Frank Cady (1915-2012)
Bucolic was the watchword for many TV sitcoms during the 1960s: a trend that had actually started earlier (back in 1957) with The Real McCoys, but was in full swing at the start of the decade with the popular Andy Griffith Show. Then in 1962, Paul Henning, a former writer for George Burns & Gracie Allen’s radio program, saw his critically-lambasted creation The Beverly Hillbillies shoot to the top of the Nielsen ratings, and in the fall of 1963, CBS guaranteed Henning a half-hour of TV to fill with whatever he desired. He created a series called Petticoat Junction (based on the reminiscences of his wife Ruth’s family); about a rural hotel situated along a railroad spur that catered to traveling businessmen. Set in a mythical town un-ironically called “Hooterville,” Junction would inspire a third sitcom in the fall of 1965 entitled Green Acres—though the roots of that show also sprung from a short-lived radio sitcom called Granby’s Green Acres, created by another veteran radio scribe, Jay Sommers.
Actor Frank Cady, who passed away on June 11 at the age of 96, was fortunate enough to appear on all three of these recurring series as genial storekeeper Sam Drucker. He guested on The Beverly Hillbillies in ten episodes (owing to the fact that the series was set far away from the mythical Hooterville), but he was on the other two series practically every week, a rarity in the world of TV. On Petticoat Junction, he served primarily as straight man and foil to one of the show’s main characters, the scheming “Uncle” Joe Carlson (Edgar Buchanan)…and on Green Acres, he was given the opportunity to be humorously eccentric whenever he interacted with that sitcom’s protagonist, Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)—a New York lawyer yearning to make a new life for himself and his wife (Eva Gabor) in the country…and finding himself trapped in a small town populated with lunatics.
Despite the countrified nature of his famous television character, Cady was actually a native Californian, born in Susanville in 1915. His aspirations to perform stretched back to his days in elementary school, and while attending Stanford University he majored in journalism and drama. After graduating from college, he served an apprenticeship at London’s Westminster Theater, appearing in four plays and making an appearance on BBC Television in 1938. After returning to Stanford to pursue graduate work, and embarking on a teaching career that left him dissatisfied, Frank decided to try his luck in radio. He worked as an announcer/news broadcaster at Stockton’s California’s KGDM shortly before World War II, put his career on hold to join the Army Air Force, and returned to his broadcasting aspirations at war’s end.
By this time, Cady was also appearing in local plays, which led to his being cast in a series of minor film roles. In the classic 1948 noir He Walked by Night, he played a seedy individual pulled in for questioning regarding a cop killing. Cady’s work in films often went unbilled, but he definitely made an impression. In D.O.A., he played the bartender, while in The Asphalt Jungle he was a night clerk. He was Mr. Ferderber, one of the first of the curiosity seekers in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, and he even appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (as the male half of the couple who lowers their dog down from their upstairs apartment in a basket). Other films to feature Cady include Father of the Bride, When Worlds Collide, The Atomic City, The Sellout, The Indian Fighter, and The Bad Seed.
During this period of activity on the silver screen, Cady never really abandoned his radio roots: he appeared often in guest parts on such shows as Gunsmoke, Fort Laramie and Have Gun – Will Travel. Frank eventually started to phase out his film efforts to concentrate on TV work. Landing a recurring role as Doc Williams on the television version of radio’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet did a lot to push him in that direction, but he also made time for guest appearances on dramatic series like 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot, The Deputy, Perry Mason and The Untouchables. (He even appeared in an installment of the TV Gunsmoke, an episode featuring OTR stalwart Jeanette Nolan as “Aunt Thede.”)
It was his dual gigs on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres that kept Cady busy throughout the 60s (with, of course, the occasional stint on Beverly Hillbillies). Junction left CBS’ schedule in 1970 (Cady was one of only three cast members—the other two being Edgar Buchanan and Linda Kaye Henning—to stay with the show from beginning to end) and Green Acres followed a year later. There would be the occasional guest shot on shows such as Hawaii Five-O and Eight is Enough—and Cady also signed up for the Green Acres reunion movie in 1990, Return to Green Acres—but the character actor was mostly content to rest on his laurels, retiring in 1991 to enjoy golf and hiking. He also traveled extensively with his wife Shirley (whom he met during his days at Stanford) until her death in 2008.
In an interview with The Portland Oregonian (Cady and his wife moved to Oregon in 1991), the actor reflected back on his career: “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.” In the never aging world of television reruns, Frank Cady is definitely remembered…but he will be sorely missed outside of Hooterville.