#HearTheStoryOfTheOriginalTinMan – An Interview with Kiki Ebsen


Kiki Ebsen returns to Theatre West by popular demand with a newly envisioned, world premiere production of her show “To Dad With Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” through September 22, 2019.

Multi-talented performer Kiki Ebsen honors her father, entertainer Buddy Ebsen, in a multi-media show, co-designed by Kiki and her brother Dustin Ebsen. The show highlights the icon’s seven-decade career during the best days of stage, film, theatre and television. From his earliest days as a New York song and dance man, Kiki takes the audience back in time as Buddy Ebsen starred in early films such as “Captain January,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Banjo on my Knee” and the “Broadway Melody” movies of 1936 and 1938. In addition, Kiki will reflect on his television work in “The Legend of Davey Crockett,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Barnaby Jones.”

With heartfelt love from daughter to father, Kiki remembers her dad, singing beloved songs from Buddy’s film career, accompanied by premier jazz musicians Jeff Colella (piano), Granville “Danny” Young (bass), Kim Richmond (woodwinds) and Kendall Kay (drums).

“To Dad With Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” –  (l to r) Buddy Ebsen and Kiki Ebsen. Photo by Cliff Lipson.


Kiki: “A decade after my dad’s death, I paused my touring career to reflect on my father’s life and work. A rediscovered acting trunk produced a wealth of resource materials—original scripts, old letters, songbooks, and photos—a montage of my dad’s life. From this I was inspired to record my sixth CD, “Scarecrow Sessions,” in time for Father’s Day 2014. This CD became the genesis for a musical evening.

“In 2015, I developed ‘TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN,’ to perform the music of ‘Scarecrow Sessions’ with a talented jazz band. My brother, Dustin Ebsen, an award-winning videographer, worked with me and added more than 200 images, creating a multimedia slideshow for our music and storytelling montage. This version of the show, coupled with the music of the CD, “Scarecrow Sessions,” achieved substantial audience and critical acclaim during its run from 2015–2017.

“The next natural step was to create an expanded show for the theatre. I am so happy to be bringing back my show for three weeks, after a successful three-day tryout at Theatre West in 2018. This new production celebrates my father’s 70-year career in the entertainment business as well as the 80th Anniversary of the iconic film, “The Wizard of Oz,” for which he created the role of the Tin Woodsman. From George Russel to Jed Clampett to Barnaby Jones, to working with Walt Disney, I tell my dad’s story.”

Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen in “Captain January.” Photo courtesy of Buddy Ebsen Private Collection.

How did you dad’s career get started?

Kiki: “My dad made his way to New York City in 1928 with a total of $26.65 given to him by his sister Norma, $1.65 of which was in his pocket and another $25 which was tucked in his right sock, to do the only thing he knew how to do, dance. That’s how it all began.”

What was your dad’s connection with Walt Disney?

Kiki: “My dad is a Disney legend. In 1951 entertainment Walt Disney personally chose my dad to pose for his artists to create The Walt Disney Company’s first fully animated figure called “Dancing Man,” the concept of which, later became known as Audio-Animatronics®, the technology that fuels characters at Disneyland attractions worldwide today, including Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. As kids, when we were growing up and visited Disneyland, dad would always stop and pause when we went by Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. We never knew why, until much later in life.”

“The Beverly Hillbillies.” Photo courtesy of Buddy Ebson Private Collection.

What are some of your favorite roles that your dad played?

Kiki: “On television it would be, George Russel in “Davy Crockett” playing opposite Fess Parker; Jed Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillie”s playing opposite Irene Ryan; and his title role in “Barnaby Jones” playing opposite Lee Meriwether. In film, besides his brief stint in “The Wizard of Oz” as the original Tin Man, among my favorites I would count his appearance as Doc Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” playing opposite Audrey Hepburn; Paul Roberts in “Captain January” playing opposite Shirley Temple; and Ted Burke in “Broadway Melody of 1936” playing opposite Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor.”

“To Dad With Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” –  (l to r) Kiki Ebsen and Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett. Photo by Garry Kluger.

How would you describe your current show?

Kiki: “It’s one-woman show featuring me, the youngest daughter of Buddy Ebsen, telling the story of my dad’s life from my vantage point, and that of my youngest brother, Dustin. S.E. (Steve) Feinberg directs the show. I am supported by dancer Gregory Gast, and a band consisting of Jeff Colella on Piano, Kim Richmond on Woodwinds, Kendall Kay on Drums and Granville ‘Danny’ Young on Bass.”

What advice would you give young people who are entering into the entertainment profession?

Kiki: “The entertainment profession and being an artist can be two very different things. One implies financial gain and the other honest creative expression. I would be clear about your goals going into the profession and move in directions that served your goals. For instance, in high school all I wanted to do was play in a band and for 30 years I performed non-stop worldwide playing keyboards and singing with everyone from Al Jarreau to Chicago to Belinda Carlisle to Tracy Chapman. I was very successful. It took many steps to get there but I was focused on that dream. That led me to songwriting and eventually writing, producing and starring in my own shows. My goal as an artist is to heal myself emotionally through my music and words. Then I have to have that translate to the listener. Being an artist does not always equal financial success. If your goal is to be a hit songwriter, you may want to study today’s music charts for what is selling then search out successful collaborators who can get your songs cut by the next ‘Ariana Grande.’ Bottom line: Love what you do, practice your craft, be prepared to go the distance and surround yourself with a great support team.”

What would your dad say today, if he saw you now?

Kiki: “He’d say: “That’s my girl, doin’ what comes naturally! Kiki’s found her calling and now she’s living her dream!”


See you at the theatre! 

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Lisa Bianconi
Author: Lisa Bianconi

Editor of www.nohoartsdistrict.com