In January of last year I wrote an article on my RecommendedStations.com blog about the TV detective show Mannix. It received the most views and positive comments of any article I’ve written. To start the New Year off, I decided to write about another vintage TV show, but this program isn’t a detective show and it has much stronger ties to music.
Hee Haw began back in in 1969 when CBS aired it as a temporary replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which had been unceremoniously cancelled by the network due to disagreements with the stars. The country comedy show, loosely based on NBC’s Laugh In, was butchered by the critics, yet did so well in the ratings that it found itself in CBS’s regular line up in January of 1970, 53 years ago this month.
Hosted by country music legends Roy Clark and Buck Owens, Hee Haw was a country music variety show featuring musical performances, comedy sketches, and the Hee Haw Honeys (attractive young ladies in low-cut, tight-fitting outfits). Some of the show’s popular reoccurring skits included Pfft You Was Gone, Pickin’ and Grinnin’, Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me, The Kornfield, Empty Arms Hotel, Samples Sales (“Call BR-549”), K-O-R-N News with Charlie Fahrquarson, Archie’s Barber Shop, The Naggers, Gordie’s General Store, Doc Campbell and Nurse Goodbody, Hey Grandpa! What’s For Supper?, The Culhanes, and Lulu’s Truck Stop. These skits made household names out of Archie Campbell, Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, Gordie Tapp, Don Harron, Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe, Barbi Benton, Gunilla Hutton, Gailard Sartain, Kenny Price, Lisa Todd, Roni Stoneman, and others.
As Hee Haw became a ratings success it attracted some heavy-hitting guest stars over its many episodes. Some of these included Ed McMahon, Hugh Hefner, Ernest Borgnine, Senator Robert Byrd, Billy Graham, Dennis Weaver, Billy Carter, Will Geer, Foster Brooks, and George Gobel.
Big name country music stars also graced Hee Haw broadcasts…singers like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Pride, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and even Garth Brooks. Kenny Rogers, another huge star who performed on Hee Haw, met his 4th wife on the show- Hee Haw Honey Marianne Gordon. But I digress. The musical performances were taped before a live audience but the rest of the show had laugh tracks added.
What’s In A Name
Speaking of taping, Hee Haw was originally taped at a CBS-TV affiliate in Nashville, but soon moved to Opryland where an entire season was recorded twice a year, each in marathon one-week sessions. This dramatically reduced production costs and allowed various Hee Haw stars to record albums and tour with minimal disruption.
Pardon My Blooper
Hee Haw was also a pioneer of the blooper. It was one of the first, if not the first TV show, to regularly air bloopers in its episodes. These consisted of a cast member flubbing a line and requiring multiple takes to get it right. Perhaps the most famous of these was Junior Samples trying to pronounce the word “trigonometry”.
On the subject of records, Hee Haw spawned a cottage industry of country albums. There were three volumes of The Stars of Hee Haw and a spin-off titled Guest Stars of The Hee Haw Show. These were compilations of hits by regular performers on the TV show. There were also four volumes of The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet featuring Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Grandpa Jones, and Kenny Price.
For the Record
Many performers on the show launched their recording careers thanks to Hee Haw. Some of these included six records by The Hagar Twins, fifteen albums by Susan Reye (not including her collaborations with Buck Owens), Hee Haw Honey Barbi Benton cut five records (she was very popular in Japan), not to mention records by Stringbean, Grandpa Jones, Gordie Tapp, Roni Stoneman, Mini Pearl, Lulu Roman, Buck Trent, and Jana Jae. There were even spoken word records released by Junior Samples, Archie Campbell, and Grady Nutt.
CBS: Country Broadcasting System
In 1971, during television’s “rural purge” which saw the cancellation of such popular shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke, CBS cancelled Hee Haw after just two years. But Hee Haw had the last laugh, or the last hee haw as it were, because it went on to a much longer and even more successful second life in syndication. Hee Haw became a regular Saturday night fixture for millions of Americans. At its high point it had 30 million viewers.
Television shows don’t last forever, however, and first-run production of Hee Haw ended during the summer of 1992. A “best of” series called Hee Haw Silver, hosted by Roy Clark, ran for another year until the series finally came to an end after 25 years. Hee Haw proved to be one of the longest-running television shows in syndication history.
“…an entire season was recorded twice a year, each in marathon one-week sessions.”
To the joy of Hee Haw fans everywhere, there have been several cast reunions, the most recent of which was on the TV show Huckabee in February of 2019, hosted by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The show included a recreation of The Kornfield sketch where cast members told corny (pun intended) jokes like this one from the Huckabee Kornfield skit: “Why aren’t tubas used in country bands? Because they’re heavy metal.”
Hee Haw on DVD
The best Hee Haw reunion in my opinion was RFD TV’s Country’s Family Reunion’s “Salute to the Kornfield” episode in 2012. Many of the surviving cast reunited to share funny stories, jokes, and of course, great country music. It was heartwarming to see so many of them back together again. I was so moved by it I bought the 4 DVD set. I’m not a DVD kind of guy but I figured it wasn’t a program that would be rerun very often, and I was right. The set also came with a 5th DVD featuring behind-the-scenes footage. And I own Time/Life’s Hee Haw 10th Anniversary Celebration DVD, which I also highly recommend. I’ve been unable to source The 20th Anniversary Show on any format even though the 2 hour performance was filmed. If you know of its existence, please let me know. I inquired with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) since they mention it on their website but their generic response wasn’t helpful. The regular series itself is also available on DVD, but at last check, you can watch it for free on Circle TV if your cable provider includes that channel.
To celebrate this unique show, I donned my detective’s fedora, rented a car from Junior Samples’ Samples Sales, and searched all of Kornfield Kounty to track down Hee Haw stars Lulu Roman, Jana Jae, and Buck Trent.
Lulu Roman was actually born Bertha Louise Hable. Her life wasn’t an easy one. She was born in a home for unwed mothers, was raised in an orphanage, and later in life became addicted to drugs and did jail time. She got clean and converted to Christianity. She introduced gospel music to Hee Haw, but she’s probably best known for the “Lulu’s Truck Stop” skits in which she played a sassy waitress alongside an inept cook (played by Gailard Sartain) along with a rotation of unfortunate customers. In 1980, she sang at the Inauguration Celebration of President Ronald Reagan. Roman continues to perform, having made appearances just this and last month. She’s released several music CDs including 2013’s At Last, a collection of standards featuring duets with Dolly Parton, George Jones, and T. Graham Brown. In 2019 she published her autobiography- This Is My Story; This Is My Song. Roman was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
Peter: Where did the name “Lulu” come from?
Lulu: Well, that’s a story. One of my trips to jail- there was a lady in there that said I looked like [comic book character] Little Lulu. It stuck.
Peter: Are your blue Hee Haw overalls original?
Lulu: Well, they aren’t blue, they are the official Hee Haw overalls, and yes, I still have them.
Peter: What’s your favorite or funniest memory from Hee Haw?
Lulu: I have so many. My favorite memory is working with Sammy Davis. He was the best ever to work with in the Kornfield.
Peter: Give me one juicy Hee Haw behind the scenes tidbit.
Lulu: We were a family so I don’t have anything juicy.
Peter: Did it hurt to get hit by the “Joke Fence”? How did that work? Did a crew member pull a rope to lift the fence post?
Lulu: One of the crew did have a rope to make the fence work. It didn’t hurt.
Peter: Cathy Baker once mentioned the cast lunches at Cracker Barrel. Were you at any of those? That must have been fun.
Lulu: We would all go together for lunch. Sometimes in small groups, sometimes all of us.
Peter: What do you think when you see Hee Haw reruns today?
Lulu: Brings back wonderful memories.
Peter: How do you like doing the “Kornfield Friends” shows?
Lulu: I love getting together with my friends.
Peter: It must have been emotional doing the Country’s Family Reunion’s ”Salute to the Kornfield” show. Was that the last time you saw most of the cast?
Lulu: It was a hard day. We knew that would be the last time we would see some of them. We made it extra special for them. The last time I saw most of them was about 3 years ago at the 50th reunion.
Peter: Who did you enjoy working with the most on Hee Haw?
Lulu: I loved working with everyone. Gailard [Sartain] was always so fun to work with in the “Truck Stop” because we got to toss food around.
Peter: Why do you think Hee Haw proved so popular?
Lulu: It was corny and people loved it. They got to see new up and coming artist. No show was the same.
Peter: Could a new Hee Haw show be done today and be successful?
Lulu: No, because the writers had a talent that just isn’t there today.
Peter: Do you get tired of being asked about Hee Haw?
Lulu: No. When they stop asking, then I know we are forgotten.
Peter: Your Birthday was in May. Many of your Hee Haw friends have passed away. Is there anything you’d still like to accomplish or do you take life one day at a time?
Lulu: I do take it one day at a time. I love life. I will be out there as long as the Lord will allow me to be.
Be sure to come back in week or so for part two which includes interviews with Jana Jae and Buck Trent.
Update: Since I conducted my written interview with Lulu, her health has declined. I’m sure you join me in wishing her a quick recovery and good health in 2023.
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