‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: How Old Was Buddy Ebsen When the Series Started?

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Years before he became synonymous with the character Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Buddy Ebsen worked for decades on the Broadway stage and in film. He didn’t get to star in that popular sitcom until he was 54 years old.

According to IMDb.com, Ebsen started his entertainment career on the stage during the 1920s. At the time, he danced in a Broadway chorus. He joined forces with his sister, Vilma Ebsen, for a vaudeville act. That show also made it to the Broadway stage.

His collaboration with his sister took “The Beverly Hillbillies” star to Hollywood during 1935. Once there, they were hired by MGM and acted in the film “Broadway Melody of 1936.”

As his film career progressed, Buddy Ebsen would appear on film dancing with some popular actresses. According to IMDb.com, these included Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. He danced with Garland in “Broadway Melody of 1938” and with Temple in “Captain January.”

Interestingly, animators with Disney used Ebsen’s dance moves to help them create dance moves for Mickey Mouse in the Silly Symphony cartoons.

One of the most interesting stories about Buddy Ebsen and his career involves his casting in “The Wizard of Oz.” According to IMDb.com, Ebsen was offered the part of the Scarecrow in the legendary film. However, he ended up switching to play the Tin Man. He swapped roles with Ray Bolger.

The story doesn’t end there. And, here is where things get interesting because if you know anything about “The Wizard of Oz” you know that Buddy Ebsen didn’t appear in the film. So, what happened? Apparently, the man who would go on to play Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies” had a reaction to the aluminum makeup he had to wear to play the Tin Man and couldn’t play the role. The part of the Tin Man then went to Jack Haley.

Buddy Ebsen Gets Cast in ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

After missing out on “The Wizard of Oz,” Buddy Ebsen went back to working in the theater. He also acted in movies. He acted in the 1955 movie “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.”

His role on “The Beverly Hillbillies” came less than a decade later. He decided to play Jed Clampett even though he was thinking of retiring from the entertainment industry at the time. The show premiered in 1962 and ran until 1971, according to IMDb.com. The show was a huge hit. In fact, it reached the top spot in the ratings at a speed faster than another show ever had. The show was the top hit by its third week on the air. “The Beverly Hillbillies” also stayed at the peak for two years.

If you want to watch and laugh along to the antics of Jed, Granny, Elle May, and Jethro, you might be able to find the first season and part of the second online. IMDb.com reports that those episodes are available in the public domain. However, if you want to watch the show following the 20th episode of the second season, you will have to purchase it.

After “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Buddy Ebsen went on to act in “Barnaby Jones” beginning in 1973. He died on July 6, 2003.