Hank Patterson is best known to audiences for his portrayal of farmer Fred Ziffel on Green Acres -- for five seasons, his laconic character and the antics of his pig Arnold helped make life hopelessly confusing for series protagonist Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert). Patterson, along with his younger contemporary Arthur Hunnicutt, was one of a handful of character actors who cornered the market on portraying cantankerous old coots, usually in a rural setting, in movies and on television during the middle of the 20th century. With his deep, resonant voice, which could project even when he spoke in the softest tones, Patterson could also evoke menace and doom, an attribute that producers and directors sometimes utilized to great effect on programs like Twilight Zone. He was born Elmer Calvin Patterson in Springville, AL, in 1888, but by the 1890s his family had moved to Texas, and Patterson spent most of his boyhood in the town of Taylor. His main interest was music, and he studied in hope of a serious performing career, but was forced to enter showbusiness as a vaudeville pianist, playing with traveling shows. By the end of the 1920s, he'd made his way to California, and he entered the movie business as an actor -- despite his lack of formal training -- during the 1930s. Patterson's earliest identified screen work was an uncredited appearance in the Roy Rogers Western The Arizona Kid (1939). His first credited screen role was in the drama I Ring Doorbells, made at Producers Releasing Corporation. Patterson spent the next nine years working exclusively in Westerns, starting with Thomas Carr's The El Paso Kid, starring Sunset Carson. Among the best of the oaters that Patterson worked in were Edwin L. Marin's Abilene Town and Henry King's The Gunfighter, but most of the pictures that he did were on the low-budget side, and far less prestigious. He played a succession of blacksmiths, hotel clerks, farmers, shopkeepers, and other townsmen, usually bit roles and character parts. Beginning with Jack Arnold's Tarantula, Patterson moved into occasional modern character portrayals as well. Patterson also appeared on dozens of television series, ranging from The Abbott & Costello Show (where he played a very creepy mugger in "Lou Falls for Ruby") to Perry Mason. He was nearly as ubiquitous a figure on Twilight Zone as he was in any Western series, appearing in at least three installments, most notably as an old man in a modern setting in "Kick the Can," and as an ominous general store proprietor in "Come Wander With Me." It was the 19th century and rural settings, however, that provided his bread and butter -- he had appeared in several episodes of Gunsmoke, and in 1963 became a continuing character on the series in the role of Hank Miller, the Dodge City stableman. That same year, Patterson took on the semi-regular role of farmer Fred Ziffel in the rural comedy Petticoat Junction; and in 1965, that role was expanded into the series Green Acres -- eventually, he even portrayed Fred Ziffel in episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies as well. The association of his character with the utterly surreal (and extremely popular) porcine character of Arnold the Pig (also known as Arnold Ziffel) ensured that Patterson was one of the most visible supporting players on the series. Ironically, by the time he was doing Green Acres, Patterson was almost completely deaf, but the producers loved his portrayal so much, that they worked around this by having the dialogue coach lying on the floor out-of-shot, tapping at his leg with a yardstick when it was his cue to speak a line. Patterson passed away in 1975 of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 86. He was the great-uncle of actress Tea Leoni.
by Bruce Eder biography