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Ma and Pa Kettle were comic characters who first appeared in the 1945 novel The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald about life on a chicken farm. She based them on real-life farming neighbors in Washington statemarker, U.S.A.marker In 1947, Universal Pictures adapted it into a film starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, with Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as the Kettles. After positive audience reaction, Ma and Pa Kettle and their fifteen children became the subject a series of their own very popular comic films.


Pa (Franklin 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. Ma (Phoebe Kettle, played by Marjorie Main) is a robust country woman with a potato sack figure, raucous, more ambitious and smarter than Pa, but not by much, and can easily be fooled. She is content with her role as mother to fifteen rambunctious, mischievous children on their ramshackle farm in rural Cape Flattery, Washington State. Because she has so many children, Ma Kettle 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, pea shooters and other missiles from the rowdy and unpredictable Kettle brood.

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. 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) or being jailed after he accidentally causes race horses to eat feed laced with concrete (Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair, 1952).


Ma and Pa Kettle first appeared in supporting roles as neighbors in The Egg and I (1947), starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert as a refined city couple who move to a chicken farm. Marjorie Main, a notorious scene stealer and veteran character actress as a hardy country woman in dozens of films, was a natural for the role of Ma Kettle, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. After that success, she and Percy Kilbride starred in their own series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies, which became a box-office bonanza for Universal Pictures.

Kilbride retired after making Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki due to an automobile accident, 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:

Later revivals

The characters of 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). 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 in some episodes, including "Pa Turns Over A New Leaf" (which aired on May 21, 1952).

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" in which 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.

Legacy and continued popularity

In 1996, Betty MacDonald's family was interviewed by journalist Wolfgang Hampel, author of The Kettles' Million Dollar Egg. Betty's youngest sister Alison Bard knew the real 'Kettles' very well and related many stories about them. In 2009, this interview was released on CD/DVD by the Betty MacDonald Fan Club.


The first seven Ma & Pa Kettle films have been released on DVD, as part of Universal's Franchise Collection series, along with The Egg and I. Volume 1 also contains The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town and Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm, while Volume 2 contains 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.


  1. The Egg and I, Awards at Internet Movie Database
  2. 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.
  3. Fitzgerald, p. 69
  4. Also known as The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle

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