Buddy Ebsen (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an United States actor and dancer, who is best-remembered for his role as Jed Clampett in the popular television series The Beverly Hillbillies.
Born Christian Rudolph Ebsen Jr. in Belleville, Illinois; his father, Christian Ebsen, was Danish and his mother, Frances, was Latvian.http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=gregcroxton&id=I58874 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 1926-1927; and then Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida from 1927-1928. Family financial problems, that resulted from the collapse of the Florida land boom, forced him to leave college for good at age 20.
Ebsen left Orlando in the summer of 1928 to try his luck as a dancer on the Vaudeville circuit. When he arrived in New York City, he had $26.75 in his pocket. Ebsen spent the early 1930s performing in supper clubs, vaudeville theaters, and in Broadway theatre Productions with his sister Vilma Ebsen. The Ebsens moved to Hollywood, and made their film debut in 1935's Broadway Melody of 1936, for which Mr. Ebsen won his only Academy Award. It was Vilma Ebsen's first and only film; however, Buddy Ebsen later appeared in various screen musicals including Born to Dance, Captain January (both 1936) and The Girl of the Golden West (1938). 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).
Ebsen was originally cast as the "Tin Man" in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz (1939 movie). He recorded all his songs, went through all the rehearsals, and started filming with the rest of the cast. He was rushed to the hospital nine days after filming began, when his lungs seized after a week of inhaling aluminum dust from the dangerously experimental "tin" makeup.
While Ebsen was in the hospital for two weeks, recovering from a near-fatal allergic reaction to the dust, he was replaced by Jack Haley. Haley didn't run the same risk, as the makeup was changed in the meantime from a dust to a paste. (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".) As noted in a documentary included with the 2005 DVD release of Wizard of Oz, MGM did not publicize the reasons for Ebsen leaving the film, and even Haley wasn't made aware of why Ebsen left until later; in an interview videotaped before his death (also included on the DVD), Ebsen recalled that the studio heads didn't believe he was sick until someone tried to order Ebsen back to the set and was intercepted by an angry nurse. No footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has to date surfaced.
After the Oz debacle, Ebsen appeared only in minor Western movie for many years. From 1941 to 1946, Ebsen served as a lieutenant in the United States Coast Guard.
Ebsen lost yet another iconic landmark role: he was originally slated to play Davy Crockett on television for Walt Disney, until Disney saw Fess Parker. Parker played Crockett and Ebsen was demoted to Crockett's fictional sidekick "George Russell" in the Davy Crockett series produced by Disney in the mid-1950s, which became an astonishing audience sensation. Ebsen finally became truly famous in 1962 with the lead role of Jed Clampett in the television show The Beverly Hillbillies. The show depicted a hillbilly family from a fictionalized hamlet in the Ozarks called Bugtussle; striking it rich on oil and moving to a tony neighborhood in Beverly Hills, California, California. Although 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 as Granny received the most critical notice, earning two Emmy nominations, and Donna Douglas received the most fan mail and media publicity, Ebsen was the show's most prominent star in the ensemble cast. The series was still earning good ratings when it was canceled by CBS because advertisers shunned a series that attracted a rural audience.
Because Ebsen, unlike many in Hollywood, was a conservative Republican some fallout resulted from his refusal to endorse fellow Beverly Hillbillies co-star Nancy Kulp for a Congressional seat in Pennsylvania. Ebsen asserted that she was "too liberal" for his tastes and instead endorsed her opponent; they never spoke again.
Ebsen also had a notable role as a country veterinarian "Doc Golightly" who was married to "Holly Golightly" (Audrey Hepburn) in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is credited for bringing him to the attention of the producers of Beverly Hillbillies, who cast him in another rural role.
He later starred in a TV detective series, Barnaby Jones, beginning in 1973 and running for most of the decade. His last work was mainly in television, reprising his Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones roles.
Although generally retired from acting as he entered his 80s, he had an amusing cameo in the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, again playing "Barnaby Jones", with the TV theme underscoring the scene. Oddly, he would go on to outlive the actor portraying "Jed Clampett" in the film version, Jim Varney, who died from lung cancer in 2000. This cameo would prove to be his final motion picture appearance, although Ebsen would go on to appear in an episode of the 1994 revival of Burke's Law and, in 1999, make his final acting appearance anywhere providing a voice for an episode of King of the Hill. Illness and infirmity kept him from a cameo on Son of the Beach.
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 at the age of 95. One of the last known on camera interviews with Buddy Ebsen was conducted by Steven F. Zambo. A small portion of this interview can be seen in the 2005 PBS program The Pioneers of Primetime.
Some writers have stated that his reaction to the aluminum dust of the Tin Man was nearly fatal. Ironically, he far outlived almost all the cast and crew members of The Wizard of Oz, except for a few Munchkins; although to be fair he was somewhat younger than almost all of his major co-stars, except, of course, for Judy Garland.
Buddy Ebsen has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
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) 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) Fire on the Mountain (1981 movie) (1981) The Beverly Hillbillies (1993 movie) (1993) (Cameo)
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