There has been a resurgence of commercials for Jimmy Dean sausage on TV in Mister Boomer’s area lately. It’s strange for a boomer like Mister B to hear Jimmy Dean’s voice ten years after his death, pushing the breakfast products of the company that still bears his name. Yet for Mister B and many boomers, Jimmy Dean will always be remembered for his 1961 hit, Big Bad John, and his TV show, which ran in various incarnations from 1958 to 1975.
Jimmy Dean was a country singer before he was a TV star, with hits dating back to 1953. Dean had a radio show in the fifties, introducing future country stars like Patsy Cline, Buck Owens and Roy Clark. He moved the radio show to TV in 1957, as the first incarnation of The Jimmy Dean Show. In 1961, Big Bad John crossed over from the country to the pop charts, hitting number one on both. Dean proved he had an audience beyond the country music of the day.
After bouncing from CBS to ABC, his TV show was relaunched in 1963 for a national audience. Rural-based comedy was in vogue then, with The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry RFD, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres all commanding large viewing audiences. Dean’s laid-back delivery and down-home humor made him a hit with people like Mister Boomer’s mother, who never missed an episode.
Many boomers enjoyed the show for another reason: Rowlf, the piano-playing dog. Rowlf was Jim Henson’s first Muppet to get a regular spot on a TV show. Frank Oz and Jim Henson controlled the puppet through show routines, which included humor bits and duets with Dean. Henson was so grateful to Dean for his support that he offered him a percentage of his burgeoning Muppet company. Dean politely refused, saying he had not done anything to deserve it.
Dean often featured his friends Roy Clark and Buck Owens on his show, as well as country legends George Jones, Johnny Cash and a host of others. In addition, pop stars like The Everly Brothers and Gene Pitney, as well as comics such as Jackie Mason, Don Adams and Dick Shawn had guest appearances. Owens and Clark went on to star in their own TV show, Hee Haw (1969-71). As he had with his radio show, Dean believed in helping upstarts gain a foothold in the industry, and is credited with giving Roger Williams his start, as well. In 1964, the show hosted the first TV appearance of teenager Hank Williams, Jr., singing songs made popular by his father.
It has been written that Dean’s poor upbringing in Texas during the Depression pushed his entrepreneurial spirit to want to go further, and earn more. He landed some roles in TV shows like Daniel Boone (1967-70) and several big movies, including Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Never at ease with his acting ability, in the late 1960s Dean started The Jimmy Dean Meat Co. with his brother, in Plainview, Texas. Together, they ground meat for sausage, while his mother did the seasoning. It was a profitable business within six months, and by the 1980s, worth more than $75 million. He sold it to Sara Lee Foods in 1984, which makes hearing his voice on the commercials that much creepier.
“Sausage is a great deal like life.
You get out of it about what you put into it.”
— Jimmy Dean
How about you, boomers? Do you remember Jimmy Dean for his music, TV show, TV and movie career or his sausage?