1908 - 2003
The old saying about one door closing and another opening certainly applied to the long and successful career of 95-year-old Buddy Ebsen, who died July 6th 2003 of respiratory failure in Torrance, California.
A dancer who performed with his sister in films, the former Christian Rudolph Ebsen traded taps with young Shirley Temple and moved on to dramatic work in such films as "Breakfast at Tiffany's". (Ebsen's best-known role that never materialized was as the Tin Man in the classic "The Wizard of Oz". An allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup caused Ebsen to drop out after ten days of filming; Jack Haley replaced him.)
But it was television that brought Buddy Ebsen tremendous fame. In 1954, he played George Russel, the sidekick to Fess Parker's 'Davy Crockett', on the ABC anthology "Disneyland". (Ebsen wanted the Crockett role, but settled for best buddy). "Crockett" ran for five episodes, and was possibly one of the earliest forms of what is now known as the "miniseries". In 1955, just about every kid wanted a coonskin cap and could sing the theme song by heart. ("Davy...Davy Crockett/King Of The Wild Frontier").
Ebsen's best-known role came in 1962, when he reluctantly agreed to play poor backwoodsman turned tycoon Jed Clampett on "The Beverly Hillbillies". Critics tore the show apart, but it was Ebsen's easy-going style and down-home sensibility that kept the show grounded, allowing his co-stars to take off in their own unusual worlds. Viewers liked that mixture; "Hillbillies" was America's top-rated series for its first two seasons and enjoyed a nine-year run.
In 1973, Ebsen returned to series television with "Barnaby Jones", as a retired detective who returns to work with the help of his daughter-in-law, played by former Miss America Lee Meriwhether"Barnaby Jones" was on the air until 1980. In later years, Ebsen acted occasionally (he was a regular guest on the mid-1980's ABC detective drama "Matt Houston") and turned author with two books--the autobiography "The Other Side of Oz" and a novel entitled "Kelly's Quest".
Likeability is a key to television success, and Ebsen had that charisma in spades, which ensured his longevity on the small screen.
After all, it was no accident that his nickname was "Buddy".
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