Buddy Ebsen Biography

Buddy Ebsen, an American actor and dancer, is best known for his role as ‘Jed Clampett’ in the sitcom ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and as the title character in the detective series ‘Barnaby Jones.’ Starting his career as a dancer on Broadway, Ebsen later transitioned to film and television, appearing in movies such as ‘Born to Dance’ and ‘Broadway Melody of 1938.’ With a successful career in both mediums, Ebsen became a well-known figure in the entertainment industry.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Christian Ludolf Ebsen Jr., Frank Ebsen
  • Died At Age: 95
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Knott (m. 1985–2003), Nancy Wolcott McKeown (m. 1945–1985), Ruth Cambridge (m. 1936–1942)
    • Children: Alix Ebsen, Bonnie Ebsen, Cathy Ebsen, Dustin Ebsen, Elizabeth Ebsen, Kiki Ebsen, Susannah Ebsen
  • Actors
  • Comedians
  • Height: 6’4″ (193 cm), 6’4″ Males
  • Died on: July 6, 2003
  • Place of death: Torrance, California, United States
  • Ancestry: Danish American
  • Cause of Death: Respiratory Failure
  • U.S. State: Illinois
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Florida, Rollins College

Childhood & Early Life

Christian Ludolf Ebsen Jr., commonly known as Buddy Ebsen in the show business, was born in Belleville, Illinois on April 2, 1908, to Christian Ludolf Ebsen Sr. and Frances. His father was Danish and a choreographer by profession and his mother, who was Latvian, used to paint.

Ebsen was the middle child with two sisters including Vilma Ebsen. His father owned a dance studio and he encouraged Ebsen to learn the art.

In 1920, Ebsen relocated with his family to Orlando, Florida, and he continued his education there. In 1926, he graduated from the Orlando High School and enrolled in the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida to pursue a career in medicine.

A year later he joined the Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida but had to drop out at the age of 20 due to financial problems. He then took up dancing and singing as a way of making his living.


After dropping out of college, Buddy Ebsen moved to New York City with his sister Vilma in search of better prospects. He barely had any money to survive and had to work in a soda fountain shop to earn his living. The siblings started performing in various clubs and developed their own dancing act in vaudeville. They were known as the ‘The Baby Astaires’ for their vaudeville act which they also performed on Broadway.

Ebsen also performed in Broadway musicals like ‘Whoopee’, ‘Flying Colors’ and ‘Ziegfeld Follies of 1934’ which brought him to the attention of New York columnist Walter Winchell, who gave the Ebsen siblings good reviews. Following this, they earned a chance to perform at the Palace Theatre in New York City.

Ebsen and his sister were offered a chance to appear for a screen test and eventually were offered a two-year contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with a further two-year extension offer. The contract earned them each $1,500 per week at that time.

The duo appeared in their first MGM film ‘Broadway Melody of 1936’ in 1935. The film ended up being Vilma Ebsen’s only film as a contract dispute prevented her from featuring in any future films and she decide to retire from the film world.

Ebsen featured in two more MGM films before rejecting Louis B. Mayer’s offer of an exclusive contract with MGM. However, Ebsen did accept an offer to work in MGM’s 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but was forced to leave the production due to health problems caused by the aluminum dust used in the makeup.

After the dispute with MGM, Ebsen saw his acting career hitting rock bottom with no solid offer coming his way. He became interested in sailing and his seamanship earned him an opportunity to teach the subject to United States Navy officer candidates during the World War II. He later made a comeback to acting with a television role in 1949 after repeatedly being rejected for an officer’s commission in the navy.

Over the next four decades, he became very famous with his work in several television shows. In 1962, he started appearing in the American sitcom ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ which was originally broadcast on CBS between 1962 and 1971. He played the character of ‘Jed Clampett’ which made him very famous among the audience.

Two years after the conclusion of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, he signed a contract to play the title character of the detective series ‘Barnaby Jones’ (1973–1980). This was his second longest-running television show and he played the lead role for its entire length of 8 seasons and 178 episodes.

Ebsen continued to work until 1999 and appeared in several television shows including ‘Matt Houston’, ‘Stone Fox’, ‘CBS Summer Playhouse’, and ‘Burke’s Law’.

Major Works

In his seven-decade-long career, Buddy Ebsen achieved the maximum popularity when he played the character of ‘Jed Clampett’, a mountaineer with an easygoing attitude, in the long-running CBS sitcom ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’. When the makers of the series sent him an offer to appear as one of the lead characters on the show, he was actually thinking of retiring. However, he changed his mind after reading the script and went on to appear in the show for its entire duration (1962-71). This was the longest-running show he had acted in over the course of his career.

He played the title character of ‘Barnaby Jones’ in the popular detective series of the same name between 1973 and 1980. He earned a lot of popularity for this role despite the critics not being much enthusiastic about his character at the beginning of the show.

Personal Life

Buddy Ebsen was married three times in his life. His first marriage was to Ruth Margaret Cambridge in July 1933. The couple had two daughters together and later ended their marriage in January 1945.

Ebsen married Lieutenant Nancy Wolcott in September 1945 and had four daughters and a son together. However, this marriage also ended in a divorce after almost 40 years in 1985. His last marriage was to Dorothy Ebsen and the couple remained together until his death in 2003.

On July 6, 2003, Buddy Ebsen died of respiratory failure at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California, at the age of 95. His mortal body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea as per his wish.


This veteran actor was known for his towering height.

In 2001, at the age of 93, he also became a bestselling author!

He was an avid coin collector as well as a folk artist.

The series ‘Barnaby Jones’ was ended after the eighth season because he wanted to retire in 1980.

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