Ma & Pa Kettle

A Life of Their Own

The Kettles were a colorful family created by Betty MacDonald in her first book, The Egg and I. Many of us grew up watching the Ma & Pa Kettle movies of the ’40s and ’50s, never realizing that these characters were loosely based on a real family! Betty’s semi-autobiographical book gave us many characters, including the Rawleigh Man, Birdie Hicks, and the fiery Mary MacGregor. But the Kettle family – with their 15 children, a fiesty and colorful Maw Kettle and her lovable borrowing husband, Paw – were the most memorable.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, a family named Bishop lived near Betty and her husband Bob. Some have said the Bishops were the model for the fictional Kettles. The Bishops had 13 children and farmed a large dairy operation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Hardworking and helpful, the Bishops shared what little they had with Bob and Betty Heskett, helped them fix their ramshackle farmhouse, and welcomed them into their home. Were the Bishops the Kettles? No. But they probably were at least the inspiration for the many humorous and touching stories retold by Betty in The Egg and I.

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