Irene Ryan worked in vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, nightclubs and television before hitting stardom as Granny Clampett in all of the 274 episodes of 'Beverly Hillbillies'.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 29, 2022. It has since been updated.
Irene Ryan spent practically her entire life in show business. She acted until she died in 1973, at the age of 70. Born Irene Noblette on Oct 17, 1902, in El Paso, Texas, it didn't take long for Ryan to taste success in showbiz. Irene was all of eleven years old when she made her stage debut at the historic Valencia Theatre in San Francisco, receiving $3 for her rendition of Pretty Baby, according to New York Times. When she was 14, she lied about her age to get a job in a California stock company as she didn't want to continue after two years of high school. She worked there for four years before pursuing a career in showbiz. She met Tim Ryan while touring the state performing musical comedy and variety shows. They spent many years performing in vaudeville together and got married in 1922.
Not only was it the start of a 20-year marriage, but it was also the beginning of the two of them experiencing enormous professional success. They went on to create a radio show called Tim and Ryan and it soon became a nationwide favorite. Tim and Irene continued to work together in several films after their divorce in 1943. But it was the role of Granny Daisy Moses in Beverly Hillbillies that really got Ryan fame and fortune. However, she nearly missed out on being cast for the role.
Paul Henning—the television writer and producer—who created The Beverly Hillbillies, and his casting agent didn’t think she was the one. An angry Ryan called Henning herself to say that no one else would be a better fit for the role than her.
“Look, Paul, do I have to go home and get my grey wig and shawl to convince you?” she said, according to El Paso Times. “If you get anybody older to play the role, she won't be able to stand the pace. I know what those 7-to-7 schedules are like.”
She was eventually called again to read for the part. However, Henning recalls it differently. “Irene Ryan had paid us a visit and she came by the office. We had used her on The Dennis Day Show and she came by and I said ’Irene, do you think you can play the part of a Hillbilly?'” Henning explained, according to Emmy TV Legends.
“And she said ’are you kidding? I was at a stock company when we played at a theater in Arkansas. We kept waiting for the curtain to go up backstage and finally the curtain didn’t go up and there were nobody in the theater. So we went up and talked to the manager and asked why he didn’t let the people in. And he said that if he’d let them in before the curtain came up, they would whittle away the seats. So I know hillbilly’”.
Irene Ryan played Granny for all 274 episodes of Beverly Hillbillies. The show ended in 1971 after nine seasons. However, it opened up a lot of doors for her and she had a fairly successful career.
She experienced a stroke when she was performing on stage in New York and was also diagnosed with an inoperable glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor). Six weeks after the stroke, she died at the age of 70 and was buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Cover Image Source: IMDb | Irene Ryan | The Beverly Hillbillies | CBS