‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: Bea Benaderet Wanted to Play Granny So Why She Was Cast as Pearl?
It’s hard to think about The Beverly Hillbillies without eventually thinking about Granny. Short-tempered and abrasive, she delivers some intense energy to the sitcom. Fans of the TV show will recall that the late Irene Ryan was tasked with bringing the character to life. But, funnily enough, another member of The Beverly Hillbillies cast once dreamed of playing the role.
Though Ryan was selected for the role, Bea Benaderet fell in love with the part before Ryan even had the chance to do a screen test. Decades before The Beverly Hillbillies aired, Benaderet befriended Paul Henning, who was the creator and writer of the show. In fact, in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Henning once revealed that he sought out Benaderet to get her opinion of the script prior to rounding out the cast.
Bea Benaderet initially wanted to join ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ cast as Granny
“Bea Benaderet she was more than just a good actress,” The Beverly Hillbillies creator shared. “She was, in my opinion, a fine judge of material. And I asked her to read the script and she said ‘This is wonderful’.” In fact, Benaderet was so enamored with the script that she immediately began picturing herself joining the cast in the role of Granny. However, Benaderet didn’t quite look like the picture of Granny that Henning had created in his mind.
“‘This is wonderful’ she said.” Henning continued, sharing how Benaderet first reacted to The Beverly Hillbillies script. “‘I’d love to play Granny’ and I said ‘Bea you’re not built like my picture of Granny.'” Even though Benaderet didn’t fit the bill of Granny, Henning still allowed her to do a screen test for the role. Furthermore, she was present when other actors were vying for a spot in the cast.
Irene Ryan eventually won the role of Granny
Of course, it became clear to both Henning and Benaderet that Ryan was the perfect choice for Granny after she tested for the role. Thanks to The Dennis Day Show, Henning was familiar with Ryan and when she stopped by the Universal studio lot for a visit, Henning asked her if she believed she’d be up for portraying a hillbilly in The Beverly Hillbillies. When Ryan expressed that she was more than up for the task, Henning gave her a screen test and both he and Benaderet agreed that they’d found their Granny.
“When we had the screen tests Bea Benaderet was there to try out for the part of Granny and as soon as Irene Ryan read the part, Bea came over to me and she says ‘There’s Granny,'” Henning remembered. The Beverly Hillbillies creator then continued to gush about his long-time friend. “She had an infallible eye for a script and for a character. She was just wonderful.”
‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ creator wrote Benaderet into later episodes
Though Benaderet wasn’t quite right for the role of Granny, Henning managed to create a great role in The Beverly Hillbillies for her later on. Fans of the actor and comedian loved what she was able to bring to the character of Cousin Pearl Bodine and the show wouldn’t have been quite the same without her.