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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Obituary: Buddy Ebsen
Buddy Ebsen
Hollywood's favourite hillbilly
Buddy Ebsen and his famous Beverly Hillbillies screen character, Jed Clampett, both left their home towns to enjoy good fortune on the golden California coast. Though famous for playing Jed and detective Barnaby Jones, Ebsen was also a celebrated painter and writer.

Born in 1908 and based in Florida from the age of 12, Ebsen preferred the environs of the school boxing ring to his father's dancing studio, until he watched the Dixie Four performing and wanted to emulate them.

His first love was medicine but, when the money ran out, he abandoned medical school and started dancing professionally.

Buddy Ebsen dancing on stage
Making whoopee: Buddy Ebsen on stage
With his sister Vilma, Ebsen moved to New York in 1928, where they trod the boards together. Once of their first appearances was in the Ziegfeld production Whoopee.

In contrast to his later hillbilly incarnation, the 6'3" dancer cut a sophisticated dash on the dance-floors of the metropolis, complete with tails and top hat.

Scouts from Hollywood began to notice the striking duo, and they were soon signed to the MGM studio.

In every problem lies an opportunity
Buddy Ebsen on his unpredictable career

After their film debut in Broadway Melody of 1936, Ebsen noticed that "talking actors don't sweat", and turned his talents from dancing to acting.

Despite turning down MGM boss Louis B Mayer's offer to "own" him with a seven-year contract, Ebsen also had roles in Captain January with Shirley Temple, Night People with Gregory Peck and Breakfast at Tiffany's with Audrey Hepburn.

Tin trouble

Fate prevented his taking part in one of the biggest films in history. Signed originally to play the Scarecrow in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen was instead given the role of the Tin Man.

But he was forced to leave the production after inhaling the aluminium from his silver make-up. Jack Haley replaced him for the film, but Ebsen always suspected some original shots of him were included in the final cut.

Jed Clampett and Granny of the Beverly Hillbillies
Looking after Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies
MGM later admitted it was Ebsen's voice singing the enduring song We're off to see the Wizard as the group danced together up the Yellow Brick Road.

Moving into television, Ebsen found success as Fess Parker's sidekick Georgie in the 1950's phenomenon Davey Crockett, and then superstardom in the 60s as Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies.

An unsophisticated mountain clan who struck oil and moved to the West Coast, the Hillbillies struck comedy gold and stayed at the top of the television ratings for their entire nine-year run.

New creative path

As Jed, Ebsen was the family's voice of reason amidst the comedic foibles of such television relatives as crusty Granny and critter-crazy Elly May.

Ebsen went on to enjoy almost equal success with the role of laconic sleuth Barnaby Jones, but the Hillbilly characters later took him in another creative direction.

Buddy Ebsen as Barnaby Jones
Buddy Ebsen as Barnaby Jones
He used to enjoy sketching their distinctive faces, and this pastime ultimately led to his parallel career of painting.

With a skill developed as a child, Ebsen went on to become one of the country's foremost folk artists.

His television persona and his hunting dog Juke inspired his most celebrated work, a series of pictures called Jed Country.

"Triumph of spirit"

At the age of 92, Ebsen added a fresh string to his bow. Embarking on romantic fiction, he released the book Kelly's Quest, telling the story about a young girl's quest for Mr Right.

On his new vocation, Ebsen described it as satisfying enough, "if what you write can increase the value of the paper".

For all his achievements Ebsen credited his mother, who taught him that "there is no such thing as failure, just a temporary postponement of success".

Buddy Ebsen painting
Multi-talented: Buddy at work in his studio
He said: "Of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important is the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish obstacles - spirit."

His failure to appear alongside the famous Wizard prompted Buddy Ebsen to title his autobiography The Other Side of Oz.

During a life long and rich with creativity and good humour, this Tin Man left his many fans in no doubt that he definitely had a heart.




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