The Only Major Actors Still Alive From Petticoat Junction

"Petticoat Junction" was the unofficial second part of the Paul Henning Hooterville trilogy, a trio of 1960s sitcoms about the clash between city slickers and country bumpkins. In 1962, Henning created "The Beverly Hillbillies," a series about hillbillies who, when they strike oil, move to Beverly Hills. In 1965, he inverted the formula with "Green Acres," a show about millionaires who move to a farm to learn about country living. Sandwiched in between the two was "Petticoat Junction," which debuted on September 24, 1963. "Junction" took place at the Shady Rest Hotel, overseen by the lovable widowed hayseed Kate Bradley (Bea Benederet). She and her uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) would run the hotel and oversee the shenanigans of her three daughters Betty Jo, Billie Jo, and Bobbie Jo. 

"Petticoat Junction" takes place in the same universe as "Green Acres," as both shows make constant references to common fictional cities that the characters visit. There were a few supporting crossovers, wherein characters would appear in both shows, mostly in the show's third season. "The Beverly Hillbillies" wasn't officially part of the same galaxy until the show's seventh season, but even up until then, there was every reason to believe all three were part of the Hooterverse. 

The show lasted for a whopping 222 episodes over seven seasons and underwent several major overhauls. In its third season, it transitions from black-and-white to color. The first few seasons were devoted to "bumpkin" jokes and culture clashes but it eventually settled on the lives and times of the three Bradley sisters ... who were recast often. Notably, Benederet passed away in 1968, leaving her absent for the show's seventh season. 

Five of the main actors from "Petticoat Junction" are still with us. 

Lori Saunders (the second Bobbie Jo Bradley)

Lori Saunders played Bobbie Jo in seasons four through seven of "Petticoat Junction," taking over for Pat Woodell. She played the part on 148 episodes of the show. Bobbie Jo also changed in character, beginning the series as a nerdy, book-learnin' character to being an oblivious ditz. 

Saunders began her professional performing career in as a girl in a few episodes of "The Ozzie and Harriet Show." She also appeared in a few notable B-movies like William Witney's "The Girl on the Beach" and Jack Hill's "Blood Bath" before landing her gig on "Petticoat Junction." She also appeared in three episodes of "Green Acres" and eight of "The Beverly Hillbillies." In 1976, Saunders would land another leading role playing Betsy in the sitcom "Dusty's Trail" starring Bob Denver. In 1980, Saunders retired from acting. What she's been up to since then is her own business. 

Saunders was an experienced singer as well, having minor hits in 1963 with "Lonely Christmas" and "You're Out of Your Mind." She and her "Junction" co-stars Linda Kaye Henning and the late Meredith MacRae (the second Billie Jo) released several "Junction" singles together which can be found in several music stores around the web. 

Linda Kaye Henning (Betty Jo Bradley)

Betty Jo was one of the most consistent characters on "Petticoat Junction," her personality unchanged for all seven seasons. Linda Kaye Henning played Betty Jo in all but three of the show's 222 episodes. She was also in 16 episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" playing both Betty Jo and Jethrine Bodean. Betty Jo was a big part of Henning's life for many years. 

Prior to "Petticoat," Henning was a trained dancer and a professional singer who played bit parts in movies and TV; she was a featured uncredited dancer in "Bye Bye Birdie." One can also see her and the other Bradley Sister actresses, alongside friend Sheila Kuehl, singing on an episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" as a band called The Ladybugs in 1964. Clearly, the Ladybugs were an attempt to ride on the coattails of The Beatles. 

After "Petticoat," Henning appeared only occasionally on single episodes of hit shows. She was in an episode of "Family Affair," "Adam-12," and "Love, American Style." She played two different characters on two episodes of "Happy Days," and showed up on "Hunter" and "Mad About You." For sci-fi fans, one might recognize her as Amanda Mallory, the mother of Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell) on the 1995 dimension-jumping series "Sliders." To date, "Sliders" was her last TV gig. 

In 1968, Henning married Mike Minor who played Steve on "Petticoat Junction." Steve was Betty Jo's love interest on the show. They divorced in 1973. She's been married to Leon Adams since 1994.

Jeannine Riley (the first Billie Jo)

As mentioned above, there were several notable cast changes throughout "Petticoat Junction," meaning three actresses played Billie Jo. The late Meredith MacRae played Billie Jo from the fourth season through the end of the series. In the third season, Billie Jo was played by Gunilla Hutton. The first Billie Jo was played by Jeannine Riley, who played the part in 74 episodes in the show's first two seasons. Riley left the show to pursue a career in film, although the bulk of her acting work came from television. 

Before "Petticoat Junction," Riley performed water ballet and also began scraping together one-off and supporting appearances in the hot TV shows of the day. She was on "Dr. Kildare," "My Three Sons," "The Virginian," and "Wagon Train." It seems that the various Bradley actresses recommended each other for gigs, meaning there is a lot of filmographical overlap between them. 

Riley's film career was modest and admirable. In the late 1960s, she appeared in films like "Strike Me Deadly," "The Big Mouth," and "The Comic." In 1973, she appeared in the Robert Blake actioner "Electra Glide in Blue." Her final film role was in the 1991 thriller "Timebomb" with Michael Biehn. On TV, she also carried over to the Bob Denver series "Dusty's Trail," appearing in every episode. 

Riley retired from acting in 1991, but eventually wrote a book in 2020 called "The Bolder Woman: It's About Time," which sought to inspire people to keep living their dreams no matter their age. 

Gunilla Hutton (the second Billie Jo)

Gunilla Hutton only played Billie Jo in the third season of "Petticoat Junction," totaling 34 episodes. She may be better known to classic TV fans as one of the regular performers, appearing as herself, on 301 episodes of the variety show "Hee Haw." She was the originator of the character Nurse Goodbody. She was also a professional singer with a few minor country singles in the 1970s, including "You Say the Prettiest Things Sometimes," "We've Got Old-Fashioned Love," and "Cody." In her personal life, she infamously had an affair with the married Nat King Cole, an affair detailed in Daniel Mark Epstein's 1999 Cole biography. Hutton made a career of playing a "dumb blonde" archetype but was a savvy businesswoman and charismatic actress who appeared on game shows regularly. 

Hutton also appeared on "Fantasy Island," "The Love Boat," "Love, American Style," and "Perry Mason."

Hutton is also seemingly retired and, now 79, likely living in peace in her native Sweden.  

June Lockhart (Dr. Janet Craig)

June Lockhart is a television legend, and her two seasons playing Dr. Janet Craig on "Petticoat Junction" is one impressive role on a resume filled with them. Many likely know the 98-year-old Lockhart from her role as Ruth Martin on the long-running TV version of "Lassie." Lockhart appeared on 200 episodes of "Lassie." Lockhart is also likely well-known for playing Maureen Robinson, the family matriarch on 84 episodes of "Lost in Space." On "Petticoat Junction," Lockhart stepped in when lead actress Bea Benderet passed away, serving as the new matriarch of the series.  

Lockhart's first notable film role came in the 1934 film adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" playing the wife of Bob Cratchit. She appeared in several major Hollywood productions throughout the 1940s, including "All This and Heaven Too," "Sergeant York," "Meet Me in St. Louis," and "She-Wolf of London." After spending the '50s, '60s, and '70s working heavily on television, she returned to films with roles in wacky and beloved B-movies like "Troll," "C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.," and "Strange Invaders." She had a cameo in the 1998 film version of "Lost in Space," and had a voice cameo in the recent Netflix reboot of the series. She played an animated owl as recently as 2020. 

Lockhart's TV resume is too long to list here, but know she probably popped up in your favorite series at least once. Do you like "Babylon 5," "The Ren and Stimpy Show," "Magnum P.I.," "General Hospital," "Roseanne," "Grey's Anatomy," or "The Pound Puppies"? She was in all of them.