For a show that ran seven seasons, Petticoat Junction was understandably predictable yet reliably comforting. As shown on its new second season DVD, lazy yet scheming Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) would always stir up trouble, while rural innkeeper Kate (Bea Benaderet) would ride herd over him and her three grown daughters (Jeannine Riley, Pat Woodell and Linda Henning) not far down the Cannonball train line from the Anystate, USA town of Hooterville — whose denizens also appeared on Green Acres. It’s all good, clean, innocent fun in the well-worn mold of ’60s sitcoms hinging on small-town if not hicks-in-sticks values.
But one thing does change at the start of Petticoat’s season two, and that’s the cast. A new entry arrives, and he’s more furry than funny. He’s Higgins, a smart little mixed-breed dog who’d been adopted by superb animal trainer Frank Inn from a Burbank, CA shelter. Higgins then became a TV star as the resident pooch at Kate’s Shady Rest Hotel.
Oddly, Higgins’ impish character never seemed to gain a name on Petticoat Junction — he was just “our dog” — but he often had more than barking cameos. He even starred in a couple of early season two episodes with plots of his own (one involving a canine commercial). Yet even in small doses, his cuteness added much to an equation which already had begun aging in season two. You want an audience to love your show and keep coming back? Add a dog.
This season and the first also are desirable among fans because, as black and white years, they weren’t part of a later syndicated package. So seasons one and two have largely gone unseen since the series’ 1963-on run.
Higgins would later star in his own movie, 1974’s Benji, a sleeper family hit from Dallas writer-director Joe Camp, who shot it in North Texas. Though the film would spawn sequels, the original was Higgins’ final role. He died the next year at age 15. In fact, Junction co-star Buchanan also was in Benji, and it was his final film, too. Even more, Benji was the final film of Francis Bavier, aka Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, another icon of ’60s rural innocence.
But enough talk of demise and the end of the trail. Hop aboard the Cannonball and chug along to the Junction, where Higgins, in his eternal youth, awaits us with ears, eyes and paws that are well worth our awwwws.