Ma and Pa Kettle

Ma and Pa Kettle are comic film characters of the successful film series of the same name, produced by Universal Studios, in the late 1940s and 1950s. They are a hillbilly couple with fifteen children whose lives are turned upside-down when they win a model home of the future in a slogan-writing contest. On the verge of getting their farm condemned, the Kettles move into the prize home that is different from their country lifestyle. After that, they are subjected to more unusual situations.

Ma and Pa Kettle
First appearanceThe Egg and I (book)
The Egg and I (film)
Created byBetty MacDonald
Portrayed byMarjorie Main (as Ma)
Percy Kilbride (as Pa)
FilmsMa and Pa Kettle
Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town
Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm
Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair
Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation
Ma and Pa Kettle at Home
Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki
The Kettles in the Ozarks
The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm

Originally based on real-life farming neighbors in Washington State, United States,[1] Ma and Pa Kettle were created by Betty MacDonald in whose 1945 best-selling novel, The Egg and I, they appeared. The success of the novel spawned the 1947 film The Egg and I starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, also co-starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle. Main was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role.[2]

After the audiences' positive reaction to the Kettles in the film, Universal Studios produced nine more films, with Marjorie Main reprising her role in all and Percy Kilbride reprising his in seven. The films grossed an estimated $35 million altogether at the box office[3] and are said to have saved Universal from bankruptcy.[3]


  • Phoebe "Ma" Kettle (played by Marjorie Main) is a robust and raucous country woman with a potato sack figure. She is more ambitious and smarter than Pa, but not by much, and can easily be fooled. (In the book she is earthier and more profane. When she was a newly emigrated Baltic teenager she married Pa under the impression that, since he owned a farm, he was a solid prospect.) Ma is content with her role as mother to fifteen rambunctious, mischievous children on their ramshackle farm in rural Cape Flattery, Washington. Because she has so many children, Ma sometimes gets their names confused. A misspelled sign "Be-ware of childrun" is posted in front of the farmhouse to warn unwanted visitors of hurled rocks, projectiles from slingshots and pea shooters, and other missiles launched by the rowdy and unpredictable Kettle brood.
  • Franklin "Pa" Kettle (played by Percy Kilbride) is a gentle, slow-speaking, slow-thinking and lazy man. His only talents appear to be avoiding work and winning contests.

In the first film of the series, Ma and Pa Kettle, the family moves into a modern home with numerous electronic gadgets that Pa has won in a tobacco slogan-writing contest.[1] As the series continued, various reasons were devised to have the family relocate to the "old place", sometimes for extended periods of time. Much of the comedy is cornball humor arising from preposterous situations, such as Pa being mistaken for a wealthy industrialist ("P.A. Kettle" in Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki, 1955)[4] or being jailed after he accidentally causes racehorses to eat feed laced with concrete (Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair, 1952).[4]

Recurring characters in the series

  • Thomas "Tom" Kettle is the eldest of the Kettle children and is portrayed by Richard Long in the first four films. Tom works hard and goes to college at Washington State University, studying Animal Husbandry. He designs an improved chicken incubator. He meets his future wife, Kim, in a train ride back to Cape Flattery, but due to work issues, the two relocate to New York City.
  • Kimberly "Kim" Kettle (née Parker) is the wife of Tom Kettle and is portrayed by Meg Randall in three films. She was the reporter for a popular Seattle magazine and came to Cape Flattery to write a series of articles on the Kettles and their new model home. Kim is very fond of the Kettles.
  • Birdie Hicks is the Kettles' aging arch-nemesis and is portrayed by Esther Dale in four films. Birdie usually rides around in either her Model T car or her horse-drawn buggy with her elderly mother, lamenting Pa's laziness and the family's lack of organization. Apparently her mother, Mrs. Hicks or Mother Hicks sympathizes with the Kettles.
  • Billy Reed is the town's efficacious salesman portrayed by Billy House in the first film (1947), and then by Emory Parnell in four films (1949–1954). Billy has a store in downtown Cape Flattery where his motto is written: "If there's anything you need, just come in and see Billy Reed." He often stops at the Kettle place to sell or to pay a visit to them.
  • Rosie Kettle is the Kettles' second-eldest daughter portrayed by Gloria Moore in one and Lori Nelson in two films. She desires to go to Sheraton College, but is unable to do so because of the family's economic instability. It is later learned that she works in Seattle. Rosie travels to Waikiki with Ma and Pa to help with cousin Rodney's pineapple enterprise.
  • Jonathan and Elizabeth Parker are Kim Kettle's parents portrayed by Ray Collins and Barbara Brown in two films. They travel from Boston to see Tom's and Kim's newborn baby in the fourth film. Elizabeth doesn't get along with the Kettles at first, but over time realizes her mistake; Jonathan enjoys being with them from the start. The Parkers invite Ma and Pa to a trip to Paris in the sixth film.
  • Geoduck and Crowbar (Oliver Blake and Teddy Hart, respectively) are Pa's Native American friends and usually act as his handymen, doing various tasks around the house under Pa's "supervision." Geoduck is the chief of their tribe.

Kettle Kids

In Ma and Pa Kettle and Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town it mentions there are 15 kids (including Thomas and Rosie above) although there is inconsistency in the names

NameThe Egg and IMa and Pa KettleMa and Pa Kettle Go to TownMa and Pa Kettle Back on the FarmMa and Pa Kettle at the FairMa and Pa Kettle on VacationMa and Pa Kettle at HomeMa and Pa Kettle at WaikikiThe Kettles in the OzarksThe Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm
Albert KettleTeddy Infuhr
Benjamin KettleTeddy InfuhrJon GardnerDonald MacDonaldJon Gardner
Betty KettleJudy Nugent
Billy KettleRobin WinansJ.P. SloaneGary Lee JacksonRichard EyerRudy LeeRichard Eyer
Danny KettleDale BeldingRonnie Rondell Jr.
(as Dannie)
Tony Epper
(as Donny)
Ronnie Rondell Jr.
(as Donnie)
Elwin KettleBrett Halsey
Eve KettleBeverly MookBeverly MookCoral HammondBeverly Mook
George KettlePaul DunnBilly ClarkGary PagettBilly Clark
Henry KettleGeorge McDonaldJackie JacksonJackie JacksonWhitey HauptJackie JacksonGeorge Arglen
Kettle BoyBilly Gray
Kettle ChildDiane Florentine
Kettle ChildDiane Graeff
Kettle ChildEugene Persson
Kettle ChildGeorge McDonald
Kettle ChildGloria Moore
Kettle ChildJudith Bryant
Kettle ChildKathleen Mackey
Kettle ChildRobert Beyers
Kettle ChildRobert Winans
Nancy KettleElana SchreinerElana SchreinerCarol NugentElana SchreinerOlive Sturgess
Rosie KettleGloria MooreLori NelsonLori Nelson
Ruthie KettleMargaret BrownMargaret Brown
(as Ruth)
Margaret BrownDonna Cregan MootsMargaret Brown
Sally KettleDonna LearyDonna LearyDonna Leary
Sara KettleDiane FlorentineJenny LinderNancy ZaneJenny Linder
Susie KettleMelinda CaseySherry JacksonPatricia MorrowBonnie Kay EddyCheryl Callaway
Teddy KettleEugene Persson
(as Ted)
Eugene PerssonMark RobertsPatrick MillerTimmy Hawkins
Willie KettleGeorge ArglenEugene PerssonGeorge ArglenGeorge Arglen

Animals on the Kettles' farm

Bossie: Bossie is the Kettles' red and white milk cow, who provides Ma, Pa, and their family of fifteen children with plenty of milk. Most of the time, it is the older Kettle boys or even Pa's Indian friends, Geoduck and Crowbar who milk her. In "Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town", Pa is seen milking Bossie while listening to the music playing on the radio.

The Chickens: The Kettles keep a flock of nearly a hundred chickens on their broken-down farm, who provide them with lots of eggs each day. Sometimes, one or two of the hens would cause mischief towards the Kettles or other characters in the movies. In "Ma and Pa Kettle At Home", Ma Kettle's prized speckled hen is seen a few times laying eggs on Mannering's head or in his bowler hat.

Pa Kettle's team: Pa Kettle's team is an old retired trotting horse named Emma, and a white donkey wearing a straw hat, who pull Pa's wagon around the county. In "Ma and Pa Kettle At The Fair", Pa bought Emma to win a horse race at the county fair.

Nick: Nick is the Kettles' prized black bull. He spends most of his time living on the Kettles' farm, which is his main home, but in "Ma and Pa Kettle At Home", he sneaks out of the farm and lumbers towards the Maddocks' farm to visit one of John Maddocks' prize cows Bessie. He is often seen wearing a derby hat on his head, similar to the same type of hat that Pa Kettle wears.

The Goats: A herd of four white Saanen goats that live on the Kettles' farm. In "Ma and Pa Kettle At Home", they used to belong to John Maddocks, but he sold them to Pa Kettle for $100. The goats spend most of their time grazing around the farm, but the largest of them, a large buck with massive curved horns, often causes everyone trouble. In "Ma and Pa Kettle At Home", he butts Ma, then Mannering, and lastly Pa after they turn their backs to him. In "Ma and Pa Kettle Back On The Farm", he starts chewing on several sticks of dynamite that Pa bought to make a new well for Ma, but Pa keeps snatching them from him.

Agnes: Agnes is the Kettles' family Bluetick Coonhound, who also lives on the farm. She is often seen wearing a sweater that Ma Kettle made for her. In "Ma and Pa Kettle At Home", she produced a litter of puppies for the Kettles and their friends at their Christmas Eve party.

Kettle farm set

Kettle Farm
'Ma and Pa Kettle' location
The set as it appears in the film Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951).

The Kettle Farm (also known as Gausman Ranch) was a movie ranch in Universal Studios where the ten installments of the Ma and Pa Kettle series was filmed.[5] The set was redressed several times to resemble a broken-down shack with dilapidating farm buildings.[6] The Kettle Farm area was demolished in 1969 to begin construction on the Gibson Amphitheatre on the site of the set.

The movie ranch appeared in other films and television series, including:


Ma and Pa Kettle first appeared in supporting roles as neighbors in The Egg and I, starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert as a refined city couple who move to a rural chicken farm. Marjorie Main, a veteran character actress, played a hardy country woman in dozens of films, and so was a natural for the role of Ma Kettle. Main was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[7] After the success of The Egg and I, she and Percy Kilbride starred in their own series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies, which became box-office bonanzas for Universal Pictures, having earned an estimated $35 million for the entire series.[3][8]

Kilbride retired after making Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki due to an automobile accident,[4] and the Pa Kettle character did not appear in The Kettles in the Ozarks. Arthur Hunnicutt played Pa's brother Sedgewick Kettle in that movie and in The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm, the last Kettle movie, Parker Fennelly played Pa Kettle.

The ten Kettle films are:

  1. The Egg and I (1947)
  2. Ma and Pa Kettle (1949) a.k.a. The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle
  3. Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950)
  4. Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951)
  5. Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952)
  6. Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953)
  7. Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954)
  8. Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki (1955)
  9. The Kettles in the Ozarks (1956)
  10. The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm (1957)

Box office rankings

At the height of the series popularity, exhibitors polled by Quigley Publishing voted Kilbride and Main among the most popular stars in the US:

  • 1951 - Marjorie Main only 15th most popular star
  • 1952 - Main and Kilbride 25th most popular
  • 1953 - Main and Kilbride 13th most popular
  • 1954 - Main and Kilbride 15th most popular
  • 1955 - Main and Kilbride 25th most popular

Later revivals

Betty MacDonald's characters Ma and Pa Kettle also appeared in television's first comedy serial, The Egg and I, which aired on CBS (September 3, 1951 – August 1, 1952).[9] Each episode was only 15 minutes long. Ma Kettle was played by Doris Rich and Pa Kettle was played by Frank Twedell. Betty Lynn (better known as Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou from The Andy Griffith Show) played Betty MacDonald in some episodes, including "Pa Turns Over A New Leaf" (which aired on May 21, 1952). The role was usually played by Pat Kirkland. Another episode "The Purloined Jacket" starred Mary Perry as Cammy, Richard Carlyle as Joe Kettle, and William A. Lee as Ed Peabody.

The 1980 satire film Loose Shoes (which also starred Bill Murray) included a sketch called "A Visit With Ma and Pa" where Ma Kettle was played by Ysabel MacCloskey and Pa Kettle was played by Walker Edmiston.

Animator Walter Lantz produced a short-lived cartoon series for Universal Pictures called "Maw and Paw," though only four cartoons were released between 1953 and 1955. The characters Maw and Paw (voiced by Grace Stafford and Dal McKennon) were based on the characters of Ma and Pa Kettle. The spellings of Maw and Paw Kettle appeared in the 1945 book The Egg and I. Another Walter Lantz cartoon "The Ostrich Egg And I" (from the Maggie & Sam series) in 1956 was a spoof of The Egg and I with Maggie voiced by Grace Stafford and Sam voiced by Daws Butler.

In The Munsters episode "Family Portrait", a magazine writer makes a reference to the Kettles when he sees the Munster home, he says: "Let's see if Ma and Pa Kettle are home," implying that the Munsters' home resembled the Kettle farmhouse.[10]

In several Warners Brothers cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s, prolific voice artist June Foray imitates Marjorie Main's voice whenever a big aggressive female character appears in the cartoon. Many boomer kids became familiar with Foray's version of Main's voice before they discovered Marjorie Main as the source of Foray's imitation.

DVD releases

The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle Volume 1 [11]

as the first part of Universal's Franchise Collection series.

  • The Egg and I
  • Ma and Pa Kettle
  • Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town
  • Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm.

The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle Volume 2 [12]

as the second part of Universal's Franchise Collection series.

  • Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair
  • Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation
  • Ma and Pa Kettle at Home
  • Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki

The Further Adventures of the Kettles [13]

as a TCM Vault Collection presented by Universal Studios.

  • The Kettles in the Ozarks
  • The Kettles in Old MacDonald's Farm

The Ma and Pa Kettle Complete Comedy Collection [14]

as a TCM Vault Collection presented by Universal Studios.

  • The Egg and I
  • Ma and Pa Kettle
  • Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town
  • Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm
  • Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair
  • Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation
  • Ma and Pa Kettle at Home
  • Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki
  • The Kettles in the Ozarks
  • The Kettles in Old MacDonald's Farm


  1. Fitzgerald, Michael G. (1977), Universal Pictures: A Panoramic History in Words, Pictures, and Filmographies, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, p. 67, ISBN 0-87000-366-6
  2. "Awards for The Egg and I". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  3. Harkins, Anthony (2005) [2003]. Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189506.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-518950-6. OCLC 656796911. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  4. Fitzgerald, p. 69
  5. Gennawey, S. (2014). Universal versus Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks' Greatest Rivalry. Unofficial Guides. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-62809-015-4. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  6. Vogel, M. (2013). Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle". McFarland. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-4766-0426-8. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  7. The Egg and I, Awards at Internet Movie Database
  8. Main and Kilbride also appeared together in the 1948 Universal film "Feudin', Fussin' And A-Fightin", costarring Donald O'Connor and Joe Besser. Many have mistaken this movie to be a Kettle film. Main played Maribel Matthews and Kilbride played Billy Caswell.
  9. McNeil, Alex (1996). Total Television. New York, NY: Penguin Books. p. 254. ISBN 0-14-024916-8.
  10. "Family Portrait" episode - The Munsters 1964, Kayro-Vue Universal Studios.
  11. TCM Shopping: The Adventures Of Ma And Pa Kettle, Vol. 1, Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  12. TCM Shopping: The Adventures Of Ma And Pa Kettle, Vol. 2, Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  13. TCM Vault Collection: The Further Adventures of the Kettle Archived 2011-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  14. TCM Vault Collection: The Ma and Pa Kettle Complete Comedy Collection, Retrieved October 6, 2011.
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