BUDDY EBSEN Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Buddy Ebsen                                                                           
Birth name: Christian Rudolph Ebsen, Jr.                                                   
Born: 2 April 1908 Belleville, Illinois, USA                                               
Died: 6 July 2003 Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Torrance, California, USA               
Buddy Ebsen (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American actor and dancer, who         
is best-remembered for his role as Jed Clampett in the popular television series           
The Beverly Hillbillies.                                                                   
Born Christian Rudolf Ebsen, Jr., in Belleville, Illinois; his father, Christian           
Rudolf 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 1926-1927; 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. 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 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.                       
In 1936, 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 for             
each of them. 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 other films, and she shortly 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 (in which he danced with a young Judy Garland) 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.                                                                           
Buddy Ebsen as The Tin Man.                                                                 
Despite having turned down Louis B. Mayer's offer of an exclusive contract with             
MGM, earning Mayer's warning that he would never get a job in Hollywood again,             
he was cast in the role of The Scarecrow in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz,             
but later 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               
with the rest of the cast, but he was rushed to the hospital nine days after               
filming began when his lungs seized after a week of inhaling aluminum dust from             
the "tin" makeup.                                                                           
While Ebsen was in the hospital for two weeks, recovering from his near-fatal               
reaction to the dust, he was replaced by Jack Haley. Haley did not 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 was not 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 did not believe           
he was sick until someone tried to order Ebsen back to the set and was                     
intercepted by an angry nurse. 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 due to his involvement in "that                 
damned movie." Ironically, Ebsen outlived all of the major cast members of                 
The Wizard of Oz.                                                                           
Ebsen finally became truly famous with The Beverly Hillbillies. 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             
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 cancelled by CBS because advertisers began shunning shows               
that attracted a rural audience.                                                           
Ebsen later starred in a hit CBS television detective series, Barnaby Jones with           
actress Lee Meriwether and actor Mark Sherra, beginning in 1973 and running                 
through 1980. His last work was mainly in television, reprising his Beverly                 
Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones roles, though his last regular television series             
was Matt Houston on ABC, starring Lee Horsley. Ebsen played the role of 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.                                                                         
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. 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. During these later years, Buddy Ebsen became an avid coin                 
collector and co-founded the Beverly Hills Coin Club in 1987 along with a much             
younger actor, Chris Aable. 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. His last known               
radio interview was conducted by Opie and Anthony.                                         
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.