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Whatever Happened to Buddy Ebsen From the Beverly Hillbillies?

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Fans remember Buddy Ebsen as the lovable Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies alongside Max Baer, Jr., Donna Douglas and Irene Ryan. He played a culturally lost country spirit who moved to Beverly Hills when he struck oil.

With millions of viewers, the Beverly Hillbillies was one of the top rated shows during its run from 1962 to 1971. Although Ebsen already had a loyal following before the show, the Beverly Hillbillies cemented Ebsen in the homes and hearts of viewers across America.

Early Success

Born Christian Rudolph Ebsen Jr. in Belleville, Illinois, Ebsen first appeared on broadway before moving to Hollywood. Once he got to Hollywood, he signed with MGM studios. He quickly appeared in the film Broadway Melody of 1936. The film received three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. The film took home the Oscar for Best Dance Direction.

Dancing with Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney noticed Ebsen’s early dancing talent, and chose Ebsen to dance in front of a screen in a way that allowed animators to capture the moves. Ebsen’s dancing became the template for Mickey Mouse’s dancing in the Silly Symphonies that Disney produced in the 1930s. Ebsen later appeared in Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier for Disney from 1953-54.

The Wizard of Oz

What you might not know is that MGM studio’s originally cast Ebsen as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. Ebsen had a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup that the studio used for his character. It was so severe that he was hospitalized and quit the project. You can still hear Ebsen’s voice in the movie soundtrack in a few places.

After the Beverly Hillbillies

After the Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen turned to television once again in 1973 as Barnaby Jones in the show with the same name. Ebsen played a detective who decided to come back from retirement after the death of his son. Despite harsh critics, the show lasted for eight years and today it’s considered one of the best detective dramas of the 1970s.

Next, Ebsen appeared on the ABC show Matt Houston. He played the uncle of the title character for one season. He also never forgot his ties to Disney, providing narration for the company’s Disney Family Album. He also briefly provided narration for PBS’ well-loved children’s show Reading Rainbow.

Ebsen more or less stopped acting in his 80s. He came out of retirement, though, to make an appearance in The Beverly Hillbillies movie that came out in 1993. In 1999, he did a voiceover for King of the Hill. That voice over would be his last television appearance.

Family and Personal Life

Ebsen had three wives and seven children. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He attended Rollins College in Florida with the hopes of becoming a doctor before beginning his stage and screen career. During World War II, Ebsen was in the Coast Guard and served on a submarine chaser in the Pacific called the Pocatello.

He enjoyed sailing and coin collecting, and he opened up a dance school in Pacific Palisades, California called the Ebsen School of Dance. He even published a romantic novel, Kelly’s Quest, only two years before he died. He authored several other books, including Sizzling Cold and The Other Side of Oz.

Ebsen had heart surgery in 1998. He died in 2003 of pneumonia complications. Today, you can find his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and also on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

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