Pat Woodell dies at 71; actress best known for 1960s sitcom ‘Petticoat Junction’
Actress Pat Woodell, who starred as one of a trio of sisters in the wholesome 1960s sitcom “Petticoat Junction” before she went on to be featured in a series of not-so-wholesome exploitation films, died Sept. 29 at her home in Fallbrook, Calif. She was 71.
Known as Patricia McDade off screen, she had battled cancer for more than 20 years, said her husband, Vern McDade.
She was born July 12, 1944, in Winthrop, Mass. Her initial aim in show business was to be a singer, and she had early gigs at resorts in the Catskills. In 1962, gossip columnist Harrison Carroll wrote, “Everybody wants to hear 18-year-old singer Pat Woodell.”
Woodell, a statuesque brunette, was signed to a contract by Warner Bros., and her first network TV credit was on a 1962 episode of the western series “Cheyenne.” She followed that up with appearances on “Hawaiian Eye” and “77 Sunset Strip,” and had a role in a government-sponsored anti-communism drama, “Red Nightmare,” narrated by Jack Webb.
Her best-known role came in the hit series “Petticoat Junction,” set near the bucolic town of Hooterville. Many of the plots revolved around the misadventures of the three teenage daughters of widow Kate Bradley, played by veteran TV actress Bea Benaderet, as they tried to keep the slightly run-down Shady Rest Hotel afloat.
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The show made its debut in 1963 on CBS, with Woodell playing Bobbie Jo, the smart, studious daughter. (The trio was rounded out by Linda Kaye Henning, who portrayed tomboy Betty Jo, and Jeannine Riley, who was boy-crazy Billie Jo.)
One of the better-known episodes that featured Woodell had her falling for a traveling-through beatnik type, played by Dennis Hopper. He spews over-the-top, angry verse that insults the townspeople. Yet a smitten Bobbie Jo tells him, “I think that was one of the most exciting poems I’ve ever heard.” In the end, with her mother’s help, she realizes he’s more insane than artistic.
“The show has such a nostalgic note that it hits for so many people,” Woodell said in an interview in the mid-2000s for a DVD compilation of the series. “Even today, after so many decades, I can be doing anything, anywhere in the world, by the way, and people will remember ‘Petticoat Junction.’”
Woodell did some singing on the show — including in a Beatles parody group, the Ladybugs — with her on-screen sisters and the addition of actress Sheila Kuehl, now a Los Angeles County supervisor.
But Woodell grew tired of playing Bobbie Jo and left after two seasons of “Petticoat Junction,” which ran until April 1970.
She had some success as a singer, including touring with comedian Jack Benny and recording an album, but stardom remained out of reach.
In the early 1970s she began appearing in low-budget exploitation films that thrived on nudity and violence, long before those were amply available on cable. Perhaps the best known of those films was the 1971 women’s prison flick “The Big Doll House,” which exclaimed in its trailer: “Their bodies were caged, but not their desires!”
“I have no delusions about this movie,” Woodell said in a 1971 Chicago Tribune interview. But she didn’t break through to more mainstream fare, and in 1973 gave up acting after attending a seminar developed by the controversial Werner Erhard. His est human potential programs were in vogue at the time, and Woodell went to work for his organization. She later co-founded a business consulting firm, retiring in 2013.
In addition to her husband — they were married in 1978 — she is survived by her stepfather, Joe Saveriano.
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