Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Beverly Hillbillies’: The Near-Death Experience That Cost Buddy Ebsen a ‘Wizard of Oz’ Role

‘Beverly Hillbillies’: The Near-Death Experience That Cost Buddy Ebsen a ‘Wizard of Oz’ Role

Beverly Hillbillies actor Buddy Ebsen nearly starred in The Wizard of Oz, but dressing for the part almost killed him, and he lost his spot in the legendary film. 

Buddy’s daughter, KiKi Ebsen, detailed the horrifying experience with Fox News earlier this year. Her father passed away in 2003, at the age of 95. Following his death, she began reading through his old letters and writings to put together her book My Buddy: The Other Side of Oz. That’s when she learned of her father’s brush with death. 

“I found a songbook that he had for The Wizard of Oz,” she explained. “That was a rumor in our family. He never spoke to us directly about that. So I got inspired to read these letters and go through his timeline… He had great success, but he also had great failures. And the way he dealt with all of that, especially in the end, was just so inspiring.”

At the time of casting, Buddy Ebsen had a strong vaudeville career. He was also tall and thin at 6 feet, 3 inches. Buddy was a dancer and singer, and he was a perfect fit as one of Dorothy’s quirky sidekicks. So, he easily snagged the role of Scarecrow. 

Buddy Ebsen Suffered From Aluminum Poisoning 

Kiki said he was ecstatic to land a spot in a major film. In the late 1930s, The Wizard of Oz was sparking major buzz because it had a massive budget and was going to be made in color. So, her father knew it would be a career-making move. 

Once production began, Buddy’s role changed to the Tin Woodman for reasons that confused him. But he went along with the move. It was the makeup that almost killed him. 

“They covered his face in white clown makeup,” Kiki continued. “And they dusted his face and hands with aluminum powder… real aluminum dust. It was in the air. And because the lights were hot, his makeup melted several times a day. So he had to be reapplied with aluminum dust. And he inhaled it over time. It coated the inside of his lungs like paint. He could not get oxygen to his blood, but he didn’t know this was happening. He just knew that he was cramping up [on] set and during shooting.”

Kiki explained that Buddy Ebsen was scared to lose his part, so he tried to keep quiet about his alarming issues. However, the situation worsened. One morning, he woke up and couldn’t breathe. His fingers and toes “curled back on themselves.” And he ended up in the emergency room. 

“He stayed there for two weeks under an oxygen tank. It took him another six weeks to recover… He actually couldn’t get oxygen to the blood and his blood fermented. The doctor described it as… a breakdown of the nervous system,” she shared. “He had taken as much as he could in his body, and it just broke down.”

When Buddy Ebsen went back to work, he learned that his role had been re-cast. Jack Haley was playing his part, which was now the Tin Man. 

Following his brush with death, Buddy had trouble finding work in Hollywood. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when Disney picked him for Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, that he finally got another big break.