Buddy Ebsen

Infobox actor
bgcolour = Silver
name = Buddy Ebsen

imagesize = 200px
caption = Buddy Ebsen as "Jed Clampett" on "The Beverly Hillbillies"
birthname = Christian Rudolph Ebsen, Jr.
birthdate = birth date|1908|4|2|mf=y
location = Belleville, Illinois, USA
deathdate = death date and age|2003|7|6|1908|4|2|mf=y
deathplace = Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Torrance, California, USA
height = 6-foot 3½ inches
website = http://www.buddyebsen.com/
spouse = Dorothy Knott
1985 – 6 July 2003) (his death) 1 child Nancy Wolcott (1944 – 1985) 5 children Ruth Cambridge (1936 – 194?) (divorced) 2 daughters

Buddy Ebsen (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was a versatile American character actor and dancer. A performer for seven decades, he is best remembered for his starring role as Jed Clampett in the popular 1960s television series, "The Beverly Hillbillies".

Early years

He was born Christian Rudolph Ebsen, Jr., in Belleville, Illinois. His father, Christian Rudolph Ebsen, Sr., was Danish and his mother, Frances, was Latvian. He was raised in Belleville until age 10, when his family moved to Palm Beach County, Florida. After a brief stay there, Ebsen and his family, in 1920, relocated to Orlando, Florida. Ebsen and his sisters learned to dance at the dance studio his father operated in Orlando.

He graduated from Orlando High School in 1926. Initially interested in a medical career, Ebsen attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida from 1926 to 1927 and then Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida from 1927 to 1928. Family financial problems caused by the collapse of the Florida land boom forced him to leave college for good at age 20.

Professional career

Ebsen left Orlando in the summer of 1928 to try his luck as a dancer. When he arrived in New York, he had $26.75 in his pocket. He and his sister Vilma Ebsen formed an act and performed in supper clubs and in vaudeville — they were known as "The Baby Astaires". On Broadway they appeared as members of the chorus in "Whoopee", "Flying Colors" and the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1934". A rave review from Walter Winchell, who saw them perform in Atlantic City, gave them a boost and led to a booking at the Palace Theatre, the pinnacle of the vaudeville world.

MGM signing

In 1935, the Ebsens were approached by MGM for a screen test, and signed a two-year contract with a two-year option, with their salary to be $1,500 a week each. They moved to Hollywood, and made their film debut in "Broadway Melody of 1936". This was to be Vilma's first and only film — a contract problem prevented her from making any others, and she soon retired from show business — but Buddy appeared in numerous screen musicals including "Born to Dance" and "Captain January" (in which he danced with Shirley Temple), "Broadway Melody of 1938" (with a young Judy Garland as his dance partner) and "The Girl of the Golden West". He partnered with Eleanor Powell and Frances Langford, among others, and also danced solo.

Ebsen was noted for his unusual, almost surreal dancing and singing style (see, for example, his contribution to the "Swingin' the Jinx Away" finale of "Born to Dance"), which may be a reason that Walt Disney chose Ebsen to be filmed dancing in front of a grid as an aid to animating Mickey Mouse's dancing in Disney's Silly Symphonies.

"The Wizard of Oz"

When he turned down Louis B. Mayer's offer of an exclusive contract with MGM, he was warned by Mayer that he would never get a job in Hollywood again. However, he was cast in the role of the Scarecrow in the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz". He then swapped roles with Ray Bolger, who was to play the Tin Man. Ebsen recorded all his songs, went through all the rehearsals, and started filming. Unfortunately, he was allergic to his powdered aluminum makeup and it badly irritated Ebsen's skin. Also, because the aluminum was in powdered form, it escaped into the air and coated his lungs when he breathed it in. This caused a near-fatal illness and a professional and personal disaster for Ebsen.

In an interview included on the 2005 DVD release, Ebsen recalled that the studio heads did not believe he was sick until someone tried to order Ebsen back to the set and was intercepted by an angry nurse. Ebsen was replaced by Jack Haley, with the makeup quietly changed to a paste. As noted in a documentary also on the 2005 DVD, MGM did not publicize the reason for Ebsen's departure; even Haley was not told until later. Although Haley re-recorded most of Ebsen's vocals, Ebsen's midwestern voice, with the enunciated "r" in the word "wizard", can still be heard on the soundtrack during a couple of the reprises of "We're Off to See the Wizard". Footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man was included as an extra with the U.S. 50th anniversary video release of the film. Until his dying day, Ebsen complained of lung issues from his involvement in "that damned movie." [Cox, Stephen (1988, rev. 2003). "The Beverly Hillbillies: A Fortieth Anniversary Wing Ding". Cumberland House Publishing; Rev Exp edition. ISBN 1581823029.] Ironically, Ebsen outlived all of the major cast members of "The Wizard of Oz".

World War II

After recovering from the illness, he became embroiled in a contract dispute with MGM that left him with long periods of idle time. He took up sailing, eventually becoming so proficient in seamanship that he taught the subject to U.S. Navy officer candidates. In 1941, he applied for a commission in the Navy, but was turned down. He applied for a Coast Guard commission, was accepted, and promptly given the rank of lieutenant, junior grade. This was one step up from the grade of ensign, which is the usual rank given newly-appointed seagoing officers. He served on the Coast Guard-manned navy frigate USS "Pocatello", which recorded weather at its “weather station” approximately 1,500 miles west of Seattle. These patrols consisted of thirty days at sea, followed by ten days in port at Seattle. He was honorably discharged as a lieutenant in 1946.

Return to acting

Ebsen made his television debut on an episode of "The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre" in 1949. This led to other TV appearances, in: "Stars over Hollywood", "Gruen Guild Playhouse", four episodes of "Broadway Television Theatre", "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars", "Corky and White Shadow", "Studio 57", "Screen Directors Playhouse", two episodes of "Climax!", "Playhouse 90", "Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse", "Johnny Ringo", two episodes of "Bonanza", three episodes of "Maverick", "77 Sunset Strip", among many others. He received wide television exposure playing the role of George Russell, sidekick to Davy Crockett, in the "Disneyland" television series in the 1950s.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Throughout the 1950s, Ebsen was a steady performer in many films, particularly Westerns. Ebsen received critical acclaim for his breakthrough role of Doc Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961. He brought empathy and pathos to his fatherly portrayal of the rural veterinarian deserted by his young wife Holly, played by Audrey Hepburn. This role brought him to the attention of the casting director of "The Beverly Hillbillies."

"The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962-1971)

Ebsen finally became truly famous with "The Beverly Hillbillies", starring as Jed Clampett. Although the 1962 series was scorned by critics, the show was a massive hit, attracting as many as sixty million viewers on CBS between 1962 and 1971. Although Irene Ryan received the most critical notice, earning two Emmy nominations, and Donna Douglas received the most fan mail and media publicity, Ebsen was the star of the ensemble cast. The series was still earning good ratings when it was cancelled by CBS because programmers began shunning shows that attracted a rural audience. One episode, "The Giant Jack Rabbit", was the highest-rated half-hour on television to that time and remains the most-watched half-hour sitcom episode. A decade after cancellation, Ebsen reprised his role in the 1981 TV movie "Return of The Beverly Hillbillies".

1940s movie actress Irene Ryan starred as Jed's mother-in-law, Daisy Moses, also known as Granny (despite being only six years Ebsen's senior). Max Baer Jr. as Jed's young nephew, Jethro Bodine, and Donna Douglas, as Jed's only daughter, Elly May Clampett, rounded out the main cast. Douglas commented on behind-the-scenes political disagreements between Ebsen and Nancy Kulp, who played bank employee Jane Hathaway, "They had a different view, so they had some heated discussions about that. They would go at it for weeks." In 1984, Kulp unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Pennsylvania. To her dismay, Hillbillies co-star Buddy Ebsen supported her Republican opponent, incumbent Bud Shuster. Ebsen went so far as to tape an ad for Shuster, labeling Kulp as "too liberal." Ebsen claimed she was exploiting her celebrity status and didn't know the issues. Shuster defeated Kulp with 67% of the vote.

"Barnaby Jones" (1973-1980)

Ebsen returned to television in early 1973 as the title character of "Barnaby Jones", which proved to be his second long-running TV series of his long career. Barnaby Jones was a milk-drinking detective who came out of retirement. Critics and CBS executives ridiculed the age of the show's audience, but it lasted 8 1/2 seasons, and 178 episodes. When it was finally pulled off the air, it was one of the last surviving 1970s police dramas. Lee Meriwether, 1955 Miss America, played Barnaby's widowed daughter-in-law, Betty Jones. Ebsen resurfaced as Barnaby Jones on a 1975 episode of "Cannon".

Other television credits

His last regular television series was "Matt Houston" on ABC, starring Lee Horsley. Ebsen played Matt's uncle, Roy Houston, during the show's third season in 1984-1985.

He also narrated the documentary series "Disney Family Album" during the 1980s on the Disney Channel. He made his final guest-starring appearance in 1994 on an episode of the short-lived series, "Burke's Law".

Ebsen narrated Steven Kellogg's "Paul Bunyan" on the PBS series "Reading Rainbow" on July 1 1985 in Maine.

Later years

Although generally retired from acting as he entered his 80s, he had a cameo in the 1993 film version of "The Beverly Hillbillies" as Barnaby Jones, with the TV theme underscoring the scene. This would prove to be his final motion picture role. In 1999, he provided a voice for an episode of "King of the Hill". Illness and infirmity kept him from a cameo on "Son of the Beach".

Buddy Ebsen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1765 Vine Street, as well as a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Because of Ebsen's living to a very old age radio shock jocks Opie & Anthony would interview Ebsen a few times a year in the morbid hopes of getting the "last interview" Ebsen would ever give.

Personal life

Ebsen married Ruth Cambridge in 1936, and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Alix. However, the couple divorced in 1942. In 1944, he met and married Nancy Wilcott. They had five children: Susannah, Cathy, Bonnie, Kiersten and Dustin. In 1985, the 41-year marriage ended in divorce. That same year, he met his third wife, Dorothy Knott. The couple had one child.

Ebsen had four sisters, Helga, Leslie, Norma and Vilma Ebsen, the last a dance instructor at their father's dance studio. Almost all of Buddy's siblings lived long lives. Helga and Norma died of natural causes in the 1990s. Vilma died in 2007, also of natural causes.

Throughout his long life, Ebsen had many hobbies: public speaking, traveling, singing, playing guitar, golfing, spending time with his family, riding horses, swimming, gardening, fishing, sailing, painting and building sailboats. He became a folk artist, and as an avid coin collector, co-founded the [http://www.bhcoinclub.org/ Beverly Hills Coin Club] in 1987 with much younger actor Chris Aable. Ebsen's favorite leisure time activity undoubtedly was dancing. As Ebsen entered his 90s, he continued to keep active, and there were media reports that he had begun work on his first novel about a year before his death.

On July 6 2003, Ebsen died of pneumonia at the age of 95 at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California. He was cremated. His ashes were scattered at sea.


*"You take a blank piece of paper and, whatever you're thinking, you write it down. I'm very satisfied if, in my mind, it increased the value of the paper. That's what writing should do. It should increase the value of the paper."Fact|date=June 2008

*"You get more negative reactions than positive reactions as you go through life, and the big lesson is nobody counts you out but yourself...I never have, I never will."Fact|date=June 2008

*"'As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.' Often the values of the influences imposed on us by our mothers and fathers, our teachers and certain friends, are not realized until years later, when we, as a sailor does, look back at our wakes to determine the course we have steered that got us to where we are. Today when I look back, then look around me to see with whom I am standing, I fully realize the influence on my life that must be credited to DeMolay."Fact|date=June 2008

*On having written a romance novel at age 93: "There are a lot of mes."Fact|date=June 2008

*When asked why he had returned to the rigors of weekly show "Matt Houston" at the age of 76: "I'm used to getting up at dawn and going to the studio to be with my pals on the set. It's my lifestyle and I wouldn't trade it for any other."Fact|date=June 2008

*On being a best-selling author: "Writing fiction, there are no limits to what you write as long as it increases the value of the paper you are writing on." [cite web |url=http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/buddy_ebsen.html |title=Buddy Ebsen Quotes |publisher=BrainyQuote.com |accessdate=2008-06-10]

*In 1965, about his stage performances: "I probably enjoyed show business most when I was doing plays like 'The Male Animal' and 'Good Night, Ladies,' when people would lay down their money and laugh and you'd see them walk out happy. By God, I'd feel honest. I could go home with a good taste in my mouth. You'd feel better, you'd feel more alive and like you were justifying your existence."cite web |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE0DB143DF93BA35754C0A9659C8B63 |title= Buddy Ebsen, of 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' Is Dead at 96 |publisher="New York Times" |date=July 8 2003 |accessdate=2008-06-10]

*Of "The Beverly Hillbillies": "The one flaw in this is that you can't hear the people laughing."


*"Broadway Melody of 1936" (1935)
*"Captain January" (1936)
*"Born to Dance" (1936)
*"Banjo on My Knee" (1936)
*"Broadway Melody of 1938" (1937)
*"The Girl of the Golden West" (1938)
*"Yellow Jack" (1938)
*"My Lucky Star" (1938)
*"Four Girls in White" (1939)
*"The Kid from Texas" (1939)
*"Hollywood Hobbies" (1939) (short subject)
*"They Met in Argentina" (1941)
*"Parachute Battalion" (1941)
*"Sing Your Worries Away" (1942)
*"Under Mexicali Stars" (1950)
*"Silver City Bonanza" (1951)
*"Thunder in God's Country" (1951)
*"Rodeo King and the Senorita" (1951)
*"Utah Wagon Train" (1951)
*"Night People" (1954)
*"Red Garters" (1954)
*"Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" (1954)
*"Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" (1956)
*"Attack" (1956)
*"Between Heaven and Hell" (1956)
*"Mission of Danger" (1959)
*"Frontier Rangers" (1959)
*"The Twilight Zone" (episode "The Prime Mover") (1961)
*"Fury River" (1961)
*"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)
*"The Interns" (1962)
*"Mail Order Bride" (1964)
*"The Mike Bialka Story" (1966)
*"The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band" (1968)
*"Tom Sawyer" (1973) (TV)
*"Fire on the Mountain" (1981)
*"Stone Fox" (1987) as Grandpa
*"The Beverly Hillbillies" (1993) (cameo)


External links

*imdb name|id=0001171|name=Buddy Ebsen
*amg name|id=2:88623|name=Buddy Ebsen
*ibdb name|id=39188|name=Buddy Ebsen
* [http://buddyebsenmuseum.com/ The official Buddy Ebsen Virtual Museum]
* [http://www.buddyebsen.com/ The official Buddy Ebsen web site]
* [http://www.actorbuddyebsen.info/ Fan tribute site]
* [http://www.timvp.com/obit_buddyebsen.html AP obituary]

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