The Beverly Hillbillies provided endless entertainment as the bumbling Jed Clampett moves his family out to live a lavish life in California after accidentally striking oil. But as much as we loved watching Jethro, Elly May, and Granny, the classic series wouldn't have been the same without Nancy Kulp's Miss Jane Hathaway. Miss Jane is the loyal secretary of the Clampett's next-door neighbor Mr. Drysdale, regularly helping him get out of trouble while swooning over Jethro throughout the nine seasons the show ran on CBS. She's one of the most memorable character actresses of her time and was the perfect addition to the cast to add some extra comedy.
Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania but spent a chunk of her childhood living in Florida. After studying journalism at Florida State University she obtained her master's degree from the University of Miami. Kulp worked as a writer for Miami Beach Tropics newspaper but entered the women's branch of the United States Naval Reserve during World War II and served for two years before being honorably discharged.
After marrying Charles Malcolm Dacus (her husband of 10 years), Kulp relocated to Hollywood and found a job working in the publicity department at MGM. Soon after starting her new job, director George Cukor convinced Kulp that she should really be an actress and she decided to give it a shot. After making her film debut in The Model and the Marriage Broker, she appeared in a slew of films including Shane, Sabrina, A Star is Born, Forever, Darling, The Three Faces of Eve, The Parent Trap, Who's Minding the Store? The Aristocats, The Night of the Grizzly, Steel Town, Strange Bedfellows, and more.
But Kulp was also a sought-after TV actress. She was on The Bob Cummings Show, I Love Lucy, Maverick, The Jack Benny Program, Quantum Leap, The Love Boat, Sanford and Son, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Simon & Simon, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and even appeared on Broadway. But Kulp will always be best known for playing Miss Jane on the classic TV series The Beverly Hillbillies, which earned her an Emmy Award nomination. She even played her memorable role in crossover episodes on the sister sitcom Petticoat Junction.
Despite her strong on-screen chemistry with the entire cast, there were reports that there was tension behind the scenes with her co-star Buddy Ebsen. As a passionate liberal, she found it hard at times to deal with Ebsen who was a die-hard Republican. Even years later when Kulp decided to run for the House of Representatives, Ebsen publicly supported her opponent, calling her "too liberal" and ultimately causing her to lose the campaign. Though Kulp later claimed that the two had made up and were friends years later.
By the 80s, Kulp had largely retired from acting outside of a few television appearances. She spent time teaching acting and was even an artist in residence at the Pennsylvania liberal arts school Juniata College. She ended up retiring in Palm Springs before passing away from cancer in 1991. But Nancy Kulp will always be our Miss Jane, living on in endless reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies.
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