A tall, mop-haired, drawling hoofer in musicals of the thirties, a respected stage star/playwright in the forties, Fess Parker's grizzled sidekick in "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier", in the fifties, and the rustic patriarch of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in the sixties...Each decade introduced a new, successful direction in the career of multi-talented 'Renaissance Man', Buddy Ebsen (1908-2003). The seventies would be no exception, as then 65-year old Ebsen would bring his wisdom, sense of justice, and undeniable charm to one of the decade's most popular, if formulaic detective shows, Quinn Martin Productions' "Barnaby Jones" (1973-1980).
As a retired cop, the murder of his son, a successful private investigator, would bring the elder Jones back, not only to solve the crime, but to continue his son's business, aided by his daughter-in-law, Betty (the beautiful Lee Meriwether, 38). Barnaby was a prickly old codger, more care-worn and serious than Ebsen's 'Jed Clampett', and each episode would focus more on the perpetrators of the crimes he would ultimately solve, than on his personal life, which would give the program an almost "Columbo"-like slant. There was nearly always an 'innocent' to save, and many episodes would climax in shootouts and foot chases, where the ancient Jones would always 'run down' the younger criminals (making the series a favorite target of contemporary humorists).
The addition of young cousin Jedediah Romano ("Call me J.R.") Jones, in the person of 27-year old Mark Shera, in 1976, while geared to attract younger viewers, actually improved the series, as it lightened the overall 'tone', and gave Ebsen a 'student' to give 'Yoda-like' advice to. Together, Barnaby, Betty, and J.R. made quite a team!
While the series would air it's final episode in 1980, and Ebsen would move on to great success as a painter and author over the next two decades, he would revive the detective in his final film appearance, in the big screen version of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, in 1993. Barnaby Jones, as prickly as ever, would still be taking cases at 85!
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