Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Irene Ryan: Stardom at 60

That's Granny?! Irene Ryan away from the cameras.
She was a major television star of the 1960s, but even her most ardent fans might not have recognized her out of costume. Irene Ryan, pictured at left, played "Granny" Daisy Moses on The Beverly Hillbillies from 1962 to 1971. Nearly sixty when she was cast in the popular sitcom, Ryan already had a long entertainment career behind her, but nothing had brought her the attention and acclaim that Hillbillies did when it became one of television's Top Ten shows during its first season.

However, she nearly missed out on the chance to play Granny. According to an interview she gave the Associated Press' Bob Thomas a few months after the show's premiere, both the casting director and creator/producer Paul Henning thought Ryan was too young for the role. "Look, Paul, do I have to go home and get my grey wig and shawl to convince you I can play Granny?" she remembered telling the latter. "If you get anybody older than me to play the role, she won't be able to stand the pace. I know what those 7-to-7 schedules are like." Henning was reportedly close to choosing Bea Benaderet for the part, but was finally convinced that the role was tailor-made for Ryan.

Nine years of playing Granny left Ryan a wealthy woman. Rather than living high on the hog herself, though, she created a foundation that endowed scholarships for acting students. The Irene Ryan Foundation still exists today, and has provided a helping hand to numerous aspiring actors. After the cancellation of Hillbillies in 1971, Ryan made a successful return to the stage, winning a Tony Award nomination for her performance in the Broadway hit Pippin. Sadly, she suffered a stroke that forced her to drop out of the show, and passed away in 1973. As long as there are reruns of her popular series, however, new viewers will go on discovering this gifted comedic actress.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan was a minor star on The Jack Carson Show (radio); meanwhile, Henning wrote for radio shows such as Burns an Allen.