It takes a special kind of talent and a healthy dose of luck for an actor to enjoy an accomplished career that stretches over seven decades on and off the screen. Buddy Ebsen started off his prestigious career dancing on the big screen during the great depression, but even many years later as the world ventured into the dawn of the 21st century, he would still manage to voice a character on King of the Hill and have time to publish multiple works of fiction.
His legacy was astonishing. He was a dancer, singer, actor, and comedian – Most importantly, however, he was a legend.
In the prime of his illustrious career, he starred in his two most memorable roles – The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones. Those two iconic shows were celebrated by audiences across the globe and many generations. Because of their enduring popularity, they managed to be renewed for nine and eight seasons respectively.
Even though he passed away in 2003, it’s only right that we take a moment to celebrate the career of one of Hollywood’s finest and most beloved entertainers. Let’s take a peek at his career highlights and see how his life took an unexpected turn after his tenure on the telly.
Facts Verse Presents: Buddy Ebsen Had a Strange Career After Television
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His First Film Was Nominated For Best Picture
Buddy and his sis Vilma Ebsen moved to New York City to take a chance at showbiz. After auditioning and showing off their talents, the sibling duo was cast into the hit musical film Broadway Melody in 1936. Audiences were floored by their performances. Critics shared these glowing sentiments and the movie was nominated for three Academy Awards.
The dazzling song and dance film ended up winning the Oscar for Best Dance Direction which gave the Ebsen’s a tremendous boost to their blossoming careers. The film marked the only time that the pair would star in a film with each other and would be the only film that Vilma would ever appear in. Vilma went on to do Broadway and later became a full-time homemaker. She didn’t quite share the same love for Hollywood as her brother did but she enjoyed a rich, long, and rewarding life – passing at the ripe old age of 96 in 2007.
Mickey Mouse Stole His Dance Moves
In Broadway Melody, Buddy donned a flashy sweater featuring the Disney mousy-mascot. Ebsen never would have guessed that soon enough Mickey would be imitating his dance moves from the film in the animated series Silly Symphonies – Disney’s version of Warner Brothers Merry Melodies.
Much later, Disney would commission Ebsen to perform for Imagineers who were developing audio-animatronics for Disney’s theme park rides like the Haunted Mansion and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
He Was Cast As Both The Tin Man And The Scarecrow In The Wizard Of Oz
Can you picture what the endearing classic would have been like if Ebsen was in the finished film like MGM originally wanted? Initially, he had been cast as the Scarecrow but he and Bulger traded roles and Ebsen found himself in the role of the Tin Woodman.
Buddy would have continued on in this part and been immortalized in the iconic film if it weren’t for the makeup used for his character. Aluminum dust was used to make his skin look like metal but this turned out to be a wildly dangerous material to work with in this type of way.
Ebsen recalls a night when he woke up in the middle of the night screaming. His lungs hurt so bad and he was having trouble breathing. He was certain he was dying. He would even have to be hospitalized for almost 2 weeks because of the incident.
Buddy was then recast by Jack Haley, and all of the scenes with Buddy had to be refilmed. Fortunately, the production team did come up with a safer makeup to use for Jack.
Buddy Was A Lieutenant In The Coast Guard
A couple of years after the Wizard of OZ fiasco, Ebsen joined the armed forces. As part of the U.S. Coast guard, he served on the naval frigate USS Pocatello as Lieutenant. The ship was used for weather data collection and served Station Able.
There is something extra admirable about successful entertainers who choose to serve their countries even after finding success in show business. No doubt, his service was a reflection of his strongly held values.
He Was Cast As Davy Crockett – But Still Got Another Part
Ebsen had some tough breaks, missing out on pretty stellar roles like with Wizard of Oz and also with the 1955 frontier action series Davy Crockett, where he had originally been cast as the title character.
But Disney changed their minds when they became infatuated with Fess Parker from the sci-fi film Them!
Despite losing out on the opportunity to be Davy himself, he still retained an important role as George Russel, Davy’s sidekick. We’re guessing this still felt like a runner-up victory for Ebsen, but you can’t win them all. It’s obvious his career wasn’t impacted greatly by these loses and Buddy took it all in stride.
He Almost Retired Before Playing Jed Clampett
Buddy played Audrey Hepburn’s much older husband Doc Golightly in Breakfast’s at Tiffany’s despite the fact that he was two decades older than his costar. Following the film’s completion, he seriously considered retiring from show biz.
It was his portrayal in this film as a back-country veterinarian however that would land him his most notable role in The Beverly Hillbillies. Again, can you imagine that show without him? It would have been a completely different series without his wit and charm.
The Giant Jackrabbit Episode Is One Of The Most Watched Episodes Of TV In History
Just two weeks after it made its debut, The Beverly Hillbillies was the most popular show on Television. Between 1962 and 64 the show averaged a staggering 57 million viewers.
On January 8 and 15 in 1964, two episodes ran that proved to be the 2nd and 4th most-watched episodes on TV in that decade respectively. “The Giant Jackrabbit” episode which ran on the 8th remains to this day as one of the most viewed half-hour programs in history.
The episode ran the same day as LBJ’s State of the Union address. 60 million viewers tuned in to catch a glimpse of that freakishly large hare. To put that into perspective, the population of the US at the time was 190 million. So roughly, 1/3 of the country was watching The Beverly Hillbillies that evening.
He Dropped A Country Album In ’65
He always had a great voice. Even decades after his song and dance numbers in Broadway Melody, he was still belting out catchy songs and embedding himself into the consciousness of America. Even though at the time, most people knew him as Jed Clampett, in 1965, Ebsen took a stab at country music.
Buddy Ebsen Says Howdy was a collection of country classics drawing from the likes of Hank Williams, Jenny Carson, and Sammy Fain. Despite being mostly covers, it features a couple of original tracks as well and is genuinely a pretty entertaining album despite its syrupy strings and cheesy back-up vocals.
He Was Barnaby Jones In The Beverly Hillbillies Remake
In 1993, Ebsen’s Barnaby Jones character made a special cameo appearance in the big-screen flop Beverly Hillbillies remake.
There had been talks for years of doing a crossover of some kind between Jones and the Clampetts but unfortunately, the closest that would ever come to fruition was in this critically panned film. The film currently holds a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes in case you were curious.
He Put Out A Political Ad Against Nancy Kulp
Following her role as Miss Jane Hathaway, Kulp would run as a Democrat for the house seat in the 9th district of Pennsylvania in the 1984 race.
Buddy, a devoted Republican recorded a radio ad in support of her opponent. In the ad, Buddy says “Hey Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.” he then goes on to say that he’s voting for Bud Shuster even though he was ineligible of voting in Pennsylvania.
When Kulp lost the election, her and Buddy’s relationship soured. She was bitter for years that Ebsen did her like that.
At 92 He Published A Romance Novel
Kelly’s Quest was released in 2000 and was described as being the tale of a woman on a quest to find her Mr. Right after being pummeled for daring to stand up for herself in a man dominated world. The novel is set n the Old West and was met with a moderately warm critical reception.
Spoiler alert: She finds her knight in shining armor and they live happily-ever-after.
Ebsen would go on to also write a Barnaby Jones novel called Sizzling Cold Case the following year.
He Was Also A Painter
Buddy was certainly a man of many talents. In his later life, he would pick up the brush and try his hand at painting. Much of his work consisted of scenic landscapes of places like Hong Kong and Sedona, Arizona.
He also dabbled in some folk art and painted himself as Jed Clampett in various scenes.
Here we are, at the end of another facts-filled video. There certainly is no denying that Ebsen was an accomplished and talented man. Who knew he got involved in so many things after he retired from television. Wonder how much one of his paintings is worth.
Anyways, we’d love to hear from you. What was your favorite Buddy Ebsen show? Are you a fan of the Beverly Hillbillies or did you prefer Barnaby Jones?
Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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