Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Miss Jane

Toward the end of November 1946, television was demonstrated for the first time in South Florida, thanks to a joint effort by WGBS radio in Miami and the DuMont labs of New Jersey. WGBS put two of its promotion department staffers in charge of the six-day, eight-hour-a-day broadcast. One of them was a young lady who had returned to the station from war duty two months earlier named Nancy Kulp.

Yes, the same one who later played the ultra-efficient secretary and trouble-shooter Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Kulp seemed born to play the role, although publicity blurbs went out at the time the show debuted in 1962 that she had tested for Cousin Pearl but rejected because her Ozark accent wasn’t good enough. And the Hathaway role wasn’t the first regular part that Kulp had on TV. Here’s an unbylined story from the Hartford Courant of February 12, 1956.
Girl Comedian Years To Be Dramatic Star
Nancy Kulp, considered one of TV’s new comedy finds through appearances on the “Bob Cummings Show” over CBS TV, would rather be a serious actress. Despite all her efforts, however, everytime she goes dramatic all she gets are laughs.
Nancy found her niche early in the Cummings teleseries in the role of Pamela Livingston, girl bird-watcher, and has been written into the series many times since. In addition to acting, she also writes dramatics but hasn’t sold anything of note as yet.
Combining two careers dates back to Nancy’s college days at Florida State University from which she graduated in 1943. While there she developed, wrote and starred in a radio show, “Tassle McLaughlin, Woman,” a satire on soap operas. She left college with a journalism degree and joined the Waves for 2 ½ years. Hollywood got to know Nancy in 1951. She credits famed George Cukor, the director, for her first big chance in a picture, “Model and Marriage Broker,” in which she played a comedy role. Since then, besides films, she has been on such TV programs as “Video Theater,” “It’s a Great Life,” “Topper,” “Our Miss Brooks,” and “I Love Lucy.”
Nancy was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Aug. 28, 1921, and moved to Florida in 1933 with her parents. Even as a youngster she tried to be serious and won only laughs. This happened when she was just three years old.
“My mother and I were at a movie,” recalls Nancy. “The theater was dark and my mother suddenly missed me. A spot light was on the stage and there I was standing in the middle of it singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ while the audience roared!”
Nancy vows that someday, and she hopes it will be soon, she’ll be up before the television cameras emoting like mad while tears come down the cheeks of the viewers at home. Making people cry will make her happy.
Before the war, Kulp had been with the Miami Beach Sun-Star and Kimberly-Clark Advertising, in addition to her radio work. Some time before February 1948, she had moved to WIOD, Miami. You can see more of how she got to Hollywood in the story to the right from the Lock Haven Express of February 4, 1952.

Now, a couple of clippings from after she made it big. First up is a syndicated column dated June 22, 1963, at the end of Hillbillies’ first season.
Frustrated Spinster Nancy Kulp Type-Cast

Even before he'd cast the regular stars for his then-new Beverly Hillbillies series, creator-producer Paul Henning had decided that morose-looking, goggle-eyed Nancy Kulp would play the seedy-tweedy secretary, Jane Hathaway.
In fact, he created the role with Nancy in mind as a mere extension of her "birdwatching spinster" role on the old Bob Cummings Show, which Hemming had also produced.
Even before her rise to comedy recognition on the Bob Cummings Show, which provided her with five years of steady pay-checks, Nancy had already been type-cast as the perfect picture of a frustrated spinster.
One comedy star refused to use her again on his show, saying: "She stole every scene she was in with me. All she has to do is to purse her laps, roll her eyes Heaven-ward, and I'm dead — the laugh is hers!"
• • •
I FOUND Nancy much comelier than she appears on the screen, but when I complimented her on her beautiful, silky hair (it was a sincere comphment), she quickly asumed her familiar horsey-long face and we both laughed.
Encouraged by what was obviously a defense strategy against compliments, I asked Nancy this candid question: Is it possible that you play the frustrated spinster so well because the role parallels your real life?
• • •
WITHOUT batting an eye, she answered: "Unfortunately, that's true. I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool spinster; I was married once for a short time, but the only thing my husband and I had in common was a mutual love of laughs.
"Frustration has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. It runs in the family, too. Just when my father finally made a name for himself as one of the country's leading stock brokers, zoom! came the crash of '29!
"Even my great uncle, Samuel J. Tilden, suffered a frustration that was a lulu. He won the popular vote for President of the United States, but lost the office by one vote in the Electoral College!
• • •
"I'VE BEEN frustrated in practically everything I really wanted to do. Actually, I left Florida 12 years ago (where she'd headed publicity for two Miami radio stations) to come to Hollywood for a publicity career. Director George Cukor had me working as an actress before I'd been here two weeks.
"I hadn't even thought of becoming an actress, so I decided I'd be a serious one. Frustration, again.
"I'm quite happy, now, with good friends, a fine income and freedom to pursue any hobby I care to. But I'll continue to be frustrated till I either get some serious acting roles or a man who loves me seriously. So far, I've had neither!"
• • •
LIVING THE life of a bachelorette in Tarzana, in the San Fernando Valley, Nancy spends much of her free time looking for real estate bargains and antiques. She once had her own antique shop.
She's currently on vacation from Hillbillies but is acting in Jerry Lewis' movie "Who's Minding the Store." She's playing a white huntress.
This story is from the National Enterprise Association syndicate, June 5, 1965.
Nancy's Faith Renewed

Hollywood—After a change in time at the beginning of the TV season, the Beverly Hillbillies slumped to 33rd in the popularity ratings, then roared back by season's end into 8th place in the Top Ten.
The remarkable comeback of the show, always a target for critical barbs, assured Buddy Ebsen & Co. of a fourth year on home screens.
• • •
IT ALSO renewed Nancy Kulp's faith in audiences accepting a show at face value.
Nancy, who plays pompous secretary Jane Hathaway in the series, builds up a large head of steam whenever the series is rapped by critics, or ignored by TV people as not even being worthy of mention for Emmy consideration.
"It's absurd," snaps Nancy. "The show's existence is for only one reason—FUN. I think it's damn good fun, along with a lot of biting satire.
"I say, isn't there room for this? Can't our critics understand this? Can't they classify the show as strictly for fun? Our big audience accepts us on this merit alone and I suppose we should be grateful. But some people make me mad.
• • •
"I MET a man just the other day who said he didn't like the show. I asked him, 'Have you seen it?' His answer was 'No, of course not. I leave the room when my family tunes in.'
"Well, I sure told that fellow off. I asked him, 'Do you let critics do all your thinking? There was no answer, of course."
Nancy Kulp has had a strange career since arriving in Hollywood in 1951 to appear in movies and then TV. She was cast as a "broad Eve Arden type," but she also played heavies and roles calling for a Brooklyn accent.
She made her first big hit on TV as Pamela Livingstone, the bird watcher on The Bob Cummings Show. She credits this role with her zooming popularity as a comedienne.
• • •
"PAMELA WAS a real good character audiences liked," she says.
Before filming for the new season starts in July, Nancy is going on a 7000-mile, six-week tour of the U.S. in a station wagon. She will be sight-seeing and buying antiques, a hobby with her.
Since coming to Hollywood from Miami, where she studied journalism and worked in radio. Nancy was divorced.
What was her hubby's occupation?
Nancy sounds like bank secretary Jane Hathaway when she gives the question a double take.
"That's a marvelous question," she says, stringing out the words a la Jane. "You know, I don't recall that he ever had a job."
After Hillbillies, Kulp emulated Green Acres. She gave up city life and returned to the farm in Pennsylvania—and then witnessed what winter was like there, so back she went to California, becoming involved in several charity groups in Palm Springs. She died of cancer on February 3, 1991. You can read more about her earlier life by clicking on the clipping to the right.


  1. Earliest performance I remember from Nancy Kulp was as Jenny the maid in " Sabrina ". She was different in that role. Kind of took Sabrina under her wings. Not yet the spinster type. Her character in " Love that Bob " was one step closer to the Jane Hathaway type. In an episode of " The Beverly Hillbillies ", reminiscent of The Cummings Show, she did some bird watching with Wally Cox.

  2. She was also a regular on a short-lived Betty White sitcom in 1957, "Date with the Angels."

  3. In the 1980s, she also entered politics.

  4. In 1943, FSU was still Florida State College for Women (it didn't go co-ed till '47).

  5. I'm surprised you didn't mention Ms Kyle's stint as Offcer Hoppy's mother on the last season or so of SANFORD AND SON.