The “Beverly Hillbillies” is a beloved classic TV show known for its catchy theme song about a man named Jed and his family’s journey to Beverly Hills. However, the true star of the show’s success was Granny, a character whose age might surprise you.
Granny, portrayed as the lovable, rough-around-the-edges grandmother with a heart of gold, was a key figure in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Her comical antics, which ranged from witty comebacks to preparing raccoons for dinner, endeared her to fans. The show premiered in 1962, and Granny was brought to life by the talented actress Irene Ryan.
Irene Ryan, originally from Texas, had a diverse entertainment career that spanned Broadway, radio, and eventually television. She was celebrated for her acting, comedy, and radio work. Later in her career, she won a Tony Award for her role in the 1974 hit musical “Pippin” and an Emmy for her time on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” While she had achieved some success prior to the show, it was undeniably her breakthrough role.
Before her time on the show, Ryan revealed that she had often lived in hotels, which had become somewhat of a norm for her. “The Beverly Hillbillies” catapulted her to stardom and prosperity, but she admitted in a 1965 interview that her fear of being let go from the show was a constant presence. She mentioned that she would be the “first one on set” every day due to her intense anxiety about losing her place on the show. Despite repeated assurances from producers and an overwhelmingly positive response from fans, Ryan held onto this fear until the final episode.
In an attempt to ease her anxieties, one of the show’s producers, Paul Henning, went so far as to purchase a miniature golden rocking chair adorned with diamonds for her. He presented it to her as a symbol of gratitude for her performance and a testament to her permanent place on the set. While Ryan reportedly appreciated the gesture, she still harbored doubts throughout her time on the show.
Granny, or Daisy “Granny” Moses (sometimes Clampett), was portrayed as an elderly woman in her 80s. Despite her spunk and activity, she was meant to be the older matriarch of the family approaching 90 as the show neared its end. Although Granny was depicted as an elderly woman, the actress behind the character, Irene Ryan, was actually much younger. When she was cast in 1962, Ryan was only 59 years old. The show ran until 1971, when she would have been nearing 70.
Ryan’s aged appearance on set was achieved through the magic of makeup. The additional wrinkles and shadows transformed her, making her nearly unrecognizable, and allowed her to fully inhabit the role of America’s favorite grandmother from the backcountry turned Beverly Hills.
Even after “The Beverly Hillbillies” concluded, Irene Ryan continued acting and achieved further success, ultimately winning a Tony for her performance in “Pippin.” Unfortunately, she fell ill while working on the project. Irene passed away in 1973 at the age of 70, leaving behind a reported net worth of $2 million. It’s evident that her fears of a return to poverty were unfounded, as she passed away wealthy, accomplished, and deeply loved by her fans.