Irene Ryan: Actress (1902 - 1973) | Biography
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Irene Ryan

Irene Ryan

Irene Ryan
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Actress
Was Actor Stage actor Television actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female
Birth 17 October 1902, El Paso, El Paso County, Texas, U.S.A.
Death 26 April 1973, Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A. (aged 70 years)
Spouse: Tim Ryan
Irene Ryan
The details (from wikipedia)


Irene Ryan (born Jessie Irene Noblitt; October 17, 1902 – April 26, 1973) was an American actress who found success in vaudeville, radio, film, television, and Broadway.

Ryan is most widely known for her portrayal of Granny, the mother-in-law of Buddy Ebsen's character, on the long-running TV series The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971), for which she was nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1963 and 1964.

Early years

Ryan was born Jessie Irene Noblitt on October 17, 1902, in El Paso, Texas. She was the second and last daughter born to Catherine "Katie" J. (née McSharry) and James Merritt Noblitt. Her father was an Army sergeant from North Carolina, and her mother had immigrated from her native Ireland. Her only sister Anna was older by 17 years.


Ryan began her career at the age of 11, after winning $3 for singing "Pretty Baby" in an amateur contest at the Valencia Theater in San Francisco.

At 20, she married writer-comedian Tim Ryan. They performed in vaudeville as a double act, known in show business as a "Dumb Dora" routine and epitomized by George Burns and Gracie Allen. (According to Jim Jordan Jr., while playing the same circuit as Marian and Jim Jordan, Ryan suggested they include more comedy and patter in their show, which led to the creation of Fibber McGee and Molly.)

Billed as "Tim and Irene", they had their own series of short subjects in the 1930s for Educational Pictures, and later worked in feature films for Monogram Pictures. Substituting for Jack Benny in 1936, they starred in The Jello Summer Show on NBC's Red Network. Recordings (made on 78 rpm 12-in lacquer disks) of the shows of September 20 and September 27 (the latter the last of the series) exist. Don Wilson was the announcer.

Tim and Irene Ryan had no children and divorced in 1942, although she kept his surname. She toured with Bob Hope and was on his radio program for two years. She played Edgar Kennedy's wife in two of his series of short films in 1943. That same year, she appeared in the country music film O, My Darling Clementine.

In 1944, she played a ditzy secretary named Polly in a B-movie titled Hot Rhythm with Dona Drake. In 1946, she married Harold E. Knox, who worked in film production. (They divorced in 1961; the couple had no children.) She continued to work in motion pictures of the late 1940s and early 1950s, generally playing fussy or nervous women. In January 1955, Ryan made her first television sitcom appearance on an episode of CBS' The Danny Thomas Show. She appeared with Walter Brennan in an episode of his ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys. In the 1960–61 CBS sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy, starring Frank Aletter, she was cast in three episodes as Cynthia Boyle. In 1946, she joined the cast of The Jack Carson Show on CBS radio. She played "a neighborhood storekeeper who operates a combination candy shop and lending library."

The Beverly Hillbillies

After her divorce from Knox the prior year, Ryan was cast in 1962 as Daisy "Granny" Moses, the mother-in-law of patriarch J.D. "Jed" Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies. According to Filmways publicist Ted Switzer, series creator and producer Paul Henning had decided to cast Bea Benaderet as Granny. However, when Ryan read for the role, “with her hair tied back in a bun and feisty as all get-out", she just blew everyone away. Executive producer Al Simon and Henning immediately said: “That’s Granny”. Later, when Benaderet saw Ryan's tryout, she agreed. Benaderet was cast as Jed Clampett's cousin, Pearl Bodine.

In 1966, Irene Ryan played Granny in the comedy Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title. Co-starring Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam.


In 1972, Ryan starred in the role of Berthe in the Bob Fosse-directed Broadway musical Pippin, in which she sang the number "No Time At All".


In 1965, Ryan signed a two-year contract to perform at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.


In both 1963 and 1964, Ryan was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead).

In 1973, Ryan was nominated for Broadway's 1973 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for her performance in the musical. She lost to Patricia Elliott (A Little Night Music), in a ceremony held about a month prior to Ryan's death.


On March 10, 1973, Ryan suffered an apparent stroke during a performance of Pippin. She flew home to California on her doctor's orders and was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with an inoperable glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor), although reportedly she was never informed of the diagnosis. She died at St. John's Hospital, Santa Monica, California on April 26, 1973, aged 70. Her body was interred in a mausoleum crypt at the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica beside her sister, Mrs. Anna Thompson.

Legacy and charitable causes

The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship awards scholarships to outstanding actors who participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The scholarship provides "recognition, honor, and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education." These scholarships have been awarded by the Irene Ryan Foundation since 1972.

Selected filmography

  • O, My Darling Clementine(1943)
  • Hot Rhythm (1944)
  • San Diego, I Love You (1944)
  • That's the Spirit (1945)
  • Diary of a Chambermaid (1946)
  • Little Iodine (1946)
  • The Woman on the Beach (1947)
  • Heading for Heaven (1947)
  • Blackbeard the Pirate (1952)
  • The WAC from Walla Walla (1952)
  • Ricochet Romance(1954)
  • Spring Reunion (1957)
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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