In 1969 Silver Dollar City thrust itself from obscurity and directly into the national spotlight by playing host to one of TV’s most iconic families: The Beverly Hillbillies. Not just one, but five episodes were filmed at Silver Dollar City as part of the 8th season of the massively popular series. SDC wasn’t just a backdrop – it’s name, characters, and real life history was used in the episodes giving the park an unimaginable amount of publicity considering it’s size and relative obscurity at the time. Silver Dollar City and the Ozarks in general got a lot of love from the show because Paul Henning, the creator of the series, was actually inspired to create the show on a Boy Scout camping trip to the area in 1962.
The five episode run took the Clampet family back to “the hills” to see the Silver Dollar City Fair (SDC being portrayed as an actual Ozark town), where Granny intends to find a suitable husband for Elly May. Elly tries to show off in the fair’s competitions, but Granny’s plans get derailed when her Ozarkan arch-rival, Elverna Bradshaw, ends up competing with her instead. Several famous Silver Dollar City citizens made appearances such as Shad Heller, Peter Engler, and Chick Allen, as well as Branson icon and country singer Roy Clark.
These episodes were not the only love SDC got from the Hillbillies, as throughout the 9-season series there are numerous references to Silver Dollar City, it’s characters, and local Branson icons such as Jim Owens. Shad Heller especially got some traction on the show, even being flown out to Hollywood after the five SDC episodes to carry on as a recurring character in several more episodes. It’s said that SDC got exposure on at least twenty episodes of the show.
The result of the SDC episodes hitting the airwaves was dramatic. Attendance rose some 16% at Silver Dollar City by the following year to reach over 900,000 visitors. That’s a respectable number for a small theme park even today, and this was long before the emphasis on roller coasters and big thrill rides. Given that Silver Dollar City had trouble finding it’s footing as an attraction during the early years, it’s possible that the show marked a turning point leading it to evolve into the massive entertainment company it has created today. Roy Clark, who was just a country singer at the time, got exposed to Branson through his appearances in these episodes leading to his eventual return and setup of the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre which also helped put Branson on the map.
DVDs of the Silver Dollar City episodes can usually be found in the Hospitality House within the park. I’m having trouble finding where you can buy DVDs online of the later seasons, so if you find a source let us know!