Did You Know? Nancy Kulp

Nearly everyone is familiar with the celebrated Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Los Angeles. Populated with seemingly countless stars imprinted in the sidewalk representing the famous, and sometimes infamous, those sidewalks are a testament to celebrity. Harrisburg doesn’t have a walk of fame for celebrities who trace their origins to the Capital City, but there are candidates who have performed on stage and screen that would qualify – like Nancy Kulp.

Kulp, who is best remembered as Miss Jane Hathaway on the popular CBS television series The Beverly Hillbillies, curiously does not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, despite the fact that she was an Emmy-Award nominee and an iconic character rooted in the series that lasted for nine years (1962-1971). As the love-starved, bird-watching perennial spinster with the cultivated flute-like voice, she was the perfect foil to the newly rich Clampett clan and their shenanigans in Beverly Hills.

She, like many other actors and actresses, lives on in character in the public’s memory. Frozen in time, she exists in reruns of a television show that provides the fodder for programming on the now myriad channels available for viewing.

Despite the fact that The Beverly Hillbillies ended production 45 years ago, Nancy Kulp remains suspended in time, forever in her 40s, acting in a role that belies her real accomplishments as an actress. And, she’s not alone in the indeterminate state created by the continual loop of a rerun.

Many actors live on, despite their passing from this mortal coil, in syndicated television shows like F Troop and Gilligan’s Island. Some actors have managed to bridge the gap, like William Shatner. He is still appearing on rerun episodes of Star Trek a half-century since its inception and as a considerably older star on television and in commercials. Shatner, who is 85, most recently appeared on Better Late Than Never on NBC television with Henry Winkler, who has also managed to bridge the gap. Winkler’s iconic role as “The Fonz” began in 1974 and has existed in reruns ever since.

Nancy Kulp, born in Harrisburg on August 28, 1921, was the daughter of a salesman and a school teacher who moved to Mifflintown as a child and later to Florida sometime before 1935. In 1943, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Florida State University and then pursued a master’s in English and French at the University of Miami. She volunteered for the Navy in 1944, leaving the service in 1946.

In 1951, she married Charles Dacus and moved to Hollywood to work in a studio-publicity department. Legendary, Academy-Award-winning director George Cukor convinced Kulp that her efforts would be better served in front of the camera, and her career as a character actress was assured.

She appeared in such notable films as Shane with Alan Ladd and Jack Palance (another Pennsylvania actor), Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn and A Star is Born with Judy Garland. She moved to the then-new medium of television in 1955, joining the cast of The Bob Cummings Show as the pith-helmeted, bird-watching Pamela Livingstone – perhaps the precursor to Miss Jane Hathaway. She alternated between television and film in the 1950s and 1960s before becoming imbued with the character for which she is best remembered.

She worked sporadically in television in the 1970s and 1980s, even appearing on yet another staple of rerun television, Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx. But, it was in 1984 that she shifted gears and turned her attention to politics. She re-established residence in Pennsylvania in a country home near Mifflintown.

After working with the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee on a variety of projects, she ran unopposed as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District. She was 62 years old at the time and, despite her degree of public recognition, she was the underdog, running against the incumbent Republican, Bud Shuster.

She received show-business support from her good friend Ed Asner in her campaign, but it was another show-business connection who doomed her attempt to unseat Shuster. Her Beverly Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen (who does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) volunteered to side with Shuster, doing a commercial in which he called Kulp “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. She lost the election by a significant margin and never ran for public office again.

After her defeat, she accepted a position as artist-in-residence at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., teaching film and drama. The articulate and accomplished actress and political advocate died of cancer at the home of a friend in Palm Desert, Calif. on February 3, 1991 and is buried at Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery in Mifflintown, where her headstone even includes the words “Miss Jane Hathaway.”

Pennsylvania has “walks of fame” located throughout the Commonwealth. A notable one, the Avenue of the Arts of the Philadelphia Music Alliance, is located in, well, Philadelphia. There are others located in West Chester, Valley Forge and Pittsburgh. There’s even the Pennsylvania Guernsey Breeders Association Walk of Fame if one is so inclined but none in the Capital City.

Looking at the Hollywood iteration of stars, and that walk of fame reveals the presence of Helen Twelvetrees, a popular actress in the 1930s who, despite the fact that she wasn’t originally from the Harrisburg area, did commit suicide here in 1958.
Oddly enough, Harrisburg has produced a number of luminaries in the entertainment industry. Bobby Troup (1918-1999), musician and writer of the popular standard Get Your Kicks on Route 66 was a superb jazz pianist, singer, songwriter and actor (also frozen in time as Dr. Joe Early in reruns of the 1970s television series Emergency), hailed from Harrisburg. No slouch in the educational arena, Troup graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics.
As a matter of fact, the popular entertainment industry database IMDB lists no fewer than 132 individuals who call Harrisburg their birthplace. A sampling of those notables includes actor Richard Sanders (who played the hapless Les Nessman on the television series WKRP in Cincinnati), Newt Gingrich (who generally plays himself) and the gifted film and television producer Carmen Finestra, who still maintains a home in the Harrisburg area.

Fashioning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame isn’t just a matter of grinding out a brass pentagram and providing some wet concrete for a name and some handprints. The cost for physical placement in the sidewalk on Hollywood and Vine isn’t cheap. The fee is $30,000. It would seem that a similar arrangement might benefit not only those individuals in the arts from this city who deserve the recognition that their life’s work deserves, but the city as well, both culturally and financially.
There’s a lot of sidewalk around Market Square.