Ozarks Life: Paul Henning’s gifts for the Branson area

The creator of Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres gave three gifts to the Ozarks.
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 7:58 AM CDT
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STONE and TANEY COUNTY, Mo. (KY3) - The beauty of the Ozarks is all around us.

Near Branson, the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area has five-and-a-half miles of scenic walking trails with some spectacular views.

But such a beautiful location makes someone wonder, who is this place named after? Who were Paul and Ruth Henning?

A native of Independence, Missouri, Henning made it big in Hollywood with the Beverly Hillbillies.

“When he was a boy scout, he would come and camp in the Branson area,” Silver Dollar City’s public relations manager, Brandei Clifton said. “So fast forward and as an adult, when he had the idea to create some type of TV show, he came up with the concept of the Beverly Hillbillies.”

“A lot of people don’t know that they were the Clampett family is from Silver Dollar City,” Clifton added.

In 1969, for the eighth season, Henning filmed some episodes at a young, Silver Dollar City. They’d watch the Clampetts ride on a familiar SDC bridge, past old Shad’s blacksmithing shop, and to the Silver Dollar City Hotel.

“The gift that Paul Henning gave us here at Silver Dollar City, when he made that decision to film those episodes, is a ripple effect that we’re still feeling,” Clifton said. “It thrust Silver Dollar City into the national spotlight.”

The blacksmith at Silver Dollar City, the late Shad Heller got his 15 minutes of fame.

“He was in one of the episodes and he did such a great job that they ended up flying him out to Hollywood for a few more episodes,” Clifton said.

“Once the world and country knew about Silver Dollar City, we were able to expand and add the train and all kinds of good stuff like that,” Clifton added.

Today, before going on the Time Traveler or Wildfire, Shad’s blacksmith shop is still off the main square at Silver Dollar City that features the hotel; both were featured in the Beverly Hillbillies.

Henning gave Silver Dollar City some exposure, and the Ozarks a second gift a few years later.

A 20-minute drive from the theme park is College of the Ozarks. Inside the Ralph Foster Museum is the most iconic piece from the Hillbillies.

“It’s kind of our crown jewel,” said museum director, Annette Sain.

In the mid-70s, the former museum director and some students started a letter-writing campaign with Hollywood.

“...and said, ‘Hey, whatever happened to that old truck?’ There was a connection to the Ozarks,” Sain said.

Next to the 1921 Oldsmobile is the letter Henning sent C of O saying, ‘I can think of no better fate for the old vehicle.’

It’s been at College of the Ozarks since 1976.

“It’s just fascinating for people and they’re just stunned is a good word,” Sain said. “When they see the truck here, some people come to the museum specifically to see the truck. Some people don’t know what’s here, and they’re just like, wow.”

Today, the Clampett truck is a draw for the College of the Ozarks. Visitors can have their pictures taken inside of it.

Then, the third gift came a few years after the truck. The 1,500 acres the Hennings and their good friends, Silver Dollar City owners, the Herschends, gave the state in 1981.

This land is described in Shepherd of the Hills. It’s where Baldknobbers would lie in wait. It’s a property the Hennings and Herschends did not want to be developed.

Through all of his work, there’s one common thread: family.

“(The Beverly Hillbillies) was the show that families gathered around the TV to watch together,” Clifton concluded. “That really goes back to our Silver Dollar City vision, which is to bring families together.”

Paul Henning’s other big hit was Green Acres. His wife, Ruth, was an actress and helped Paul create those hits. Her family had a hotel in Eldon, and that’s what Henning based Petticoat Junction after.

Silver Dollar City sells DVD copies of the episodes filmed there in the gift shop near the entrance to the cave.

You can see the Clampetts’ truck at the Ralph Foster Museum at C of O. It’s open Tuesdays thru Saturdays from 9 to 5.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com