Well, Listen to a Story
She’s a beautiful, quick-tempered Hollywood stagehand who socks a superstar in the mouth when his hand caresses her “tempting bottom.” The superstar loses a tooth. She loses her job. And, after a blow-out with her old-school father, she heads for parts unknown in her Jeep.
He’s a tall, lean and hard-muscled Marlboro Man with “chiseled, bronze features,” who falls head-over-bootheels in love with this independent-minded stranger from Hollywood whose Jeep breaks down next to his Montana ranch.
Throw in greed, corruption, personal values and a little sex and you’ve got “Kelly’s Quest,” a love story by an unlikely first-time novelist: Buddy Ebsen.
The star of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Barnaby Jones” just turned 93. While Ebsen is a late bloomer as a novelist, he’s no newcomer to writing. During nearly 70 years in show business, the hoofer-turned-actor wrote five plays that were produced.. The title of his 1994 autobiography, “The Other Side of Oz” (Donovan), refers to his most unusual claim to fame: He was the original Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” until he nearly died from inhaling the aluminum dust in his makeup and was replaced by Jack Haley.
Ebsen is also a painter, whose most recent work includes a series of humorous, folk-art-style paintings that portray Jed Clampett with his old hound dog, Duke.
Ebsen underwent a heart-valve replacement three years ago, but since then has been in fine fettle. Good-humored and gentlemanly, he even did a shim sham shimmy, the traditional on-stage greeting of two hoofers--a tap step followed by outspread arms and a shimmy--after having his picture taken.
Seated in the sun room off the kitchen in his Palos Verdes Estates home with Dorothy, his German-born wife of 18 years, Ebsen discussed his latest creative endeavor, which he wrote “the old-fashioned way: with a yellow pad and a pen.”
Question: What prompted you to write a novel?
Answer: I was working on “Barnaby Jones"and I walked on the set one morning and there was the usual crew--male, except one person: It was a female and, of course, she caught my eye, because she was very, very attractive. I was fascinated. She was doing the work well and the thing is the guys that she worked with treated her just like one of the fellas. I couldn’t forget her. I thought, what kind of a life did she come from? And what is her life? And why is she doing this when a girl as good-looking as she is could be an actress? And that was the root of my [novel].
Q: So, you carried that idea around for nearly 20 years?
A: Yeah. I didn’t really think of writing a novel until I read “The Bridges of Madison County” and I thought, “Gee, I can write a novel.” So I started and the rewriting is the tough part. I would get up at 4 in the morning and work until daylight every day in order to get anywhere.
Q: Was it easy or difficult to write a main character who is a woman?
A: Dorothy tells me that I prefer to write about women. [He laughs.] Is that true?
Dorothy Ebsen: Buddy wrote quite a few plays about women--[evangelist] Aimee Semple McPherson and Mary, Queen of Scots. Buddy seems to lean toward women, and it’s amazing how he understands them.
Buddy Ebsen: I had four sisters [including dancing partner, Vilma] and I seem to see the world sometimes through their points of view and I look to them, so I suppose that had something to do with it.
Q: How did you feel about writing the brief love scene between Kelly and her Montana boyfriend?
A: I just thought that would be interesting and entertaining for people and also it would fit in to the character when she finally has a love scene with the Mr. Right that she finds. I think it’s a very effective, real emotional portrayal. It happens right after he’s defended her in a fight, so it’s very pure and pure love.
Q: The thought of Buddy Ebsen writing a love story may seem out of character to many.
A: There are a lot of me’s. Before I came to Hollywood, I was a sophisticated dancer in hot supper clubs in New York with my sister. I wore tails and a high hat. I wasn’t just the hillbilly I portrayed.
Q: Did the phenomenal success of “The Beverly Hillbillies” come as a surprise?
A: Not completely because when I was given a copy of the script, the very first one, I read it and I started to laugh and I laughed all the way through it. That was when I felt that, you know, when you get your chance to get up to bat and they throw it and you swing and pray. This is one that put me in that position, and I was right. It was funny, and it is funny today.
Q: What do you like about writing?
A: Dorothy doesn’t like the way I describe it, but you take a blank piece of paper and whatever you’re thinking, you write it down. I’m very satisfied if, in my mind, it increased the value of the paper. [He grins.] That’s what writing should do. It should increase the value of the paper. If I do that, I feel high.
Q: Do you plan to write another novel?
A: I’m writing one about Barnaby Jones, actually--an adventure he had, and I’ve got all the notes for it and I’ve got the synopsis written. That would probably be the next one, although I’m toying with two other novel ideas. My mind is bubbling with this stuff and I don’t have time to do it all.
* Buddy Ebsen will sign “Kelly’s Quest” at 3 p.m. Saturday at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. (in Los Feliz). (323) 660-1175. “Kelly’s Quest” is available in bookstores on the Web at 1stBooks.com and BuddyEbsen.com.