Hee Haw With Roy Clark And Buck Owens: The Hosts, The Honeys, And The Hams
Hee Haw, hosted by Roy Clark and Buck Owens, was a variety show featuring country music, cornpone-humor, and a cast of attractive young ladies known as the Hee Haw Honeys. The show was set in the fictional "Kornfield Kounty," and it became an American TV institution. Although it only aired (on CBS) from 1969 to 1971, it remained popular in syndication until 1997. The show's comedy was inspired by Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, with the added attraction of big-name country music stars every week. Hee Haw was much less topical than Laugh-In, sticking to timeless jokes around farming and rural culture.
A major factor in Hee Haw's appeal was its authenticity, which started with its two hosts. Roy Clark was a famed multi-instrumentalist and a regular on talk shows for his quick wit. Although Clark had cut solo records, and had several hits, he was known more as a musician-slash-comedian on the country scene. Buck Owens, on the other hand, was a living legend when the show started, having pioneered the subgenre of country music known as the Bakersfield Sound. Owens had ten chart-topping country albums in the '60s, and 18 #1 singles in the same decade, ten of them in a row -- beginning with 1963's "Act Naturally" and continuing through 1967's "Your Tender Loving Care," every single Owens released (with his band the Buckaroos) went to #1.
Together, Owens and Clark had chemistry and legitimacy -- Hee Haw might have been a comedy show, but these guys could play with anyone. Although the show featured big contemporary country stars, none of them could overshadow the hosts for country charm and street cred.
Hee Haw featured countless country music greats and stars, including such legends as Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Mel Tillis. Minnie Pearl also made her share of appearances with her famous hats with the dangling price tags, but she could not compare to the allure of the Hee Haw Honeys!
James Bond movies have Bond Girls, Hammer Horror films were famous for actresses with that "Hammer Glamour" look -- and Hee Haw had the Hee Haw Honeys. They were a bunch of voluptuous, curvy women in classic, sexy farmer's daughter outfits including minidresses, tight midriff tops and the short jean shorts today known as Daisy Dukes. Although they are well remembered for their looks, they did have names -- fan favorites over the years included Lisa Todd, Linda Thompson, Marianne Gordon and Playboy models Barbi Benton and Anne Randall. Expected to possess cover-girl looks and comedic timing, these ladies more than carried their weight on the show.
Hee Haw’s appeal, however, was not just limited to the farmer demographic. Let’s not discount the genuine talent that was showcased, but it is too blatant to ignore that the show’s success was also largely thanks to those sexy farm girls. The show was popular across the country, from New York City to California, even attracting Hollywood celebrities who didn't naturally have a connection to rural America. Hee Haw’s popularity crossed all demographic lines. It was being viewed by both younger and older audiences as well as all ethnicities and religions.
Diana Goodman had been an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader and won the title of Miss Georgia USA 1975. She also dated Elvis Presley, which helped her make inroads in the entertainment business. After Elvis broke up with her (because he didn't like seeing her in a picture with Burt Reynolds), she dated Buzz Aldrin and Clint Eastwood, but was struggling to make her career work. Elvis died, sending her into a funk, and she turned 30, which seemed very old to be a struggling starlet. Then, she told the Cleveland Banner:
I was at a street corner about to cross the street to do some shopping while waiting on my car. A man pulled up in a car at the traffic light and started talking to me out the window. He handed me a card and said, ‘Hey, with that accent I might can help you get a job!’ I checked him out and he was a legitimate producer. We had dinner and he called someone and set me up for an interview with ‘Hee Haw.’ He didn’t actually get me the job. He just opened the door. I went in and read for them and got the job!
Goodman played Trixie Dixie in the "Dixie Twins" sketches.
Jeannine Riley appeared on Hee Haw's first two seasons, and was one of the most accomplished actresses to be a Hee Haw Honey. She'd played Billie Jo Bradley from 1963-65 on Petticoat Junction; when she left, she was replaced in the role by Gunilla Hutton, who was also a Honey. Despite being born in California, Riley was reliably cast in Southern-bombshell roles, playing Daisy Mae in a TV movie of Lil' Abner (1967), and Lulu McQueen in the short-lived TV series Dusty's Trail (1973-74).
Memphis-born Linda Thompson was a Miss USA pageant hopeful and started as a Hee Haw Honey in 1977. She's a familiar presence to Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Hills. But all anyone ever wants to talk about is her two famous lovers. First, there was Elvis -- who was, you know, Elvis. She spotted her next great love on TV while in bed with Elvis, as she recalled for the Huffington Post:
We were lying in bed (our usual perch) at Graceland and had been watching the [Olympics] for days. We were pretty closely following the American athlete Bruce Jenner, who was dominating the decathlon competition. Bruce was on the final lap of his last race, the 10th event, and as he crossed the finish line to win the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon competition ... Elvis and I were exuberant about the win for the United States! We were also commenting on what an amazing specimen of a man Bruce Jenner was. Elvis remarked, 'Damn if that guy is not handsome! I’m not gay, but damn, he’s good-looking!' I quite agreed and teasingly said, 'Wow! He is gorgeous! I’m going to marry that guy someday!' Elvis replied, 'Yeah, sure, honey, over my dead body.'
Elvis did die, as far as we know, and Linda Thompson did go on to marry Bruce Jenner, who is today known as Caitlyn Jenner. Linda is the mother of Brody and Brandon Jenner.
Keeping with the Laugh-In format, cast members of Hee Haw would act out small sketches and random joke telling. Hee Haw’s version of the Laugh-In joke wall was the cornfield/haystack joke telling. Some of the recurring sketches you could count on were:
• Hey, Grandpa! What’s for Supper?
• The Culhanes
• Stringbean's Letter From Home
• KORN News
• LuLu’s Truck Stop
• Junior Samples Used Cars
• Pickin' and Grinnin’
Some of the wacky songs America came to know and love on Hee Haw were:
PFFT! You Was Gone!
Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over, and I thought I'd found true love,
You met another, and PFFT! You was gone!
Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me
Gloom, despair, and agony on me-e!
Deep dark depression, excessive misery-y!
If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all!
Gloom, despair, and agony on me-e-e!
Hee Haw was primarily billed as a family-type show but it really had a lot of sexual undertones… another reason it probably did so well!