Interview by Marilyn Lester
Singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen is the youngest of Buddy Ebsen’s seven children – and the one on the end of a 20-year span of siblings that’s gone most actively into show business. It’s partially from this perspective that Ebsen has created “To Dad, With Love – A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” a show she intends will not only highlight the remarkable career of her father, but leave people inspired about family and family connections. “I realized the connection to my father didn’t end with his death,” she says. “I believe there’s a very real presence of those who have gone on still active in our lives. We can all connect at any time and they are with us.”
Ebsen’s full understanding about her father came relatively recently. When she was growing up, he was frequently working and tending to a very busy life. “As a child, growing up that way, you think: hey, where’s my time?” she says. “It’s a struggle to live up to the name and to overcome feeling unimportant.” Ebsen reveals she had a chance to sit down with her father in his later years and talk. “I was able to thank him for my life,” she says. “I was able to get to the other side of childhood issues.”
After Buddy Ebsen passed in 2003 at age 95, Kiki discovered so much more about him. It was while going through her Dad’s memorabilia that Ebsen had the “aha moment” – a glimpse into his life long before her birth. “There were things he didn’t like to talk about. I got to know him in a new way. It gave me chills,” she says. As an homage to her Dad, Ebsen recorded a CD, “Scarecrow Sessions,” a posthumous Father’s Day gift, to fulfill her Dad’s wish that she become a jazz singer. “He knew I’d excel at it,” Ebsen says. “But I wanted to compose and do other things, which I did.”
After being a sideman to other performers, Ebsen decided to “create a vehicle for me and step out of the shadows,” and to share her father’s amazing seven-decade career on a wider scale. Buddy Ebsen may most be remembered as Jed Clampett of the “Beverly Hillbillies” or as “Barnaby Jones,” but “Dad did so much more,” Kiki explains. “He was a pioneer in the industry. For example, he was an eccentric dancer and the movement model for Walt Disney animation, and in the development of their autoanimatronic technology.”
One of the things Ebsen senior didn’t like to talk about was his experience with “The Wizard of Oz.” He was cast as the original Tin Man, but a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in the makeup caused him to withdraw, with unhappy repercussions at the studio.
Buddy Ebsen went on to serve in World War Two and then carved out a brilliant career in film and television. All of this Kiki Ebsen reveals in her show, which features the singer and a multimedia presentation. “My brother Dustin and I put together the images for the show,” she says. “It was an emotional experience, especially since every child in a family grows up with a different experience of family life.” Kiki Ebsen will not only talk about her Dad, but will sing songs from “Scarecrow Sessions,” which features the standards from her father’s illustrious stage and screen career such as “Over The Rainbow,” “Laura,” “Moon River” and “If I Only Had a Brain.”
“To Dad, With Love – A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” had an inaugural performance in California, where it was received with enthusiasm. It will play in New York for one night only, on October 8th at 9:30 at the Metropolitan Room. As to where the show will go from there, Ebsen says, “I want to explore my voice as an instrument and experience it for real – and I want to take the show as far as I can.” Most of all she wants audiences to know the spiritual connections available to each of us. “I live a purposeful life,” she says. (Ebsen is deeply into nature and has created The Healing Equine Ranch) “I feel that the relationship I have with my Dad now is the best I’ve ever had, “ Ebsen declares. “I want to go arm in arm into the future with him.”