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|Born||Jessie Irene Noblett
October 17, 1902
El Paso, Texas, United States
|Died||April 26, 1973
Santa Monica, California, United States
|Cause of death||Glioblastoma, heart attack|
|Resting place||Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica|
|Spouse(s)||Tim Ryan (m. 1922–42); divorced
Harold E. Knox (m. 1946–61); divorced
Ryan is most widely known for her portrayal of Granny, the mother-in-law of Buddy Ebsen's character, on the long-running TV series The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971), for which she was nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1963 and 1964.
Ryan was born Jessie Irene Noblitt on October 17, 1902, in El Paso, Texas. She was the second and last daughter born to Catherine "Katie" J. (née McSharry) and James Merritt Noblitt. Her father was an Army sergeant from North Carolina, and her mother had immigrated from her native Ireland. Her only sister Anna was older by 17 years.
At 20, she married writer-comedian Tim Ryan. They performed in vaudeville as a double act, known in show business as a "Dumb Dora" routine and epitomized by George Burns and Gracie Allen. (According to Jim Jordan Jr., while playing the same circuit as Marian and Jim Jordan, Ryan suggested they include more comedy and patter in their show, which led to the creation of Fibber McGee and Molly.)
Billed as "Tim and Irene", they had their own series of short subjects in the 1930s for Educational Pictures, and later worked in feature films for Monogram Pictures. Substituting for Jack Benny in 1936, they starred in The Jello Summer Show on NBC's Red Network. Recordings (made on 78 rpm 12-in lacquer disks) of the shows of September 20 and September 27 (the latter the last of the series) exist. Don Wilson was the announcer.
Tim and Irene Ryan had no children and divorced in 1942, although she kept his surname. She toured with Bob Hope and was on his radio program for two years. She played Edgar Kennedy's wife in two of his series of short films in 1943. That same year, she appeared in the country music film O, My Darling Clementine.
In 1944, she played a ditzy secretary named Polly in a B-movie titled Hot Rhythm with Dona Drake. In 1946, she married Harold E. Knox, who worked in film production. (They divorced in 1961; the couple had no children.) She continued to work in motion pictures of the late 1940s and early 1950s, generally playing fussy or nervous women. In January 1955, Ryan made her first television sitcom appearance on an episode of CBS' The Danny Thomas Show. She appeared with Walter Brennan in an episode of his ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys. In the 1960–61 CBS sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy, starring Frank Aletter, she was cast in three episodes as Cynthia Boyle. In 1946, she joined the cast of The Jack Carson Show on CBS radio. She played "a neighborhood storekeeper who operates a combination candy shop and lending library."
The Beverly Hillbillies
After her divorce from Knox the prior year, Ryan was cast in 1962 as Daisy "Granny" Moses, the mother-in-law of patriarch J.D. "Jed" Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies. According to Filmways publicist Ted Switzer, series creator and producer Paul Henning had decided to cast Bea Benaderet as Granny. However, when Ryan read for the role, “with her hair tied back in a bun and feisty as all get-out", she just blew everyone away. Executive producer Al Simon and Henning immediately said: “That’s Granny”. Later, when Benaderet saw Ryan's tryout, she agreed. Benaderet was cast as Jed Clampett's cousin, Pearl Bodine.
In both 1963 and 1964, Ryan was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead).
In 1973, Ryan was nominated for Broadway's 1973 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for her performance in the musical. She lost to Patricia Elliott (A Little Night Music), in a ceremony held about a month prior to Ryan's death.
On March 10, 1973, Ryan suffered an apparent stroke during a performance of Pippin. She flew home to California on her doctor's orders and was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor), although was reportedly not informed of the fact. She died at St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica, California on April 26, 1973, aged 70. Her body was interred in a mausoleum crypt at the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica beside her sister, Mrs. Anna Thompson.
Legacy and charitable causes
The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship awards scholarships to outstanding actors who participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The scholarship provides "recognition, honor, and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education." These scholarships have been awarded by the Irene Ryan Foundation since 1972.
- O, My Darling Clementine(1943)
- Hot Rhythm (1944)
- San Diego, I Love You (1944)
- That's the Spirit (1945)
- Diary of a Chambermaid (1946)
- Little Iodine (1946)
- The Woman on the Beach (1947)
- Heading for Heaven (1947)
- Blackbeard the Pirate (1952)
- The WAC from Walla Walla (1952)
- Ricochet Romance(1954)
- Spring Reunion (1957)
- "Irene Ryan -- 'Millionaire Granny' -- Establishes College Acting Scholarships". The Lawton Constitution. August 26, 1971. p. 30. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Dunning, John (1998). On the Air:The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 672. ISBN 0-195-07678-8.
- "Stroke Takes TV's Granny". The Evening Independent. 1973-04-27. p. 20A. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 672. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3.
- Geaufort, John (December 8, 1972). "A New 'Granny' Role". Daily Independent Journal. p. 17. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Jack Carson to Star Irene Ryan In New Fall Show". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 28, 1946. p. 19. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- The Beverly Hillbillies Ultimate Collection DVD set, Volume 1 Disc 4, Bonus materials film: Paul Henning and the Hillbillies
- "Irene Ryan". Playbill Vault. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
- Vernon, Terry (January 17, 1965). "Tele-Vues". Independent. p. 34. Retrieved October 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Search: Irene Ryan". Emmy Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
- "Irene Ryan". Tony Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
- "Success As Granny Clampett: Actress Irene Ryan Dies". Beaver County Times. 1973-04-27. pp. A–14. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- "Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship". Kennedy Center. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- "Irene Ryan Scholarship". Kennedy Center. Retrieved September 14, 2012.