Irene Ryan (born Jessie Irene Noblitt; October 17, 1902 October 17, 1902 – April 26, 1973) was an American actress and comedienne who found success in vaudeville, radio, film, television, and Broadway. Ryan is most widely known for her portrayal of Daisy May “Granny” Moses, the mother-in-law of Buddy Ebsen’s character Jed Clampett 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 Seriesin 1963 and 1964.
Ryan was a lifelong heavy smoker. Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on the The Beverly Hillbillies, stated in an interview that she “smoked like a chimney” on set and her castmates had genuine concerns about her health. 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. The causes of death were given as glioblastoma and arteriosclerotic heart disease.
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. Known professionally as “Tim and Irene” (and billed formally as Tim Ryan and Irene Noblette), they starred in 11 short comedies for Educational Pictures between 1935 and 1937. The films were usually vehicles for their vaudevillian dialogue, with Irene as the flighty young woman who drives Tim to distraction. Tim’s frequent admonition “Will you stop?” became a catchphrase, and then became the title of one of their shorts.
Substituting for Jack Benny in 1936, they starred in The Jell-o Summer Show on NBC’s Red Network. Recordings (made on 78 rpm 12-inch 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 RKO series of short films in 1943. That same year, she appeared in the country music film O, My Darling Clementine.
By 1943 Tim Ryan had become a prolific character actor in movies, and Monogram Pictures reunited Tim and Irene for four feature films, the last being the 1944 musical feature Hot Rhythm with Dona Drake.
In 1946 Irene 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 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.” In January 1955, Ryan made her first television sitcom appearance in an episode of the CBS series The Danny Thomas Show. She appeared with Walter Brennan in the 1959 episode “Grandpa’s New Job” on the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys. In the 1960-1961 CBS sitcom Bringing Up Buddy, starring Frank Aletter, she was cast in three episodes as Cynthia Boyle; and she appeared as Rusty Wallace in “The Romance of Silver Pines”, a 1962 episode of My Three Sons, starring Fred MacMurray. In 1966, Ryan was a contestant/celebrity guest star on the game show Password.