Beverly Hillbilly Nancy Kulp Is Now Hell-Bent for Congress

updated 11/05/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/05/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

She once was called TV's homeliest girl, possessing, one reviewer said, "the face of a shriveled balloon, the figure of a string of spaghetti and the voice of a bullfrog in mating season." For nine prime-time seasons in the 1960s and in countless reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies, she suffered as prim Miss Hathaway, the plain-Jane butt of the Clampett clan's bubbling gusher of crude jokes and homespun hee-haws.

Now running for Congress as the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania's ninth district, Nancy Kulp, 63, explains, "I think I've been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there's always someone who screams, 'Where's Jethro?' "

Campaigning against a popular 12-year incumbent, Republican "Bud" Shuster, Kulp is hoeing a tough row. While Shuster's poll gives her a scant 24 percent of the vote, her own polls give her a substantial 47 percent, and newspapers deem this one of Pennsylvania's liveliest races. Though the area is a Reagan stronghold, Kulp is a self-described "liberal conservative" who opposes gun control but favors a nuclear freeze. "I probably am behind," she concedes, "but the fat lady hasn't sung yet!"

When Kulp first announced her candidacy, local people thought that the Allegheny Mountains might become "Hollywood East," with busloads of stars hurtling in to stuff envelopes. So far only close friend Ed (Lou Grant) Asner has appeared, and his endorsement was a one-liner. He signed a restaurant guest book, "Thanks for saving me from Nancy's cooking."

Kulp has shared Asner's passion for politics since she backed Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential bid. Until recently a career of more than 600 TV appearances left no time to run for office. In addition to The Beverly Hillbillies, she was on the Bob Cummings show for five years and acted in 16 movies, among them A Star Is Born, Sabrina and The Three Faces of Eve. She acted on Broadway in the acclaimed Morning's at Seven, and has played in summer stock and dinner theater.

The daughter of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, Kulp grew up in the district she hopes to represent. (She owns a 200-year-old farmhouse near Port Royal, Pa., sharing it with two terriers.) If her ballots don't come in next week, Kulp admits, she's considering a move back to Hollywood. "If I don't go to Congress," she says, "I might go back to California"—the land of oil wells, swimmin' pools and movie stars. Still, the track record of at least some actors-turned-politicians has her hopes bubblin' like Clampett's crude.

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