured in the rocking chair) also has ties to Oregon. He came to Eugene before he was an actor and started his dental practice. We have lots of brushes with fame up here… Ginger Roger, Doc Baker of “Little House on the Prairie”, Kim Novak… They all moved to Oregon to find some peace and, I suppose, anonymity. I’ll tell you about my meeting with Kim Novak sometime… Not my finest moment!

    Another great post!

    • I think Dick Van Dyke was one of the greatest shows and while it is “dated” in terms of the currency, the interactions and reactions and situations are timeless. I must admit here that “Uncle Joe” from Petticoat Junction is just about my favorite character of all. He reminds me of my sour, critical, cranky Uncle Al, but the sly deadpan humor of my wonderful great-uncle Lou. I think all of these characters are touchstones for so many people whose lives we share – in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods. So the more distinctly drawn they are, the more I think we feel we “know” them or can relate to them. For me, at least, I find it sort of fascinating – because we ultimately all “share” them as “friends,” much as we do those people whose lives are in the public eye over a long stretch of time – not unlike the Kennedys, presidential families and the royal families, and certain actors that hold up and work over the decades.

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