Mickey Mouse and Pirates of the Caribbean learned some dance moves from Buddy Ebsen
Yep, the Disney toon modeled his footwork on Barnaby Jones himself.
Image: The Everett Collection
Barnaby Jones is better known for drinking milk and busting bad guys than busting moves. Prior to playing that role, Buddy Ebsen delighted millions as Jed Clampett, another feller who might not spring to mind as a graceful dancer. But well before The Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen came to fame as a multitalented performer, tap dancing his way to fame alongside his sister, Vilma. No wonder that The Wizard of Oz wanted to cast him as both the Tin Man and the Scarecrow — the gangly Ebsen was a mesmerizing physical performer. (Alas, a horrible reaction to aluminum dust in the makeup kept him from appearing in that classic film.)
Buddy and Vilma Ebsen made their film debut on Broadway Melody of 1936, which went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. That's Buddy in the movie up top, shaking a leg with costar Eleanor Powell. Take a look at his sweater. He's wearing Mickey Mouse. It was more than a fashion statement.
Around the same time, as reported in his BBC obituary, Ebsen demonstrated dance moves for Walt Disney as inspiration for Mickey Mouse choreography in Silly Symphony cartoons. That was only the beginning of his relationship with Disney.
In 1951, Walt Disney once again had the lanky Ebsen perform moves for his animators. Ebsen went to the Disney studio, where they filmed him dancing before two white walls covered in a grid pattern.
Buddy said, "He took me to a room where there were seven little guys with aprons and thick glasses working on a contrivance that pulled wires and a little mechanical man that moved his arms, legs, head, and mouth."
Disney called the work "Project Little Man." This pioneering tech evolved into "Audio-Animatronics." You might know that better as "those robots on rides at Disney World." This animatronic technology was used on attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. There's a little bit of Buddy Ebsen DNA in those pirates and presidents.
Such work led to Buddy Ebsen earning the title of Disney Legend. The next time you're waiting in line at Disneyland, sing "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" in tribute.