Hank Patterson was a talented and versatile actor and musician who appeared in many movies and TV shows, most notably as Hank Miller on Gunsmoke and Fred Ziffel on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. He had a long and successful career that spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s, but sadly, he passed away in 1975 of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 86. In this article, we will explore his life, his achievements, and his cause of death.
Early Life and Musical Career
Hank Patterson was born as Elmer Calvin Patterson on October 9, 1888, in Springville, Alabama. He was one of seven children of Green Davis Patterson, an insurance agent, and Mary Isabell “Mollie” Newton Patterson. By the 1890s, his family had moved to Taylor, Texas, where he spent most of his boyhood and attended school through eighth grade.
Patterson had a passion for music and intended to be a serious pianist, but he ended up becoming a vaudeville piano player instead. He played with traveling shows and worked his way to California by the end of the 1920s. He entered the movie business as an actor during the 1930s, without any formal training.
Movie and TV Roles
Patterson found plenty of movie work, mainly playing cantankerous types and blacksmiths, hotel clerks, farmers, shopkeepers, and other townsmen, usually in bit roles and character parts. He appeared in many Republic Pictures Westerns, and then in popular TV Westerns such as The Cisco Kid, The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, and Annie Oakley. He also had small cameo appearances in a number of sci-fi movies by Bert I. Gordon, such as Beginning of the End, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People, and Earth vs. The Spider.
Patterson played recurring or different roles in adult/family TV Westerns, including the role of Hank Miller in 33 episodes of Gunsmoke from 1962 to 1973, on Have Gun-Will Travel, Death Valley Days, Tales of Wells Fargo, Maverick, Cheyenne, Wagon Train, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, The Rifleman, Bonanza, and many others. He also made additional TV appearances in shows like The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Burke’s Law, The Untouchables, Judd for the Defense, My Three Sons, The Mod Squad, Love, American Style, and Highway Patrol.
Green Acres and Petticoat Junction
In 1963, Patterson first appeared in what became a recurring role as farmer Fred Ziffel on the popular CBS rural comedy Petticoat Junction. He played the same character on two other series, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. Fred Ziffel was a quirky and eccentric farmer who lived with his wife Doris and their pet pig Arnold, who they treated as their son. Arnold was a very intelligent pig who could do many human-like things, such as watching TV, playing the piano, and painting. Fred and Arnold often made life hopelessly confusing for Oliver Wendell Douglas, the protagonist of Green Acres, who was a lawyer-turned-farmer.
Patterson was in his late 70s and almost completely deaf when he was doing Green Acres, but the producers loved his portrayal so much that they worked around his hearing impairment by having the dialogue coach lying on the floor, out-of-shot, tapping Hank’s leg with a yardstick as a cue to speak his line. Patterson was a fan favorite and a comic relief on the show, which ran for six seasons from 1965 to 1971.
Death and Legacy
Patterson died on August 23, 1975, in Woodland Hills, California, of bronchial pneumonia, according to Wikipedia. He was 86 years old and had been married to Daisy Marguerite Sheeler since 1915. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills. He was survived by his wife and his niece or nephew, Téa Leoni, who is a famous actress.
Patterson was a talented and versatile actor and musician who entertained millions of people with his memorable roles and performances. He was known for playing two recurring characters on three television series, but he also had a rich and diverse career that spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s. He was a beloved and respected figure in the entertainment industry and left behind a legacy of laughter and joy. He died of pneumonia, a common and serious lung infection that can affect anyone, especially the elderly. He will always be remembered as Hank Miller, Fred Ziffel, and many other characters that he brought to life on the screen.