Monday, August 1, 2022

Seven Things to Know About Buddy Ebsen

Ebsen as Jed Clampett.
1. In his autobiography, The Other Side of Oz, Buddy Ebsen recalls Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning pitching the show to him by reenacting scenes from the first script: "We were all laughing and wiping tears, and then I got a chilling thought. Most of the laughs were coming as a result of Granny, Jethro, Elly May, and (cousin) Pearl. Jed was not funny, it seemed. Granny and Jethro were. Jed had an occasional dry, philosophical, or naïve laugh line, but essentially he was the straight man. A guy could get lost in such a situation. The show sounded like a lot of fun, and I was supposed to be part of it, but how could I survive in it? Then the answer came: These hillbillies were rich. Worth $35 million. If Jed could always control the money, he'd never get lost."

With Lee Meriwether in Barnaby Jones.
2. When Buddy Ebsen's private eye show was being developed, producer Quinn Martin settled quickly on the first name of Barnaby. However, the last name did not come easily. Martin considered Flint or Cobb (which Ebsen didn't like). It was only after Ebsen described his character to Martin as "a cool, methodical human being, a shrewd judge of character" that Martin blurted out "Jones" and the show became Barnaby Jones.

3. Director Ron Howard originally offered the role of Art Selwyn in Cocoon (1985) to Buddy Ebsen. However, Ebsen was contractually obligated to the Matt Houston TV series at the time and he couldn't accept the part. Don Ameche went on to win a Best Supporting Actor for that role in Cocoon. Ebsen and Howard knew each from working together in the made-for-TV movie Fire on the Mountain (1981) and on The Andy Griffith Show (where Ebsen guest-starred in the episode "Opie's Hobo Friend").

4. Buddy Ebsen was not only originally cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but he filmed several scenes with Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, and Bert Lahr. The make-up for Dorothy's three companions proved tortuous, especially for Ebsen. His costume and make-up were altered several times, but he could barely sit down and dancing was "an ordeal of pain." However, it was the aluminum dust used in his make-up that almost killed him. He began experiencing severe cramps and shortness of breath. He wound up being hospitalized for two weeks and recuperating for an additional six weeks. In the meantime, MGM recast the role of the Tin Man with Jack Haley.

5. Ebsen played a lighthouse keeper opposite orphan Shirley Temple in Captain January (1936), one of her most successful films. Of his young co-star, Buddy once said: "Of all the moppet stars to come down the pike, the most classic, enduring, and once-in-a-lifetime package of talent and stardom was Shirley Temple."

Ebsen as Georgie Russel.
6. Buddy Ebsen was set to play the lead role in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett (1954) limited series--before Disney saw Fess Parker in Them! and chose him as Davy. Ebsen's consolation prize was playing Crockett's sidekick Georgie Russel. Due to their heights, Ebsen (6' 3") and Parker (6' 5") had to perform most of their own stunts. In a scene in which Ebsen was loading a musket, the muzzle exploded in his face: "I lost my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and a good patch of my front hairline."

7. Buddy Ebsen was married three times and had seven children: two daughters with first wife Ruth Cambridge and four daughters and a son with second wife Nancy Wolcott. He and third wife Dorothy Knott had no children. Daughter Kiki Ebsen is a singer-songwriter who has released several albums.

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