Actor. He is best remembered for his role as ‘Jed Clampett’ on the CBS television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” that aired from 1962 until 1971 and the title character on the CBS television drama “Barnaby Jones,” from 1973 until 1980. His career spanned seven decades in films, television, and the stage. Born Charles Ludolf Ebsen, Jr he moved with his family to Palm Beach County, Florida when he was 10 years old. Two years later, the family moved to Orlando, Florida where his father operated a dance studio where he and his sisters learned to dance. After graduating from Orlando High School in 1926, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida for a year, followed by a year at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, with the idea of entering the medical profession. Due to family financial problems, he left college at the age of 20 and relocated with his sister Vilma Ebsen to New York City, New York, to gain employment as a dancer. They performed as a dance act in supper clubs and in vaudeville, known as “The Baby Astaires”. On Broadway, they appeared as members of the chorus in the musicals “Whoopee,” “Flying Colors,” and “Ziegfeld Follies of 1934.” A rave review from New York columnist Walter Winchell, who saw them perform in Atlantic City, New Jersey led to a booking at the Palace Theatre in New York City, the pinnacle of the vaudeville world at that time. In 1935 he and Vilma were approached by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie studio for a screen test and then signed a two-year contract, with a two-year option. After relocating to Hollywood, California, they made their film debuts in “Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935).” This was to be Vilma’s only film, due to a contract problem that prevented her making other films and she soon retired from show business. He went on to appear in numerous films, both musicals and non-musicals, including “Born to Dance” (1936), “Captain January” (1936, in which he danced with Shirley Temple), “Broadway Melody of 1938” (1937, with Judy Garland as his dance partner), “The Girl of the Golden West” (1938), “Yellow Jack” (1938), “My Lucky Star” (1938), and “Four Girls in White” (1939). He partnered with actresses Eleanor Powell and Frances Langford, among others, and also danced solo. He was noted for his unusual, surreal dancing and singing style, which might have been a reason filmmaker Walt Disney chose him to be filmed dancing in front of a grid as an aid to animating Mickey Mouse’s dancing in Disney’s 1929 to 1939 “Silly Symphonies” animated short films. In 1939 MGM originally cast him as the ‘Scarecrow’ in “The Wizard of Oz” bur he swapped roles with actor Ray Bolger who was originally cast as the ‘Tin Man’. He recorded all his songs as ‘Tin Man’, went through all the rehearsals, and started filming. However, he soon began experiencing cramps and shortness of breath, eventually leading to hospitalization. Doctors determined that he was suffering an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in the Tin Man makeup and he was forced to leave the production for health reasons. After recovering from the illness, he became embroiled in a contract dispute with MGM that left him idle for a time. He took up sailing, eventually becoming so proficient in seamanship that he taught the subject to USA Navy officer candidates. In 1941, with the start of U.S. involvement in World War II, he applied several times for an officer’s commission in the Navy, but was repeatedly turned down. His application for a USA Coast Guard commission was accepted, and he was promptly given the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. He served as damage control officer and later as executive officer on the Coast Guard-manned Navy frigate USS Pocatello. In 1946 he was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard and returned to acting. He made his television debut on an episode of “The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre” in 1949, which led to numerous television appearances in the 1950s through the early 1960s, including “Stars Over Hollywood,” “Gruen Guild Playhouse,” “Broadway Television Theatre,” “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars,” “Corky and White Shadow,’ the H.J. Heinz Company’s “Studio 57,” “Screen Directors Playhouse,” “Climax!,” “Tales of Wells Fargo,” “The Martha Raye Show,” “Playhouse 90,” “Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse,” “Johnny Ringo,” “Rawhide,” “Bonanza,” “Maverick”, “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “77 Sunset Strip.” However, it was his role as ‘Georgie Russell’ that he received wide television exposure, a role based on an historical person and companion to famed frontiersman Davy Crockett, in the wildly popular Disneyland television miniseries “Davy Crockett,” that ran from 1954 until 1955. In the 1958 to 1959 season, he co-starred as ‘Sergeant Hunk Marriner’ in the 26-episode half-hour NBC television adventure series “northwest Passage,” a fictionalized account of ‘Major Robert Rogers’, a colonial American fighter for the British in the French and Indian War. From 1961 to 1962 he had a recurring role as ‘Virge Blessing’ in the ABC television drama series “Bus Stop,” the story of travelers passing through the bus station and diner in the fictitious town of Sunrise, Colorado. He also appeared in numerous films in the 1950s and early 1960s, mostly Westerns. One notable exception was an acclaimed role as ‘Doc Golightly’, an older, rural veterinarian deserted by his young wife (played by Audrey Hepburn) in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In 1962 he was cast in his famous role as ‘Jed Clampett’ on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” as an easygoing backwoods mountaineer who strikes oil on his land and moves with his family to Beverly Hills, California to live in a mansion. Although scorned by critics, the show attracted as many as 60 million viewers between 1962 and 1971 and was several times the highest rated series on television. After the cancellation of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in 1972, he returned to television the following year as the title character of “Barnaby Jones,” the milk-drinking detective who came out of retirement to investigate the death of his son, which became his second long-running television series. He narrated the documentary series “Disney Family Album” during the 1980s on the Disney Channel and Steven Kellogg’s “Paul Bunyan” on the PBS series “Reading Rainbow” in 1985. His last regular television series was ABC’s “Matt Houston” in which he played Matt’s uncle, ‘Roy Houston’, during the show’s third season from 1984 to 1985. He made his final guest-starring appearance in 1994 on an episode of the short-lived television series revival “Burke’s Law.” In 1993 he had a cameo appearance in the film version of “The Beverly Hillbillies” as ‘Barnaby Jones’. In 1999 he provided a voice for an episode of the Fox Entertainment program “King of the Hill.” Afterwards, he was set to play a cameo role on the Howard Stern-produced syndicated sitcom “Son of the Beach,” but was forced to cancel it due to bad health. He died of pneumonia in Torrance, California, at the age of 95. During his film career, he appeared in almost 40 movies. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. An avid sailor and love for the US Naval service, he donated four open ocean sailing yachts (named Polynesian Concepts I, II, III, and IV) to the US Naval Academy’s Sailing Squadron in Annapolis, Maryland.
- April, 02, 1908
- July, 06, 2003