Irene Ryan was worried she would have tomatoes thrown at her during live performances

Stage fright? No way. Fears of being famous? Nope. Flying tomatoes? Irene Ryan was always looking out for them.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

The character of Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962) was known for saying all kinds of wild and unhinged comments to her hillbilly family. 

From her saying "I've got eyes like a hawk and ears like a fox. And a nose like a bloodhound, but it ain't polite to brag" to "There's nothing wrong with the way I talk. It's the way you listen" — there was no telling what Granny was going to say next.

Her responses, attitude and humor all helped make Granny one of America's favorite characters on TV.

Irene Ryan, who played the role of Granny for nine seasons, was the same way. Although, Irene Ryan didn't confront everyone with a loaded rifle or cook up racoon in her Beverly Hills mansion as her character did.

Before she was Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies, Ryan began her career as a song-and-dance girl in vaudeville and was one of the genre's biggest names at one point in time. Why else do you think Granny was so quick on her feet?

She started her career at the age of 11 in radio which became a springboard to movies and hit series. She became one of the most sought-after character actors in Hollywood. 

With all of her experience in performing, one would think that Ryan had her performance down pat, and while that may be true for the later half of her career, the beginning wasn't so smooth.

At only 11-years-old, Ryan would sing at a neighborhood theater in an amateur show, a common form of public entertainment during that time. Her biggest fear wasn't the size of the audience, but what the audience decided to bring with them. 

During her time performing at amateur shows, many audience members would throw rotten tomatoes at performers they didn't like — yes, tomatoes — one of Ryan's biggest fears.

"My mother bought me a lovely pink dress for the occasion, and that dress meant a lot to me because I didn't get new dresses very often," Ryan said in a 1966 interview with Independent Star-News. "As I waited in the wings all I could think about was 'What if a rotten tomato splatters on my new dress?' Someone told me not to worry, that all I had to do was sing loud enough. So, I sang desperately loud."

Ryan performed in amateur shows for a little more than a year before becoming a professional at a young age with plenty of time to perfect her act.

"Luckily, I never did end up on the receiving end of a flying tomato," Ryan said. "But my fear was well-founded because in those days, amateur show audiences really did sling garbage at performers they couldn't stand."

But who couldn't stand Irene Ryan? Granny, we could understand. But Ryan herself was one of the best people in show business — even at 11-years-old.

"Every now and then I catch Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour and whenever I do I can't help thinking of how much people have changed for the better," Ryan said. "What I mean is, nobody throws rotten tomatoes or eggs at amateurs anymore."

If Ryan was ever hit with a flying tomato during her time on The Beverly Hillbillies, it would have made headlines in newspapers across the country. As Ryan grew as a performer, people evolved as audience members too.

"Gongs and tomatoes are no longer an occupational hazard," Ryan said.

Watch The Beverly Hillbillies on MeTV!

Weeknights at 9 PM, Saturdays at 6 & 6:30 AM, Sundays at 2 & 2:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

13 Comments

edbreyer 1 month ago
Here's an excellent short video about her life - with lots of clips from her old movies and the Beverly Hillbillies. Worth a watch!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3p8ghyo-T4
AgingDisgracefully 1 month ago
Hasn't anyone considered the poor tomatoes?
Spaghetti sauce dreams dashed in the cause of mayhem?
Avie 1 month ago
"Before she was Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies, Ryan began her career as a song-and-dance girl in vaudeville and was one of the genre's biggest names at one point in time."

It's Vaudeville, upper-case "V," and it wasn't a genre, but a theater circuit.

As for

"But who couldn't stand Irene Ryan? Granny, we could understand. But Ryan herself was one of the best people in show business — even at 11-years-old."

[An] 11-year-old = hyphens; 11 years old = no hyphens.
Irish 1 month ago
Irene Ryan was a classic. I remember watching a Western series where the audience threw stuff at a woman performer. I can't remember what it was. Does anyone else remember that?
JHP 1 month ago
she should have talked with Hal Smith (after the BARN incident)
Runeshaper 1 month ago
I'm glad Granny dodged the tomatoes and I feel bad for all performers who were on the receiving end of them!
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Well we all Ringo was afraid of tomatoes! In the song With A Little Help From My Friends, he changed "throw ripe tomatoes" to "stand up and walk out"!
PS Clearly Ryan didn't live to see The Gong Show! Carol Burnett got "gonged" in a Family sketch!
All KNOW! Did it again!
daDoctah cperrynaples 1 month ago
The others grew to fear jelly babies thrown at them after one said in an interview that they liked them. Paul mentioned the overreaction in one of the Beatles' Christmas records.

Now, back on topic. If you want to see Irene Ryan playing a character other than Granny, check out a movie called "Reveille with Beverly". It stars tap-dancer Ann Miller, but Ryan is there in the supporting cast with her recently ex- husband Tim (they had performed regularly as a couple, and continued to work together occasionally even after they divorced).
cperrynaples daDoctah 1 month ago
Well, they had no problems disecting baby dolls...LOL! A callback to an infamous album cover!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?