Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Irene Ryan: Motown’s Newest Teen Sensation

How unfortunate when an actor embodies a character so convincingly that s/he becomes forever associated with that one role – such as Irene Ryan, heretofore known to millions as Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies.  But, as her 1973 UPI obituary points out, Irene Ryan was part of an elite group of entertainers who enjoyed success in vaudeville, radio, film, TV, and Broadway – where Ryan [had not, as it turns out – see comments below] won a Tony award for her portrayal of Berthe, a “regal but lusty medieval grandmother,” in Pippin.

Looks like we might need to add “music” to Ryan’s long list of accomplishments, since one curious consequence of Pippin being partially backed by Berry Gordy is that Irene Ryan got a chance – at the very end of her life – to release a 45 on Motown Records.  In this YouTube video for “No Time at All,” look for a promotional ad featuring Irene Ryan, as Granny, with the tagline, “Motown’s Newest Teen Sensation” (around the 50-second mark).

No Time at All - Granny Ryan on Motown

Songs for 1972’s Pippin were written by Stephen Schwartz, composer of the previous year’s Godspell.  “No Time at All” produced by Bob Crewe, who co-wrote “Lucky Ladybug” for Billy and Lillie.



The Role of a Lifetime 

Rather than be upset about being typecast as DaisyGrannyMoses from The Beverly Hillbillies, in fact, quite the opposite was true.  In her UPI obituary, Irene Ryan was quoted in 1967, during the height of the show’s popularity, as saying, “A show like this comes along once in a performer’s lifetime. It’s the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.  The minute I saw the pilot script I knew it would make a big hit.”


LINK to Film +/- TV Soundtracks on Zero to 180

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4 Responses

  1. Irene Ryan did not win the Tony.. she lost to a woman from ” A Little Night Music” which is a shame, because Ryan died that same year.

    1. Irene Ryan should have won the Tony and would have won the Tony, hands-down, except that she became ill three days after the Tony Awards were announced, a Saturday, and flew to California, and went into the hospital that Monday, the same day the Tony voters began attending Broadway performances to see the nominees perform. She remained in the hospital until her untimely passing, six weeks later. So the majority of the Tony voters, who attend performances during the three weeks before the event, never got to see Irene’s show-stopping performance. They saw her standby, Lucy Lancaster. The producer never publicize the fact that Irene was in the hospital, let alone terminally ill, so voters who attended just thought she was missing that particular performance, and you can’t vote for someone you haven’t seen. So she lost the Tony award. She held on to watch the Tonys from her hospital bed, hoping she would win. When she didn’t, it broke her heart, and she passed away a few days later.

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