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Irene Ryan
Irene Ryan 1968.JPG
Jessie Irene Noblitt

(1902-10-17)October 17, 1902
DiedApril 26, 1973(1973-04-26) (aged 70)
Resting placeWoodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica
  • Actress
  • comedienne
Years active1913–1973
(m. 1922; div. 1942)

Harold E. Knox
(m. 1946; div. 1961)

Irene Ryan (born Jessie Irene Noblitt; October 17, 1902 – April 26, 1973) was an American actress and comedienne who found success in vaudeville, radio, film, television, and Broadway. She is most widely known for her portrayal of Daisy May "Granny" Moses, mother-in-law of Buddy Ebsen's character Jed Clampett on the long-running TV series The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971). She was nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1963 and 1964 for the role.

Early years

Ryan was born Jessie Irene Noblitt on October 17, 1902, in El Paso, Texas. She was the second child and latter daughter born to Catherine J. "Katie" (née McSharry) and James Merritt Noblitt. Her father was an army sergeant from North Carolina and her mother had emigrated from Ireland. Jessie Irene was 17 years younger than her sister, Anna.[2]


Ryan began her performing career at the age of 11, when she won $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. Known professionally as "Tim and Irene" (and billed formally as Tim Ryan and Irene Noblette), they starred in 11 short comedies for Educational Pictures between 1935 and 1937. The films were usually vehicles for their vaudevillian dialogue, with Irene as the flighty young woman who drives Tim to distraction. Tim's frequent admonition, "Will you stop?", became a catchphrase and then the title of one of their shorts.[citation needed] Substituting for Jack Benny in 1936, they starred in The Jell-o Summer Show on NBC's Red Network.[3]

The Ryans had no children and divorced in 1942, although Irene kept the surname. She toured with Bob Hope, and was on his radio program for two years.[5] She played Edgar Kennedy's wife in two of his RKO short films in 1943.[6] That same year, she appeared in the country music film O, My Darling Clementine.

By 1943, Tim Ryan had become a prolific character actor in movies; Monogram Pictures reunited Tim and Irene for four feature films, the last being the 1944 musical feature Hot Rhythm with Dona Drake.

In 1946, Irene married Harold E. Knox, who worked in film production (they divorced in 1961, having had no children). She continued to work in motion pictures into 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, playing "a neighborhood storekeeper who operates a combination candy shop and lending library."[7] In January 1955, she 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.[8] In 1966, Ryan was a contestant/celebrity guest star on the game show Password.

The Beverly Hillbillies

Ryan was cast in what was her best known role in 1962 as Daisy "Granny" Moses, mother-in-law of patriarch Jed Clampett, in The Beverly Hillbillies (although Ryan was only five and a half years older than Ebsen). The character was named in honor of the artist Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses, who had died aged 101 the previous year, and only started her professional career as a painter in her later years.

According to Filmways publicist Ted Switzer, series creator and producer Paul Henning had decided to cast Bea Benaderet as Granny, but when Ryan read for the role "with her hair tied back in a bun and feisty as all get-out," everyone was taken with her performance. Executive producer Al Simon and Henning immediately said, "That's Granny!" Later, when Benaderet saw Ryan's audition, she agreed. Benaderet was cast as Jed Clampett's cousin, Pearl Bodine.[9]

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 as Berthe in the Bob Fosse-directed Broadway musical Pippin,[10] in which she sang the number "No Time at All." A live recording (sound with still photographs) was made.[11]


In 1965, Ryan signed a two-year contract to perform at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.[12]


In both 1963 and 1964, Ryan was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead).[13]

Ryan was nominated for Broadway's 1973 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for her performance in Pippin.[14] She lost to Patricia Elliott (A Little Night Music) in a ceremony held about a month before Ryan's death.


Ryan was a lifelong heavy smoker, and stated in an interview that she "smoked like a chimney" on set and her castmates had genuine concerns about her health.[citation needed] On March 10, 1973, Ryan suffered an apparent stroke during a performance of Pippin, flew home to California on her doctor's orders, and was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with an inoperable glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor). Ryan 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.[15] Her body was interred in a mausoleum at the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica beside her sister, Anna Thompson.[citation needed]

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.[16]

Selected filmography


  1. ^ "Irene Ryan, 70, Actress, Is Dead". The New York Times. April 27, 1973. p. 40. Retrieved October 31, 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
  3. ^ a b Dunning, John (May 7, 1998). On the Air:The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 672. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3.
  4. ^ "Stroke Takes TV's Granny". Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida. April 27, 1973. p. 20A. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  5. ^ Geaufort, John (December 8, 1972). "A New 'Granny' Role". San Rafael Daily Independent Journal. p. 17. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via open access
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Jack Carson to Star Irene Ryan In New Fall Show". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 28, 1946. p. 19. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via open access
  8. ^ "The Romance of Silver Pines", My Three Sons (S02E15), originally broadcast January 11, 1962. TV Guide. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  9. ^ The Beverly Hillbillies Ultimate Collection DVD set, Volume 1 Disc 4, Bonus materials film: Paul Henning and the Hillbillies
  10. ^ "Irene Ryan". Playbill. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  11. ^ "No Time at All {Pippin ~ Broadway, 1972} - Irene Ryan". YouTube. October 20, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  12. ^ Vernon, Terry (January 17, 1965). "Tele-Vues". Independent. Long Beach. p. 34. Retrieved October 6, 2015 – via open access
  13. ^ "Search: Irene Ryan". Emmy Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  14. ^ "Irene Ryan". Tony Awards. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  15. ^ "Success As Granny Clampett: Actress Irene Ryan Dies". The Beaver County Times. April 27, 1973. pp. A–14. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  16. ^ "Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship". Kennedy Center. Retrieved September 14, 2012.

External links

This page was last edited on 3 January 2022, at 20:02
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