Monday, September 26, 2016

The Duke and The Clampetts: Politically Incorrect Moments in Classic TV History

“The Indians are Coming”
The Beverly Hillbillies

In the course of researching a magazine article I am writing on John Wayne, I was reminded of a 1967 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies in which Mr. Wayne makes a cameo appearance.

As I watched, my internal commentary kept repeating the same sentence: you couldn’t get away with that anymore. This nearly 50 year-old episode of a network situation comedy would now be deemed terribly offensive. 

You know what apparently isn’t offensive? Game of Thrones, the series that just won the Emmy for Best Drama. That’s the show that has featured, among other things, multiple rapes and graphic beheadings, a woman paraded naked through the streets and pelted with garbage, a child strapped to a stake and set on fire, and a brother and sister spending a special kind of quality time with each other that siblings don’t usually share.

Isn’t it wonderful living in such enlightened times?

But I digress.

Co-written by series creator Paul Henning, “The Indians are Coming” opens with the Clampetts learning about a minor border issue between their oil land and the adjoining Crowfeet Indian reservation. To the Indians, it’s a simple matter easily settled, but to Granny this can only mean one thing – the Crowfeet are on the warpath: “Except for John Wayne, nobody knows injuns like me!”

Down at the bank, Mr. Drysdale is also roused by the news: 

“They hit a gusher there! Send a message to my red brothers – Milburn Drysdale speak with straight tongue…send all black wampum my bank, we put in solid steel teepee.”

Miss Jane: “No…there’s been a boundary dispute and the Indians are claiming part of the Clampett oil land.”

Drysdale: “Why those dirty, thieving savages!”

The tribal representatives, Chief Running Wolf and his son, are cultured 20th century men (Chief Running Wolf graduated from Oxford), who realize the minor boundary issue could have been handled by correspondence, but they wanted to see California.

When they arrive at the bank they find Drysdale in full buckskins and feathered headdress, spouting every Indian cliché from every western movie. The Chief and his son play along, letting him embarrass himself further.  

By now, Granny has heard that the Crowfeet are coming to Beverly Hills, and tries to alert the community: “The injuns are coming! Put your cars in a circle!”

While Jed has a cordial meeting with Chief Running Wolf, Mr. Drysdale finds Granny preparing for a full-scale attack, and ready to return home to fight there if she can’t fight the enemy in Beverly Hills. To avoid the Clampetts leaving and taking their deposits with them, he calls a movie studio and orders up a staged Indian attack (after removing all the real ammunition from Granny’s gun).

Once the mock siege is turned away Granny, none the wiser, sits quietly in her rocker, and that’s when John Wayne appears: "I understand you were looking for me." Granny slowly stands and asks, "Where was ya when I need ya, John?" 

Is “The Indians are Coming” offensive? To those with a Pavlovian response to racial slurs regardless of context, absolutely. Expressions like “red savages,” “redskins” and “red devils” are liberally sprinkled throughout the episode.

But here’s the thing: those expressions are used only by characters that are unsophisticated and self-serving. As a result, they do not degrade the Native-Americans, portrayed as sophisticated, kind and tolerant, but instead reveal the callowness of those who use them.

When Jethro enters a hotel room where the two Native-American representatives are dressed in business suits and says, “Wrong room, Uncle Jed, we’re lookin’ for a couple of ignorant Indians,” it’s funny because Jethro, as stupid a character as TV has every introduced, is calling someone else ignorant while personifying that description.

And when Mr. Drysdale, moved by consuming greed, tries to placate Chief Running Wolf with colorful beads and trinkets, the scene works because of the over-the-top silliness of his insensitivity, as well as the bemused response it receives from its recipients. 

Of course, none of this will matter to those hell-bent on eradicating any words, symbols or subjects perceived to be hostile to any sub-section of the human race. 

Will you laugh? I know I did. It’s one of the funniest sitcom episodes I’ve watched in recent months. Irene Ryan is a force of nature playing Granny’s gung ho fighting spirit. But humor is subjective, and I’m sure there are those who find this type of comedy a relic of a previous age that is best forgotten. 

The entire unedited episode is on YouTube - let me know what you think. 


  1. Mr. Hofstede, have you seen any episodes of Buddy Ebsen's detective series "Barnaby Jones" in recent years?

  2. I'd rather watch tv back in 1967 than today any day. As you pointed out, the Natives look smarter than anyone else on this show except maybe Jed & Miss Jane.