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Published October 25, 2022
“The Entertaining Life of Buddy Ebsen” is the new exhibition hosted by the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC).
Ebsen enjoyed a show business career that spanned more than 70 years performing onstage, in film and on television. For nearly two decades, he was a television star, first as Jed Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and then as a central character in the detective drama “Barnaby Jones.”
“The exhibit begins with Ebsen’s days as a song and dance man in vaudeville and in the ‘Ziegfeld Follies,’” says AHC Assistant Archivist Roger Simon, who curated the exhibition. “It then moves to his early Hollywood career in the late 1930s, when he acted alongside stars such as Jack Benny, Barbara Stanwyck and Judy Garland.”
Ebsen’s big break should have come when he played the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939, but the aluminum dust in his makeup caused major health problems; he was hospitalized and forced to leave the production. Ebsen later observed, “I had ingested pure aluminum; it had coated my lungs like paint.”
Despite the setback, Ebsen served as a Coast Guard officer during World War II, took up sailboat racing and then acted in numerous films during the 1950s. As TV came onto the American entertainment scene, he found himself playing in the numerous Westerns that were popular back then. In 1955, he co-starred with Fess Parker in the Disney serial “Davy Crockett.”
“The early 1960s were a busy time in Buddy Ebsen’s life,” AHC Director Paul Flesher says. “In 1961, he co-starred in the classic film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ and then, at the start of 1962, he was signed for ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ which began filming that summer. In between, he won the Trans-Pacific sailboat race.”
The Ebsen exhibition features materials from all stages of his career, even exploring his playwriting and painting. It will be on display in the AHC’s loggia through Jan. 15. Through his wife Dorothy Ebsen’s gift, Buddy Ebsen’s papers and effects make the AHC exhibition possible, Flesher says.
Ebsen’s materials relate to all aspects of his life and career, including film, stage and television scripts; financial documents; correspondence; and photographs. The collection also holds artwork created by Ebsen, as well as materials and artifacts, such as his sailing trophies and athletic medals. The entirety of the Buddy Ebsen Collection -- more than 165 cubic feet -- is available for research at the AHC.
The collection joins the center’s large Hollywood and entertainment holdings, Flesher says.
For more information, visit UW’s AHC at www.uwyo.edu/ahc/.