‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ Star Buddy Ebsen Was Cast as ‘Tin Man’ in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Before Disaster Struck

by Joe Rutland
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Actor Buddy Ebsen was set to star as the “Tin Man” in “The Wizard of Oz” years before his role in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It didn’t happen.

Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett on the CBS sitcom, had to go through a rigorous makeup routine before shooting scenes. Part of the makeup included clown-white grease that covered the actor’s face, he recalled in a 1995 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Yet under hot lights, the makeup ran. Ebsen received a face full of aluminum dust to keep it from streaking. He was allergic to the aluminum.

This did not go well at all for Ebsen. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, the studio behind the movie, thought “The Beverly Hillbillies” star’s cries about being ill were made up.

‘The Beverly Hilbillies’ Leading Actor Found Himself at Hospital Over Makeup

What happened? Well, Ebsen woke up one night in bed with cramps in his hands, legs, and arms. He couldn’t breathe properly, so his wife called an ambulance that took the actor-dancer to a hospital. “The Beverly Hillbillies” lead actor stayed under an oxygen tent for two weeks. He had inhaled pure aluminum into his body.

As for MGM’s big bosses, Ebsen said, “They told me to get the hell back to work.”

He was not over his allergic reaction. MGM said enough and put Jack Haley in Ebsen’s place. That’s why you see “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Haley in their roles. No Ebsen at all.

Ebsen, who was a part of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in all of its nine seasons, said he believed his “Tin Man” is in some long shots in the movie. “Later on, the studio admitted that it’s my voice you hear in the song ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ as we dance up the Yellow Brick Road,” Ebsen said.

After playing Clampett, Ebsen also had a successful run on CBS in “Barnaby Jones.” He died on July 6, 2003, at 95 years old.

Ebsen Had a Close Relationship With Max Baer Jr. on CBS Sitcom

When Ebsen was cast for “The Beverly Hillbillies,” he would join an ensemble of veteran and young actors alike. Irene Ryan, who played Granny, and Raymond Bailey, who played Mr. Drysdale, all had previous experience.

But there were young stars like Donna Douglas, who played Elly May, and Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro.

Baer Jr. recalls having a close relationship with Ebsen during the show’s run.

He said Ebsen took on the role of a surrogate father to him on “The Beverly Hillbillies” in an interview with The Five Count radio show.

Ebsen did it “because my dad [heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer] had just died in 1959 and this is in 1962,” Baer Jr. said. “So he just took over for my dad. He was the same age as my dad, born in about the same time. [Ebsen] knew my dad pretty well. So it was pretty easy for me, for Buddy and I to become close.”

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