Picks and Pans Review: The Other Side of Oz
Like its dancer-actor author, this autobiography is an affable, ingratiating, profoundly decent book. Ebsen, now 85, is best known as J.D. Clampett, hayseed star of The Beverly Hillbillies, one of TV's most unlikely successes. But he was also an amiably shuffly hoofer who danced with, among others, Shirley Temple (in Captain January). He also played the bucolic sidekick Georgie Russel in the Disney TV movies about Davy Crockett and the geriatric detective in Barnaby Jones, another TV hit. The title of his book refers to the fact that he was cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz but had to cede the part to Jack Haley because of an allergic reaction he developed to the makeup used to give the Tin Man his metallic complexion.
Ebsen recounts all these aspects of his career—from his early days as a struggling young actor and vaudevillian in New York in the '20s—in a slightly bemused tone, as if it has all worked out better than he'd expected. His book makes up in equanimity what it lacks in gossip. He doesn't bile any of the hands that fed him, even saying of the widely derided Hillbillies, "I'm certainly proud to have been a part of this classic, and as Jed, I acquired the most diverting and enjoyable family I have ever known, outside of my own."
Having been born in little Belleville, Ill., Ebsen plausibly brings off on the page the same folksiness he has so often brought to the screen. It doesn't even seem too cloying when he writes, in explaining the longevity of his career, "I never left a dressing room without thanking God for the job." (Donovan, $24.95)