Wee doggies, we’re glad Buddy Ebsen joined the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies.
But he had to think about it first. The idea of retirement also was enticing to Ebsen, who’d been in the professional acting business for more than three decades when he heard about The Beverly Hillbillies.
Paul Henning, who created The Beverly Hillbillies, said he thought Ebsen “was about to retire” when he was approached about playing Jed Clampett.
“His agent said there was a script we want you to hear,” Henning said in a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television. “I guess he had heard it from Al (Simon, the executive producer).
“So Buddy came in to Al’s office and I read the script, the pilot script. And he enjoyed it so much. (Ebsen said), ‘forget about retirement, I’d love to do the show.; And once we had the anchor, the main character of Jed Clampett, the rest was just a matter of casting.”
Ebsen Was Seasoned Actor When He Took Role in Beverly Hillbillies
Ebsen was 54 when The Beverly Hillbillies premiered in 1962. He started his acting career as a dancer and vaudeville performer. To kick off the 1960s, Ebsen had a recurring role in Bus Stop, a series on ABC. He’d been in the hit movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And he had guest starring roles on the Twilight Zone and the Andy Griffith Show.
In an interview with the Akron Beacon-Journal in 1964, Ebsen said the lone reason he joined The Beverly Hillbillies cast was the presence of Paul Henning. Ebsen described Henning as the star of the show.
“I put myself in his hands because I have faith in him,” Ebsen said. “I’ll stay with the show as long as Paul has faith in me. I wasn’t surprised the show was a success. I think our kind of humor was a pleasant switch from the medical dramas that dominated television just before we went on the air.”
The Beverly Hillbillies ran from 1962-71. Ebsen admitted he’d rather be working in the theater, but television acting offered far more money.
“Oh, I could have had enough work in movies to make a good living,” Ebsen said in 1964. “But television has given me the opportunity to make a better living. I have a home about 35 miles from Los Angeles and a big boat to go with it. Television didn’t get them for me, but it will sure help me keep them.”
Ebsen chose network TV again when The Beverly Hillbillies went off the air. In 1973, he became the title character in Barnaby Jones. On the show, played Jones, a detective who came out of retirement to find the killer of his son. That show stayed on the air for eight years.
Ebsen died in 2003. He was 95. And because he decided not to retire 40 years before, he’ll forever be known as the loveable backwoods millionaire on The Beverly Hillbillies.