‘The Beverly Hillbillies’: Why Sam Elliott Was Passed Over for Role of Jed Clampett for Film

by Suzanne Halliburton

Sam Elliott might’ve played Jed Clampett. Let that marinate in your bowl of pop culture gumbo.

Now, we’re talking about a revival of “The Beverly Hillbillies“. There was a movie made about the Clampett clan way back in 1993. That was 22 years after our favorite hillbillies were last seen at their Beverly Hills mansion with its fancy eatin’ room, Elly May’s critters and a giant cement pond out back.

Penelope Spheeris, who directed the movie, said: “We came damn close on Sam Elliott for Jed. We came damn close on Olivia d’Abo for Elly May. Somebody said that Billy Ray Cyrus was rehearsing for the role of Jethro without ever having gotten a call from us.”

Sam Elliott certainly could pull off the southern drawl needed to play Jed, who hailed from the backwoods of Arkansas. And the original Jed Clampett (played by Buddy Ebsen) also sported a mustache, but not one as glorious as Elliott’s.

A Guy Who Played Ernest P Was More Perfect Than Sam Elliott

So, who got the part instead of Sam Elliott? That would be Jim Varney, the proud son of Lexington, Kentucky. He was a regular cast member of the Johnny Cash and Friends variety show in the 1970s. Then, he became a commercial pitchman. Trust us, if you watched TV in the 1980s, you saw Varney. He played Ernest P Worrell.

He’d look at the camera and say “KnowWhutIMean Vern.” As Ernest, he could sell anything, from the tasty — hamburgers and dairy products — to the mundane, like utility companies.

Varney played Ernest so well that the character became the star of a short-lived TV show and some movies. So, as much as we love Sam Elliott, you can see why Varney was a good choice for Jed Clampett. Sadly, Varney, who also co-hosted a show with country singer Tom T Hall, died in 2000 of lung cancer.

Sam Elliott enjoyed a nice career run before and after the Beverly Hillbillies movie. He starred in the TV movie Conagher in 1991, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. He also earned another Globes nomination and a Primetime Emmy mention for Buffalo Girls in 1995. His other movies in the early 1990s included Gettysburg and Tombstone.

However, Sam Elliott would’ve been a nice addition to a Hillbillies cast that included Dabney Coleman, who played Mr. Drysdale, and Cloris Leachman, who portrayed Granny. Lily Tomlin was Miss Jane, Erika Eleniak was Elly May. Diedrich Bader was Jethro, although Billy Rae Cyrus could’ve been a legitimate hillbilly heart throb.

The movie received mostly bad reviews. It had a 22 score on Rotten Tomatoes. But it did spend a week at No. 1 at the box office.

Wonder what the box office could’ve been with Sam Elliott as Jed.