Buddy Ebsen's first animated movie role came in this forgotten Seventies Christmas special
The Beverly Hillbillies star narrated The Tiny Tree and voiced the Scrooge-like badger living beneath it.
In 1968, The Beverly Hillbillies became perhaps the classic sitcom most invested in Christmas when the show aired not just one, but two Christmas episodes.
First came "The Week Before Christmas," which saw the Clampetts gearing up for a trip to Hooterville for Christmas and bank owner Mr. Drysdale bah-humbugging and refusing to give his employees the holiday off.
A week later, "Christmas in Hooterville" aired, paying off on all the merriness teased in the prior week’s episode.
But these aren’t the only Beverly Hillbillies Christmas episodes. Starting in the show’s first season with "Home for Christmas," every season of the show has aired a Christmas episode, and that’s why the Clampetts might be a family that classic TV fans think of with special fondness around this time of year.
At the center of The Beverly Hillbillies is Buddy Ebsen, who played the family patriarch Jed Clampett, but even the biggest classic TV fans may have forgotten that in 1975, Ebsen took one step closer to becoming a Christmas icon when he released what unfortunately has since become a forgotten holiday special.
The Tiny Tree premiered in 1975, a cartoon film that became Ebsen’s first-ever animated movie role.
In the made-for-TV special, Ebsen narrates the story, voicing the thoughts of the Tiny Tree at the special’s heart and providing the voice for the Scrooge-like badger who lives beneath its branches.
The Tiny Tree was intended to be as big as Frosty the Snowman in the pantheon of holiday TV specials, and to help make sure it became a classic folded into family holiday traditions, they even hired the guy who wrote "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to pen all its songs.
But not even Johnny Marks’ talent for catchy Christmas tunes — two songs of which in the special were belted out by Roberta Flack — could save The Tiny Tree from fading from memory.
So, in case you forget the story, here’s your reminder: A little girl in a wheelchair moves with her parents to a farm where she hopes to learn to walk again.
In the meadow near her house, lots of animal friends gather under one tiny tree and over time, they become friends with the girl.
Then, when a snowstorm threatens to ruin Christmas by preventing the girl from getting a proper Christmas tree, the tiny tree comes to her rescue, saving Christmas for all.
Although the special was star-studded — with Ebsen narrating, Janet Waldo voicing the little girl, and comedic voice talents like Lucille Bliss and Paul Winchell voicing animal friends — very few people today still remember the story of The Tiny Tree.
For Ebsen, who told The Golden Star in 1976 how much he enjoyed playing the "good-natured grump" badger in The Tiny Tree, Christmas wasn’t spoiled by the holiday special not becoming a hit.
Ebsen says his only advice to have a merry Christmas is to "Speak softly at Christmas and even sing a little, if you can."
Whether that’s singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or a song from The Tiny Tree like "To Love and Be Loved," that’s up to you. Singing any song will make the season brighter.
"Your friends will enjoy it more than a Christmas present," Ebsen said.