Biography Courtesy of Wikipedia
Buddy Ebsen was an American actor and dancer whose career spanned seven decades. His most famous role was as Jed Clampett in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran from 1962 to 1971.
Buddy Ebsen was born as Christian Ludolf Ebsen Jr., on April 2, 1908, in Belleville, Ill. He had four sisters.
His father, Christian Ludolf Ebsen Sr., was a Danish choreographer, who once owned a dance studio and was also a physical fitness advocate. His mother, Frances, was a Latvian painter. Ebsen and his sisters learned to dance at their father’s studio.
Initially interested in a medical career, Ebsen attended college for a couple of years. Family financial problems caused by the collapse of the Florida land boom forced Ebsen to leave college at age 20.
Ebsen left Orlando in the summer of 1928 to try his luck as a dancer in New York City, arriving with only $26.75 in his pocket, and working at a soda fountain shop. He and his sister, Vilma Ebsen, performed as a dance act in supper clubs and in vaudeville — they were known as "The Baby Astaires".
On Broadway, the Ebsens appeared as members of the chorus in the musicals Whoopee, Flying Colors and Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. A rave review from New York columnist Walter Winchell, who saw them perform in Atlantic City, N.J., led to a booking at the Palace Theatre in New York City, the pinnacle of the vaudeville world.
After relocating to Hollywood, the siblings made their film debuts in the 1935 film Broadway Melody of 1936. This was to be Vilma's only film.
Ebsen went on to appear in numerous films, both musicals and nonmusicals. He even danced with the famous Shirley Temple.
Ebsen was noted for his unusual, surreal dancing and singing style. His abilities might have been a reason filmmaker 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 1929 to 1939 Silly Symphonies animated short films.
The Wizard of Oz
MGM cast Ebsen as the Scarecrow in its 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Ebsen then swapped roles with actor Ray Bolger, who was originally cast as the Tin Man. Bolger wanted to play the Scarecrow, and Ebsen did not object to the change. Ebsen recorded all of his songs as the Tin Man, attended all the rehearsals and began filming.
However, he soon began experiencing body aches, muscle cramps, and shortness of breath, eventually leading to a lengthy hospitalization.
Doctors determined that he was suffering a reaction to the aluminum dust used in the Tin Man makeup, and he was forced to leave the production.
Ebsen recalled in an interview included on the 2005 DVD release of The Wizard of Oz that the MGM studio heads did not believe that he was ill until he was ordered back to the set and was intercepted by an angry nurse.
Ebsen was replaced by Jack Haley, with the makeup quickly changed to a safer aluminum paste. MGM did not publicize the true reason for Ebsen's departure; even Haley was not told until much later.
For the rest of his life, Ebsen complained of breathing problems from his involvement in "that damned movie".
Nonetheless, he outlived all of the major cast members of the movie, living into the 21st century.
World War II
After recovering from the illness, Ebsen became embroiled in a contract dispute with MGM that left him idle for long periods.
He took up sailing and became so proficient in seamanship that he taught the subject to Navy officer candidates. He applied several times for an officer's commission in the Navy in 1941 but was repeatedly turned down.
The United States Coast Guard accepted his application for a commission, and he was promptly given the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade.
Ebsen served as damage control officer and later as executive officer on the Coast Guard-manned Navy frigate USS Pocatello, which recorded weather at its "weather station" 1,500 miles west of Seattle.
Ebsen was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard 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 appearances in a huge variety of television shows.
Ebsen received the most television exposure when he played Georgie Russel, a role based on a historical person and companion to frontiersman Davy Crockett, in the Disneyland television miniseries Davy Crockett in the 1950s.
Throughout the 1950s, Ebsen performed in a few films, mainly Westerns. One notable exception was an acclaimed role as Doc Golightly, an older, rural veterinarian deserted by his young wife (played by Audrey Hepburn) in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The Beverly Hillbillies
Paul Henning recalls his reason for choosing Ebsen to play Clampett: "I had seen him on TV and I couldn't imagine anyone else doing the role," he says. "I was fortunate to have him, because he became the cornerstone of the show."
Ebsen became famous as Jed Clampett, an easygoing backwoods mountaineer who strikes oil and moves with his family to Beverly Hills, Calif., in the long-running, fish-out-of-water CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.
Although scorned by critics, The Beverly Hillbillies attracted as many as 60 million viewers between 1962 and 1971 and was several times the highest-rated series on television.
The show also spawned similar Paul Henning-produced rural sitcoms such as Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, which were eventually linked in crossover episode arcs.
The Beverly Hillbillies 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.
Ebsen returned to television in 1973 as the title character of Barnaby Jones, which proved to be his second long-running television series. Barnaby Jones was a milk-drinking detective who came out of retirement to investigate the death of his son. Critics and CBS executives ridiculed the age of the show's audience, but it lasted eight seasons and 178 episodes.
When Barnaby Jones was cancelled, it was one of the last surviving 1970s detective dramas.
Although generally retired from acting as he entered his 80s, Ebsen filmed a cameo in the 1993 film version of The Beverly Hillbillies as Barnaby Jones. This was Ebsen's final motion picture role.
Ebsen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1765 Vine St., and a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Ebsen died of respiratory failure at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., on July 6, 2003, at the age of 95.