Gunilla Hutton is a Swedish-born American actor and singer. The TV actor is best known for portraying ‘Billie Jo Bradley,’ the dumb blonde in 'Petticoat Junction,' which was a popular black-and-white era character. Gunilla was the second actor to play the character. Apart from the series, her second major association with any TV production was with the country music TV variety show 'Hee Haw.' Additionally, Gunilla has appeared in a number of other game and variety shows. Some of her notable TV credits are 'Perry Mason,' 'Match Game,' 'The Love Boat,' 'Fantasy Island,' 'Murder Can Hurt You,' and 'Family Feud.' Apart from acting, Gunilla has showcased her singing talent with her singles. Gunilla has gained huge media attention for being romantically involved with the late Nat King Cole, a senior jazz pianist and vocalist. Their relationship, which started in early 1964, was not approved by Nat’s wife. The singer, too, was not ready to leave his wife for Gunilla. They eventually broke up after Nat was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Gunilla then got married to an air force pilot and had three children.
Childhood & Early Life
Gunilla was born Gunilla Wiklund, on May 15, 1944, in Gothenburg, the second-largest city of Sweden. She later moved to the US, where she attended 'Arlington Heights High School' in Fort Worth, Texas.
Since a tender age, Gunilla displayed a keen interest in acting. She was majorly inclined to the world of theater and even participated in several school plays and shows. Following her graduation, Gunilla began her career, both as a singer and an actor.
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Gunilla made her acting debut with the black-and-white 'CBS' sitcom 'Petticoat Junction.' She essayed the role of the blonde daughter of ‘Kate Bradley,’ ‘Billie Jo Bradley,’ for 34 episodes, from 1965 to 1966. Gunilla took over the role from Jeannine Riley. After Gunilla ended her stint on the show, her role was played by Meredith MacRae. Meredith appeared on the show from 1966 until the end of the show in 1970.
Toward the end of her stint in 'Petticoat Junction,' Gunilla appeared in a 1965 episode of the mystery crime-drama series 'Perry Mason.' Her next significant TV project was the 'CBS' variety country music show 'Hee Haw.' Gunilla was a regular cast member (238 episodes, from 1969 to 1992) on the show, which featured the fictional rural Kornfield Kounty. The series was later aired on 'TNN' and finally on 'RFD-TV.'
Meanwhile, Gunilla appeared in a few more game and variety shows. She appeared as a panelist on the ‘NBC’ panel game show 'Match Game' (5 episodes in 1974) and the 'CBS' (later 'ABC') game show 'Password.' In 1979, she played ‘Nora Hayman’ in two episodes of the ‘ABC’ comedy/drama series 'The Love Boat,' which was majorly shot on the cruise ship 'S.S. Pacific Princess.' The following year, Gunilla was seen as ‘Raquel’ in the comedy TV movie 'Murder Can Hurt You.' She appeared as ‘Priscilla’ in an episode of the 'ABC' series 'Fantasy Island' and as ‘Lady Godiva’ in another episode of the same series. In 1983, she appeared in three episodes of the ‘ABC’ (later ‘CBS’ and in syndication) game show 'Family Feud.'
In addition to her acting projects, Gunilla simultaneously continued her stint as a singer. However, her career in the music industry was short-lived. In 1972, she released her debut single, 'Greatest Story Ever Told'/'You Can Say the Prettiest Things Sometimes,' under 'Dial Records.' In the subsequent years, she released 'Chowchilla Dust'/'We've Got Old Fashioned Love for ‘Green Mountain,' 'You're Gonna Get Loved'/'See the Lady Cryin' for 'ABC/Dot.' Her final release was 'Cody'/'The End of Our Love Song' for ‘ABC/Dot’ in 1975.
In 2007, Gunilla and her cast of ‘Hee Haw’ were honored with the 'TV Land Entertainer’s Award.' Her profile was included in the 2016 book 'X Child Stars: Where Are They Now?,' authored by Kathy Garver and Fred Ascher. In 2015, Gunilla joined the 'Petticoat Junction' cast, which included Linda Kaye Henning and Lori Saunders, for a promotional 'MeTV' commercial.
Family & Personal Life
Along with being an actor, Gunilla, in her peak days, was considered an equally talented singer. It was through singing that she met the late jazz pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole. Eventually, Gunilla began accompanying Nat to his tours, and during one such tour, she caught his attention. Nat was smitten by Gunilla’s beauty and fell in love with her.
Gunilla, too, later developed feelings for Nat, and the two eventually began a passionate affair. Their relationship soon became fodder for media gossip but for all the wrong reasons. Nat was then married to singer Marian Hawkins Ellington and was 25 years senior to Gunilla. She was referred to as Nat’s mistress. Their affair is mentioned in the autobiography of Nat’s daughter, Natalie Cole.
Gunilla and Nat’s relationship took a tumultuous turn when the latter was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was hospitalized after he collapsed while performing at the 'Sands Hotel and Casino' in Las Vegas. Later, Nat sent $5,000 to Gunilla. She later called Maria to persuade her to divorce Nat. Maria confronted Nat and asked him to end his relationship with Gunilla instead. Nat, who reconciled with his wife during his last days, agreed to do what Maria had asked him to. Gunilla did not even attend Nat’s funeral and memorial ceremony.
After breaking up with Nat, Gunilla married ‘US Air Force’ pilot Allan Freeman. According to sources, the two got married in 1970 (5 years after Nat’s death). However, the marriage ended in 2014. From Allan, Gunilla has a daughter, Amber Vanderbilt, and two sons, Amber Erik and Christian Freeman. Amber is married to screenwriter James Vanderbilt.