‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: Buddy Ebsen Had to ‘Practice’ Boxing to Deal with Being a Young Entertainer

by Evan Reier

Unfortunately, many who go into entertainment haven’t been encouraged in years past. The Beverly Hillbillies star Buddy Ebsen knew that well.

The relationship between entertainment and audiences is a funny thing. Obviously, people enjoy being entertained, but for many, many years, the idea of a male tap dancing or singing on stage was often ridiculed or discouraged.

For Buddy Ebsen, he experienced those issues as a child. The man who would go on to be an entertainment legend likely faced some of his harshest “critics” going to school. “Boys will be boys” may apply, but Ebsen’s earliest days in entertainment weren’t easy.

On the other hand, his father, Christian Ludolf Ebsen Sr., was supportive. As a choreographer that immigrated from Denmark, he wanted to see his son learn those talents. A young Ebsen didn’t want to take the ballet classes his father encouraged, but ended up doing it anyway.

In a 1995 interview with the Florida Sun-Sentinel, Ebsen talked about those days and the reaction from his friends and schoolmates.

“As you can imagine I had to develop my boxing skills,” Ebsen said. “And when my voice changed, I said no more dancing.”

But the seed had been planted. So when Ebsen witnessed a group called the “Dixie Four” tap dance, he couldn’t help himself but want to learn. The future The Beverly Hillbillies star picked it up fairly quickly, and he was hooked.

Before The Beverly Hillbillies, Buddy Ebsen Was a Dancing Star

While Ebsen would go on to prove his chops as an actor, it was the dancing that got his foot in the door. With very little money, he and his sister Vilma headed to New York to try and scrape out an entertainment career.

Expectedly, there were early issues, even leading Ebsen to working a soda fountain in NYC. However, he and his sister eventually got their shot, eventually appearing on Broadway a handful of times after success in vaudeville.

MGM then came to Ebsen with a contract offer in 1935. While it led to a variety of film appearances, there were issues from the jump. The partnership eventually broke bad after the soon-to-be The Beverly Hillbillies star didn’t want to exclusively sign with the studio.

That breakup made it difficult for Ebsen to find work. Alongside that, the arrival of World War II didn’t do him any favors. However, the subsequent arrival of television brought new life to his career. While he had full-time roles, Ebsen ended up appearing everywhere, from Bonanza to Maverick to Davy Crockett.

This is not to mention the dancing performances he still put on, whether that was with Dean Martin or Bing Crosby.

By the time the 1960s were in swing, Ebsen was a bonafide name in entertainment. In 1962, the then-54-year-old took on the role of Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, making him a household name.

While Ebsen also starred in Barnaby Jones and plenty of other shows and movies in the years since, his role as Jed will always be his most memorable.

Buddy Ebsen passed away at the age of 95 on July 6, 2003.