You have to be of a certain age to remember Hee Haw. It’s not a reference you can throw into casual conversation when there’s a variety of ages present. The collection of country performers and sketches about hicks aired from 1969-1992. In his autobiography, Buck Owens called it a “cartoon donkey” and admitted to humiliating himself for several weeks a year on the show, strictly for the paycheque. Corny isn’t a strong enough word to describe Hee Haw but it was much-loved anyway.
On my first trip to Nashville (on a CKNX listener bus tour in the late 1980s with the wonderful Lissa Biskupski-now-Fraser-Kerr) I had the opportunity to visit pieces of the TV show’s classic set. The sight of the show’s famous cornfield made me slightly giddy. (This photo also marks what is arguably the lowest low in the many ways I’ve tortured my hair. It was permed AND I insisted on curling it with a hot iron every morning! What was I thinking??!!)
In the show, various guest stars, regulars and of course, banjo whiz Stringbean as the scarecrow, would pop up in the cornfield to lob one-liners. In 1973, poor Stringbean (David Akeman) and his wife were killed by two cousins who ambushed them as they returned to their rural Tennessee home from the Grand Ole Opry, believing the TV star had lots of cash. All they found was a chainsaw and a few guns.Two decades later, a subsequent owner of the home found $23,000 in ruined bills stashed behind the brick of the fireplace. After Stringbean’s death, the Hee Haw corn was retired as a humour prop and sat as a memorial to him.
Hee Haw had its heyday, or should I say hay-day, with twenty years in syndication. In 2015, producers of a musical based on the show were eyeing Broadway but it doesn’t appear to have played anywhere but Dallas for a short run. It starred Justin Guarini, the guy who lost the first American Idol title to Kelly Clarkson. Without a fan base to keep their memories alive, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Junior Samples and Stringbean appear lost in the annals of TV history.