Have you seen the classic sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies? What about the 1993 film based on the original sitcom? You’ll probably remember comic actor Jim Varney playing the lead role of Jed Clampett, which was originally played by Buddy Ebsen in the original sitcom.
But did you know that this role almost went to Sam Elliot?
As the film was made over 20 years after the sitcom ended, the producers Penelope Spheeris – who also directed the film – and Ian Bryce decided it was best to go with a brand-new cast to play the roles of the newly-rich hillbillies.
Let’s look more about why Sam Elliot was considered, why he didn’t get the role, and what the fascinating character actor has accomplished with his career…
Both the sitcom and the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies followed a family of hillbillies who decide to move to California’s prestigious Beverly Hills neighborhood after becoming wealthy. The head of the family, Jed Clampett, finds oil on his land and sells it to the Ozark Mountain Oil company. In the sitcom, the family becomes millionaires overnight. In the film, they become billionaires!
For the film version, Sam Elliot seemed like one of the best choices to play Jed Clampett. He was – and still is – known for his bushy mustache and his drawl, which made him ideal for playing the hillbilly patriarch. Director and co-producer Penelope Spheeris was a big fan of Sam Elliot and felt that he would be great for the role.
She later remarked, “We came damn close on Sam Elliott for Jed…”
He did seem like a great choice for a role. Not only was he a talented actor, but he also had great credentials. Making a film adaptation of one of America’s most beloved sitcoms was no easy feat.
It was necessary for the actors to be talented and well-known. They had to be great replacements for the original cast. Actor Sam Elliot checked both boxes as he had the talent and the credentials under his belt.
Nevertheless, he was eventually passed over for an actor lauded for his comedic talent.
Before we tell you more about why Sam Elliot was not chosen to play Jed Clampett in the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, please like this video and subscribe to our channel for more current news and interesting stories. Now, back to the video…
The producers decided to go with Jim Varney to play Jed Clampett. Jim Varney had made his name playing the bumbling character Ernest P. Worrell in a series of family-friendly comedy films. This made him a perfect choice to play the role and beat out Sam Elliot and other competing actors.
While Sam Elliot had over 20 years of experience as an actor, his work prior to 1993 consisted of only a few comedy films. As Jim Varney was known solely as a great comic actor, he was the preferred choice.
However, as we look back at The Beverly Hillbillies film, we wonder how it would have looked like with Sam Elliot as Jed Clampett. As he is a versatile and prominent character actor, it isn’t hard to imagine that he’d do a great job even with little comedy experience at the time.
Nevertheless, Sam Elliot has managed to carve a fantastic acting career for himself. Let’s look back and learn about his fascinating journey.
He was born in Sacramento, California in 1944 and grew up in Portland, Oregon. His father worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the two spent a lot of time together enjoying nature. They were both very close throughout Sam’s childhood.
However, after two terms studying English and Psychology at the University of Oregon he decided to drop out and pursue a career in acting. This greatly upset his father who worried about whether his son would succeed in the cutthroat entertainment industry.
Unfortunately, they never reconciled, and his father died when Sam was only 18. Sam would later recall that his father died while thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path.’
This sad incident gave Sam Elliot even more motivation to succeed in his career as an actor.
Though he wasn’t a Southerner, he started his career landing parts in television Westerns. His first film role in a major film was a bit part in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The role was so small, and he didn’t even have a single line! However, his career was on an upward trend. It was also on this film that he met actress Katharine Ross, who would later become his wife.
In the 1970s he continued to get bit parts in popular television shows. By the mid-70s, he was now a recognized character actor on the silver screen. In 1976, he had a starring role in the film Lifeguard. Unfortunately, this film was critically panned and was only a modest success at the box office.
He was also not pleased with the marketing of the film and clashed with the studio heads at Paramount over this. Needless to say, things didn’t go too well, and he never worked on a Paramount film ever again.
For a relatively new and unknown actor, this could have spelled the death of his career!
In fact, he caused further controversy in a 1980 interview when he stated that the casting couch rumors in Hollywood were real. He stated that he’d been propositioned many times when seeking out a role and that because he always turned these propositions down, he’d probably hurt his career.
Needless to say, it seemed that his career was now on a downward trend!
In the 1990s, he had celebrated over 2 decades in the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, he still wasn’t a well-known figure and hadn’t achieved the fame he has today. While he may have been considered for the lead role in The Beverly Hillbillies film, he was far from being one of the most sought-after actors in the business.
He was approaching his fifties, and it seemed that he’d remain a small-time character without a great body of work. However, after appearing in the civil war film Gettysburg, Sam Elliot returned to his roots as an actor in Westerns. 1995 saw the release of the film Tombstone which is now hailed as a classic in the Western genre.
He played the role of Virgil Earp and his performance was lauded by audiences and critics alike. He then started getting more offers to appear in major films such as The Final Cut, The Big Lebowski, The Contender, We Were Soldiers, Hulk, and Thank You For Smoking.
Since then, he’s worked on hit films such as Draft Day, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Digging for Fire. He’s also appeared in TV shows such as Family Guy, Parks and Recreation, and The Ranch.
But what was the film that made him a recognizable face and name? What was the film that finally brought him the fame he worked so hard for?
Oddly enough, it was The Big Lebowski. In fact, the role in the 1998 film was written for him before he even knew it!
The film would instantly become a cult classic and is considered to be one of The Coen Brothers’ best films.
In the film, Sam Elliot played the role of “The Stranger,” who was the narrator and had some of the best lines in the story. Initially, Sam was reluctant to take the role as it was another cowboy character. He was worried that he would get typecast in the role. His career was taking off and he wanted to have versatility in his career.
But when he read the script, he changed his mind. He was reading the script and noticed a description of the “The Stranger.” The description stated that the character sounded “not unlike Sam Elliot!” He was surprised to see his name in the script when he hadn’t even said ‘yes’ to the part!
He was given an offer that he couldn’t refuse. In fact, while he was filming his final scene the Coen Brothers asked him to do several takes. He eventually became exhausted with the repetition and got frustrated with the filmmakers.
He wanted them to justify why he had to do so many takes of the final scene. The brothers smiled and told them that they had been satisfied with his earlier takes, but they enjoyed his performance so much that they wanted to see him do it over and over again!
He was now in his mid-fifties and he was so appreciated that roles had been written for him and two of America’s greatest filmmakers couldn’t get enough of his acting!
So what’s next for Sam Elliot? It seems that now in his 70s, he has no intention of slowing down. He recently stunned audiences with his work in the 2018 film A Star Is Born. It’s clear that he’s one of America’s finest character actors and that audiences will enjoy his work for years to come.
One can only imagine the impact he could have made as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies. Regardless, Sam Elliot is a testament that hard work and persistence does pay off!
Are you a fan of The Beverly Hillbillies? Do you think that Sam Elliott would have done a great job playing Jed Clampett? Or do you think that Jim Varney did a great job in the film spinoff of the classic sitcom?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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