The son of a circuit-riding Methodist minister, American actor Pat Buttram led a hand-to-mouth existence as a child. He managed to get a scholarship to study theology at Birmingham Southern College, where amateur theatricals captured his enthusiasm. Buttram's first professional job was as a morning announcer at a Birmingham station, bringing home a lofty six dollars per week. Heading for Chicago to see the 1933 World's Fair, Buttram began picking up comedy relief work on radio station WLS's National Barn Dance, where he worked with such stars-to-be as Homer & Jethro and teenaged George Gobel (who would later cite Buttram as his principal comic influence). One of the Barn Dance headliners was singing cowboy Gene Autry, and when Autry inaugurated his starring radio series Melody Ranch in the 1940s, Buttram came aboard as comedy relief. Together, Autry and Buttram would make several pictures at both Republic and Columbia studios (Buttram's first was The Strawberry Roan ); the two also co-starred on Autry's TV show, which ran for 91 episodes in the early '50s. Fast friends but not bosom buddies, Autry and Buttram became a little closer in 1950 when Pat was severely injured in an on-set accident and Gene gave him the encouragement to hang in there even when the doctors had given up hope. Autry retired from acting a multimillionaire in 1956; Buttram, while well off, still had to keep working, so after vetoing the notion of hitting the nightclub trail, he became an immensely popular after-dinner speaker at show-business functions. His subsequent TV roles were in a comical vein, but Buttram made an excellent impression in a feverishly dramatic part in "The Jar," one of the eeriest episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1965, Buttram was cast as duplicitous peddler Mr. Haney on Green Acres, and for the next five seasons kept audiences in stitches as he sold "Mis-ter Douglas" (Eddie Albert) one useless item after another, delivering his laconic sales pitch in his inimitable singsong voice. Off-camera, Buttram was a successful rancher and stock market speculator, as well as a Civil War buff; he was happily married for many years to one-time Western leading lady Sheila Ryan, who left Pat a widower in 1975. Semi-retired by the 1980s, Pat Buttram made a few welcome appearances on TV (guesting on a Green Acres retrospective special on cable television, and providing a voice for the cartoon series Garfield and Friends) and movies (Back to the Future III ).
photo credit: Columbia Pictures
by Hal Erickson biography