Buddy Ebsen passed today. He lasted 95 years, so he had nothing to complain of there.
Jed Clampett has been one of my great mythological cultural icons all through life. The first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies broadcast about three weeks before my birth. The family of Jebediah Clampett resonates strongly not only with me, however.
America’s collective mythology and folk heroes start of course with the founding fathers. George Washington and Ben Franklin are great, but a little bit far from us culturally. They are great admired forebears, but more in a dusty historical way than in an immediate personal manner.
Going for mythical ie fictional American icons, lots of people would invoke Western characters. For starters, no one I know gives a rat’s ass about Paul Bunyon or Babe the Blue Ox. Many people admire John Wayne or Roy Rogers, but again they are something rather far away from us.
The Clampetts, however, are MY people. These are fictionalized and idealized archetypes relevant to my background. I know people like this. To my neighbors and kin, the Clampetts [and Hee Haw] represent our shared mythology more than about any other cultural artifacts.
Jed Clampett particularly represents a fairly admirable model. He did not have the benefits of high education, but he was intelligent and thoughtful. He exhibited a fairly advanced wisdom about important things- far more so than any of the supposed high class folk of Beverly Hills- but without any arrogance or pretense or resentment.
JD Clampett represents only a small part of the time frame of Buddy Ebsen’s career, though. By 1962, Ebsen was already a stage, movie and tv veteran of over 30 years. He was originally a song and dance man. Among other things, he was hoofing alongside Shirley Temple in Captain January in 1936.
He first became really prominent as Davy Crockett‘s friend George Russel in the 1950s. If nothing else, they helped sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coonskin caps and assorted other Crockett merchandise.
After the hillbillies, Ebsen had a long run as Barnaby Jones. It was pretty good, as such things go. It surely didn’t have the cultural impact of the Clampetts, but the series ran nearly as long.
Perhaps his best acting performance came in the role that supposedly got him the part of Jed: Doc Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). He played the much older country doctor and skeleton-in-the-closet husband of Audrey Hepburn’s character. Watch closely the wistfully lustful monologue in the park where Doc tells Hepburn’s boyfriend (George Peppard) the story of his child bride. That’s some acting.