Series Overview The Beverly Hillbillies is a sitcom about a family who moves from the…
The Actors – Buddy Ebsen, Max Baer Jr, Irene Ryan and Donna Douglas
The key to the success of the CBS hit, The Beverly Hillbillies, wasn’t the plot or the setting so much as the characters that were brought to life by the wonderful cast. Who will ever forget the widower Jed Clampett, the poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed? On advice from others, he moved to Beverly Hills along with his mother-in-law, Daisy (affectionately known as Granny), his beautiful daughter Elly May and his dim-witted nephew, Jethro Bodine. Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Max Baer Jr. and Donna Douglas brought these characters to life in our homes and our hearts throughout the series’ long run from 1962 – 1971.
Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett)
He had a long career before the hit sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies. Born in 1908, he learned to dance at his father’s dance studio in Orlando, Florida. When finances forced him to abandon his goal of a medical degree, Buddy Ebsen used his dance skills in a successful vaudeville act with his sister. They performed in various clubs and were in several Broadway shows from 1928 through 1935.
In 1935, the film studio MGM offered the pair a screen test, with the end result being a two year contract. His list of musical films include Captain January (co-starring Shirley Temple) and Broadway Melody of 1938 (co-starring with Judy Garland). He was the original actor to play the Tin Man for The Wizard of Oz but allergies to the aluminum powder used in the makeup caused health issues that caused him to be replaced by Jack Haley.
He had some contract issues with MGM after he recovered, stemming at least partly from refusing an exclusive contract. During this time in his life, he joined the Coast Guard as a lieutenant, junior grade. When he was honorably discharged in 1946, after 5 years in the service, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant.
He returned to show business and did his first television appearance in 1949. He played parts in a large number of television shows but became broadly known when he played in the Disney series of the 1950s as Davy Crockett’s co-star. His true fame came when The Beverly Hillbillies came along. The show was a huge success for CBS and for Ebsen personally. His career didn’t end there, however. He played Barnaby Jones in the series of that name for almost 9 years. Buddy Ebsen did many other guest appearances during that time, finally retiring as an octogenarian. He passed away in 2003 at the ripe old age of 95.
Irene Ryan (Granny)
Irene Ryan also had a long career prior The Beverly Hillbillies. Born in 1902, by the time she was twenty years old she was already working successfully in vaudeville and radio. She toured with Bob Hope in his famous military tours, bringing a piece of home to our troops. She also played in a number of films but didn’t become well known until she hit the television world.
After the show ended, Irene founded the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, a scholarship program for promising actors. Since she had no relatives still living at the time she drew up her will, she left her estate of over a million dollars to create the Irene Ryan Foundation which continues to award scholarships to theater students who participate in the American College Theater Festival.
In 1972, Irene Ryan ventured in a new direction and helped create the Broadway musical Pippin in which she also starred. Pippin’s run on Broadway lasted until 1977 but Irene Ryan did not see the end. She suffered a stroke during her performance in the show in April of 1973 and died a few days later at the age of seventy.
Max Baer Jr. (Jethro Bodine)
Max Baer Jr. was another cast member of The Beverly Hillbillies that wasn’t new to show business when he was cast as Jethro. Son of boxing great Max Baer, he grew up in the limelight. He went to college in California and received degrees in business administration, philosophy and domestic science. In 1960 he began to appear in various Warner Bros. television shows including Maverick, Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip.
After appearing as Jethro for so many years, Max Baer Jr. found it difficult to continue in starring roles in television due to being typecast. He did some guest appearances here and there but The Beverly Hillbillies was to be the high point of his acting career. This didn’t deter him from being involved with show business, however.
Max Baer Jr. began to write and produce his own movies starting with Macon County Line in 1974 which was a record-breaking gross revenue film for the time. He then did The Wild McCullochs in 1975 which was also successful. He was the first to take a hit song and make a movie out of it when he produced Ode to Billy Joe in 1976 which was another huge success in both the American and foreign markets.
After directing Hometown USA in 1979, Max largely retired from show business other than an occasional television appearance. He became interested in the gambling industry and has been pursuing his dream of opening a casino with The Beverly Hillbillies as its theme. Although the project hasn’t yet come to fruition, he did create themed slot machines and has acquired the sublicensing rights to the name and characters from CBS. Still going strong at 70 years old, he continues to work on his casino/hotel project.
Donna Douglas (Elly May)
Donna Douglas had the least show business experience when she became the beauteous Elly May in The Beverly Hillbillies. Born in 1933, she didn’t pursue a show business career until 1957. Before that, she had won some beauty contests including Miss New Orleans, got married, had a son and divorced. She decided to go to New York where she started out being a model in toothpaste ads.
She started getting a few television appearances including The Perry Como Show, The Steve Allen Show and then The Ed Sullivan Show. A producer liked what he saw on The Ed Sullivan Show and she then had a few movies including Career (1959), L’il Abner (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Donna Douglas also appeared in a number of television shows like The Twilight Zone and Ozzie and Harriet. Her one starring role came in 1966 while on hiatus from the show. She played along with Elvis Presley in Frankie and Johnny.
Donna Douglas is a devout Christian and often performs singing gospel music and has recorded a couple of albums. She speaks at churches across the country as well as at schools and college campuses. She also wrote a children’s book featuring Bible stories about animals called Donna’s Critters & Kids: Children’s Stories with a Bible Touch.
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