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Call him corny, if you must, but Frank Cady made a real contribution to America's sense of community.
Frank Cady played Sam Drucker on television shows 'Petticoat Junction' and 'Green Acres.'
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By Ed Jones
WHEN THEY talk about the career of the late Frank Cady, they'll probably use a word to which he would strongly object: corny.
Of course, you can't blame them. That's what happens when you hail from a TV town named Hooterville.
The 96-year-old Cady, who died last week at his home in Oregon, qualifies as a corn-pone icon, thanks to his decade-long stint as shopkeeper Sam Drucker on two 1960s countrified TV series, "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres." He showed up occasionally on "The Beverly Hillbillies," too.
I was a never a big fan of those shows. But Cady's contention that they were more about community than about corny jokes shouldn't be taken lightly. Indeed, his comment is just what I'd expect from the TV character Cady played that stands out the most in my memory--the kindly neighbor, Doc Williams, in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."
That's the show my family and I watched in the late 1950s and early '60s. As artificial as it might seem today, with the canned laughter and with Ricky, the little brother who became a rock star, the Nelson family offered a laid-back tribute to family and community.
From the neighborhood malt shop to the stay-at-home parents (Ozzie never seemed to have a job!), the Nelsons are a powerfully positive antidote to the sleaziness of "Mad Men"--today's TV ode to the macho, hypocritical early '60s.
And Doc, as played by Cady, was the perfect neighbor in that small-town America. He was bright and funny, and was always saying something insightful to the constantly befuddled Ozzie.
I got interested in Cady again a few years ago, when I was mindlessly surfing the Web. I happened on his biography and noted some things that surprised me.
This symbol of small-town America was a Stanford grad, a serious student of acting and, from what I could tell from interviews, an authentically nice and interesting man. He even caught the eye of Alfred Hitchcock, who cast him in "Rear Window."
He and his wife of 68 years, Shirley, who died in 2008, used to go hiking in Europe. And despite a career that caricatured him as a bit player in mindless TV shows, Cady referred to himself as the "luckiest man alive."