The Real McCoys revolves around the lives of a family from the Appalachian Mountains who originally hailed from fictional Smokey Corners, West Virginia. The McCoys moved to California and became dirt farmers. The family consisted of Grandpa Amos McCoy (Walter Brennan); his grandson Luke (Richard Crenna), Luke’s new bride Kate (Kathy Nolan), Luke’s teenage sister Tallahassie “Hassie” (Lydia Reed), and his 11-year-old brother Little Luke (Michael Winkelman). The double-naming of the brothers was explained in the first episode by the elder Luke: Because their parents were so excited over the birth of the younger boy, “they forgot all about me!” Only Crenna was in every episode.
The McCoys’ farm had previously been owned by an uncle, Ben McCoy, who died. The former West Virginians joined the Grange farm association and acquired a Mexican farm hand named Pepino Garcia, played by the Puerto Rican-born Tony Martinez. In the episode which aired on January 8, 1962, Pepino becomes an American citizen and takes the surname “McCoy”. The McMichaels, a brother and sister combination played by Andy Clyde and Madge Blake in twenty-nine and twenty-one episodes, respectively, lived on the hill not far from the McCoys. Amos McCoy and George McMichael, both rather devious individuals, would sometimes quarrel, particularly over their games of checkers and horseshoes. Kate was friendly with the much older Flora McMichael, George’s sister, and became involved with life in the community. Though still in her twenties, Kate served as a mother figure for Luke’s younger siblings, Hassie and Little Luke, and one episode shows her bewilderment in trying to entice the children to take responsibility for their school studies. Many episodes have a moral theme consistent with the conservative views of Walter Brennan, such as two 1957 segments entitled “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” with Joseph Kearns, later of Dennis the Menace, and “Gambling Is a Sin,” in which Amos allows a casino to advertise on McCoy property before the ethics of the matter is brought to his attention. Other such episodes are “Go Fight City Hall”, “The Taxman Cometh,” “You Can’t Always Be a Hero”, “You Never Get Too Old,” “Where There’s a Will”, “Beware a Smart Woman”, “Money in the Bank”, “How to Win Friends,” “You’re As Young As You Feel”, “Honesty Is the Best Policy”, and “Never a Lender Be”.
One of the most remembered episodes, “The New Well” (October 30, 1958), pits science against folklore when Grandpa’s divining rod proves superior to the paid recommendation of a geologist, played by Joe Flynn, in locating a new water source on the farm. In the 1958 episode “It Pays to Be Poor”, John Dehner plays Roger Brewster, a hard-edged New York City businessman determined to buy the McCoy farm to turn it into a motel, but spurred by his kindly wife (Dorothy Green), he soon develops an unexpected taste for the basic values of rural living.
In “Little Luke’s Education” (February 6, 1958), Amos confronts bigotry among the local children against hillbilly peoples such as the McCoys. In “Grampa’s Private War” (February 12, 1959), Amos gets so carried away with patriotic fervor that he claims to have fought under Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish–American War, but Walter Brennan was four years old when that war was fought in 1898. Then Amos is invited to speak at a Veterans Day ceremony.
Jon Lormer was cast seven times on The Real McCoys in 1959 and 1960, six as the character Sam Watkins. Joan Blondell appeared three times near the end of the series as Aunt Win. Marjorie Bennett was cast three times as Amanda Comstock. Pat Buttram and Howard McNear also appeared three times; they were subsequently cast as Eustace Haney on CBS’s Green Acres and as Floyd the Barber on CBS’s The Andy Griffith Show. Olin Howland and Willard Waterman appeared five times each as Charley Perkins and Mac Maginnis, respectively.
Early in the run of the series, Charles Lane, who often appeared in a character role on I Love Lucy, was cast twice as Harry Poulson, a fast-talking egg salesman; Hassie McCoy has an interest in Harry’s son. In 1963, Jack Oakie appeared three times in the role of Uncle Rightly. Dick Elliott was cast twice as Doc Thornton, and Lurene Tuttle appeared twice as Gladys Purvis, the widowed mother of series character Kate McCoy, with Jay Novello in one of those appearances as Gladys’ intended second husband, a retired photographer from Fresno, California.
Malcolm Cassell appeared several times as Hassie McCoy’s boyfriend, Tommy. Edward Everett Horton played J. Luther Medwick, the grandfather of Hassie’s other boyfriend, Jerry; Medwick and Amos soon clash. Verna Felton, a member of the December Bride cast, appeared once as Cousin Naomi Vesper. Jesse White, known as the Maytag repairman in the television commercial and subsequently a cast member of CBS’s The Ann Sothern Show, portrayed a used car salesman named “San Fernando Harry” who clashes with Amos McCoy in “The New Car” (October 2, 1958). On June 1, 1961, Amos, Luke, and Kate return to West Virginia for the 100th birthday gathering of “Grandmother McCoy”, played by Jane Darwell. In one episode, Lee Van Cleef played a sentry; in another Tom Skerritt appeared as a letter carrier.
The episode “The Tycoon” (August 30, 1960) four years later coincidentally became the title of Brennan’s next ABC sitcom, The Tycoon, with his co-star Van Williams. Barbara Stanwyck made a cameo appearance in the 1959 episode, “The McCoys Go To Hollywood”, which also features Dorothy Provine, and a glimpse of the Desilu Studios, where the series was filmed. In 1961, Fay Wray is featured in the episode “Theatre in the Barn.” A star of many Hollywood films, including the 1933 adventure-horror classic King Kong, Wray in this episode appears as herself, who volunteers to direct a local amateur production to raise money for the Grange. Just before The Real McCoys ended its run on ABC, Nolan left the series in a contract dispute and was written out of the remaining scripts: her character of Kate apparently died. Hassie left home to attend college, and Little Luke joined the United States Army. She appeared only in the first episode of the final season—he never did. Amos McCoy did not appear in many episodes. Luke hence supposedly was a widower, and many of the stories revolved around Grandpa trying to find him a new wife. This nearly succeeded when Luke met Louise Howard, portrayed by Janet De Gore, a widow with a young son, Greg, played by Butch Patrick, later of CBS’s, The Munsters.