News Column

Fox series revives heartwarming classic

November 9, 2013


Nov. 09--Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert are billed as the stars, but Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride steal "The Egg and I," the 1947 comedy that is Sunday's 2p.m. offering of Friends of the Fox classic film series at the Bob Hope Theatre.

The film, based on Betty MacDonald's memoir about living on a small chicken farm on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, earned Main a best supporting actress Oscar nomination and spawned eight more films with Kilbride, seven of them in which they star as Ma and Pa Kettle.

"They are the bright and shining stars in the picture," said Tom Conner, the member of the Friends of the Fox selection committee who suggested the movie. "Fred MacMurray plays the worst husband in the whole world, dragging his wife off to this chicken ranch and not giving her any warning. She tries to get along.

"Ma and Pa Kettle blew audiences away."

MacMurray and Colbert were a popular comedy pair. This was the sixth of seven films the two made together, but Main and Kilbride upstaged them as the backwoods neighbors with 15 children.

"The thing that is so attractive about Ma and Pa Kettle are they're dirt poor, Pa is totally lazy, shiftless and Ma couldn't remember the kids' names. The house is a total wreck, but it wasn't a negative environment," Conner said. "It's such a positive environment. There's so much love generated from Ma and Pa to the kids. Everybody loves them and wanted to be part of the Kettle family."

One person who is a member of the Kettle family is a young Richard Long. The actor who would go on to play Jared Barkley in the 1960s television show "The Big Valley," plays Tom Kettle, the eldest of the 15 children.

That's not the film's only television connection. The story also was the inspiration for "Green Acres," right down to the friendly pig, which in "The Egg and I," is named Cleopatra after one of Colbert's more notable roles.

Mostly, though, "The Egg and I" is known for launching the Ma and Pa Kettle franchise, although when "The Egg and I" was released, not everyone loved the couple.

The family of Albert and Susanna Bishop, who lived near MacDonald's farm in Chimacum, Wash., claimed they had been negatively portrayed as the Kettles. Their oldest son, Edward, and his wife, Ilah Bishop, filed the first lawsuit, which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Another suit filed by members of the Bishop family was lost when MacDonald's defense proved the family had tried to capitalize on the fame of the Kettles.

"It's a fun movie," Conner said. "I think we'll get a good draw. Everyone loves that movie. It's a popular comedy, probably more popular with mainstream audiences than the Ma and Pa Kettle series."

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or


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