Buddy Ebsen

Buddy EbsenBuddy Ebsen (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American character actor and dancer. A performer for seven decades, he had starring roles as Jed Clampett in the popular 1960s television series, The Beverly Hillbillies and as the title character in the 1970s detective series Barnaby Jones.
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 ($270 — $1,000 in 2007 USD). 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 review from Walter Winchell, who saw them perform in Atlantic City, led to a booking at the Palace Theatre, the pinnacle of the vaudeville world.
When he turned down Louis B. Mayer’s offer of an exclusive contract with MGM, Buddy Ebsen younghe was warned by Mayer that he would never get a job in Hollywood again. However, he was cast in the role of the Scarecrow in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz. He then 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. Shortly thereafter, he began experiencing cramps and shortness of breath, eventually leading to hospitalization. The cause was determined to be an allergy to the aluminum dust used for his makeup; he left the film as a result.
In an interview included on the 2005 DVD release of the movie, 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. Ebsen was replaced by Jack Haley, with the makeup quietly changed to a paste. As noted in a documentary on the 2005 DVD, MGM did not publicize the reason for Ebsen’s departure; even Haley was not told until later. 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”. 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 from his involvement in “that damned movie.” Ironically, Ebsen outlived all of the major cast members of The Wizard of Oz.
Buddy Ebsen oldEbsen married Ruth Cambridge in 1936, and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Alix. The couple divorced in 1942. In 1944, he met and married Nancy Wilcott. They had five children: Susannah, Cathy, Bonnie, Kiersten, and Dustin. In 1985, the 41-year marriage ended in divorce. That same year, he met his third wife, Dorothy Knott. The couple had one child.
Ebsen had four sisters, Helga, Leslie, Norma, and Vilma Ebsen, the last a dance instructor at their father’s dance studio. Almost all of Buddy’s siblings lived long lives. Helga and Norma died of natural causes in the 1990s. Vilma died in 2007, also of natural causes.
Throughout his long life, Ebsen had many hobbies: public speaking, traveling, singing, playing guitar, golfing, spending time with his family, riding horses, swimming, gardening, fishing, sailing, painting, and building sailboats. He became a folk artist, and as an avid coin collector, co-founded the Beverly Hills Coin Club in 1987 with much younger actor Chris Aable. Ebsen’s favorite leisure time activity undoubtedly was dancing. 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.
On July 6, 2003, Ebsen died of pneumonia at the age of 95 at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California. He was cremated. His ashes were scattered at sea.