Buddy Ebsen

Dancer and actor Buddy Ebsen performed on Broadway and films, but he’s best known for his role as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran for nine seasons.


Dancer and actor Buddy Ebsen was born on April 2, 1908, in Belleville, Illinois. He initially pursued medicine, but left school for New York City before graduating. His first role was a Broadway chorus spot. He made films in the 1930s, but is best known for his film role in Disney’s Davy Crockett series in the 1950s and his television roles on The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones. He died in 2003.

Early Life

Actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen was born Christian Ludolph Ebsen, Jr., on April 2, 1908, in Belleville, Illinois. Ebsen's career in show business almost didn't happen. His father, a dancer, moved his family, when Ebsen was still young, to Florida. His father opened a dance school in Orlando, but he wanted Ebsen to study medicine. Ebsen initially started down that path, enrolling in a pre-med program at the University of Florida; he also studied at Rollins College for a short stint, but in the middle of his studies, Ebsen's family was wiped out financially.

The young student quit school, feeling as though he could "make it" in showbiz. He headed to New York City to take a shot at following in his father's footsteps as a dancer. It wasn't long before the talented Ebsen found work, landing a spot in the chorus of a popular Broadway musical entitled Whoopee, which ran a remarkable 379 times.

Propelled by his new found confidence and a minor bit of name recognition, Ebsen encouraged his sister Vilma to come to New York as well, where the two of them put together a song-and-dance performance that took them across the country. The show provided even more exposure for the young dancer.

Commercial Success

Eventually Buddy and Vilma earned the notice of Hollywood, and the two landed a couple of film roles together. On his own, Ebsen found even more movie work in films like Banjo on my Knee (1936), Cole Porter's Born to Dance (1936) and the Shirley Temple vehicle, Captain January (1936).

But Ebsen's most triumphant audition also proved to be his most heartbreaking. Originally cast as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz (1939), Ebsen was forced to pull out of the film after he became violently ill from the traces of aluminum in his make-up. Ebsen made a full recovery, as did his career. In the early 1950s, Disney cast him in the Davy Crockett series, which became wildly popular with young viewers.

Two major motion pictures based on the program, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier and Davy Crocket and the River Pirates, soon followed. Ebsen also gave a notable performance during this period as the abandoned husband in the Audrey Hepburn classic, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).

'Beverly Hillbillies'

Even bigger television success came the following year, when Ebsen took on the role of Jed Clampett, the head of an rural mountain family that suddenly finds fortune through the discovery of a crude oil well. Suddenly rich, the Clampett family leads a new life in posh Beverly Hills. While critics blasted The Beverly Hillbillies' depiction of rural folks, television audiences adored the program, which ran nearly 10 years, and became the country's the top rated show.

The program's end in 1971, however, did not spell the end to Ebsen's popularity on television. New success came in 1973 as an aging detective in the drama Barnaby Jones. Then in the 1980s, Ebsen found regular work in the adventure series Matt Houston, in which he played a former intelligence agent.

In later years, Ebsen's work schedule slowed down considerably. In a funny tribute to his past, he made a cameo on the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) as detective Barnaby Jones.

Personal Life

Ebsen married three times in his life and had seven children. He married his third wife, Dorothy Knott in 1985. The two were married until his death on July 6, 2003. He passed away in Torrance, California.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *