Irene Ryan

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Irene Ryan
Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan from The Beverly Hillbillies - 1970.jpg
Born Jessie Irene Noblett
(1902-10-17)October 17, 1902
El Paso, Texas, United States[1]
Died April 26, 1973(1973-04-26) (aged 70)
Santa Monica, California, United States
Cause of death Glioblastoma, heart attack
Resting place Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica
Nationality American
Occupation Actress
Years active 1913–1973
Spouse(s) Tim Ryan (m. 1922–1942); divorced
Harold E. Knox (m. 1946–1961); divorced

Irene Ryan (born Jessie Irene Noblitt; October 17, 1902 – April 26, 1973) was an American actress who found success in vaudeville, radio, film, television, and Broadway.

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.

Early years[edit]

Ryan was born Jessie Irene Noblitt on October 17, 1902, in El Paso, Texas. She was the second child 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. She was 17 years younger than her only sister Anna.[2]


Ryan began her career at the age of 11, after winning $3 for singing "Pretty Baby" in an amateur contest at the Valencia Theater in San Francisco.[3][4]

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.)[citation needed]

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.[5]

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.[6] She played Edgar Kennedy's wife in two of his RKO series of short films in 1943.[7] 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 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."[8] In January 1955, Ryan made her first television sitcom appearance in an episode of the CBS series The Danny Thomas Show. She appeared with Walter Brennan in the 1959 episode "Grandpa's New Job" on the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys. In the 1960-1961 CBS sitcom Bringing Up Buddy, starring Frank Aletter, she was cast in three episodes as Cynthia Boyle; and she appeared as Rusty Wallace in "The Romance of Silver Pines", a 1962 episode of My Three Sons, starring Fred MacMurray.[9]

The Beverly Hillbillies[edit]

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.[10]

In 1966, Irene Ryan played Granny in the comedy Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title, co-starring Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam.


In 1972, Ryan starred in the role of Berthe in the Bob Fosse-directed Broadway musical Pippin,[11] in which she sang the number "No Time At All".

A live recording (sound with still photographs) of the song "No Time At All" from Pippin, was recorded in 1972.[12]


In 1965, Ryan signed a two-year contract to perform at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.[13]


In both 1963 and 1964, Ryan was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead).[14]

Ryan was nominated for Broadway's 1973 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for her performance in Pippin.[15] 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 an inoperable glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor), although reportedly she was never informed of the diagnosis. She died at St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica, California on April 26, 1973, aged 70. The causes of death were given as glioblastoma and arteriosclerotic heart disease.[16] 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[edit]

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."[17] These scholarships have been awarded by the Irene Ryan Foundation since 1972.[18]

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "Irene Ryan, 70, Actress, Is Dead". New York Times. April 27, 1973. p. 40. Retrieved 31 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "Irene Ryan -- 'Millionaire Granny' -- Establishes College Acting Scholarships". The Lawton Constitution. August 26, 1971. p. 30. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Stroke Takes TV's Granny". The Evening Independent. 1973-04-27. p. 20A. Retrieved December 9, 2012. 
  5. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 672. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. 
  6. ^ Geaufort, John (December 8, 1972). "A New 'Granny' Role". Daily Independent Journal. p. 17. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ One of the short films in which Irene Ryan plays Edgar Kennedy's wife, Hold Your Temper (1943), is available for viewing on YouTube. Retrieved June 18, 2017.
  8. ^ "Jack Carson to Star Irene Ryan In New Fall Show". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 28, 1946. p. 19. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  9. ^ "The Romance of Silver Pines", My Three Sons (S02E15), originally broadcast January 11, 1962. TV Guide ( Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  10. ^ The Beverly Hillbillies Ultimate Collection DVD set, Volume 1 Disc 4, Bonus materials film: Paul Henning and the Hillbillies
  11. ^ "Irene Ryan". Playbill Vault. Retrieved October 6, 2015. 
  12. ^ Moonfall (20 October 2013). "No Time at All {Pippin ~ Broadway, 1972} - Irene Ryan". YouTube. Retrieved 19 November 2017. 
  13. ^ Vernon, Terry (January 17, 1965). "Tele-Vues". Independent. p. 34. Retrieved October 6, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ "Search: Irene Ryan". Emmy Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Irene Ryan". Tony Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Success As Granny Clampett: Actress Irene Ryan Dies". Beaver County Times. 1973-04-27. pp. A–14. Retrieved December 9, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship". Kennedy Center. Retrieved September 14, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Irene Ryan Scholarship". Kennedy Center. Retrieved September 14, 2012. 

External links[edit]