Clark Lake lore includes stories about what David Letterman called “brushes with greatness.”  That described those who, in some way, run into someone famous.  This certainly happened when the well-known visited Clark Lake and/or spent time here.  One of those individuals was a Hollywood star.  Irene Ryan was cast as Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies.  For 9 seasons, starting in 1962, it was a top-rated network TV show.  In the day of only three national TV networks, this CBS sitcom had an immense audience.  Everyone knew who the Beverly Hillbillies were.

That Irene spent time at Clark Lake is not rumor.  She came and stayed for a while.  If you ask around today, you might hear that she visited people on the North Shore or near Kentucky Point.  Not so.  Irene Ryan was a guest of Waldo and Hazelle Andrews in Clark Lake’s Eagle Point Cove.  This is the same cottage that the Andrews’ daughter, Jean Schweitzer, now continues to enjoy every summer.

Schweitzer cottage today

But how did a Hollywood notable connect with Clark Lake?  It started before Irene became famous.  Waldo Andrews was an automobile dealer in Detroit. He became friends with a Chevrolet dealer in Los Angeles, who was a member of the Santa Monica Beach Club.  When the Andrews visited California and were invited to the club, they met Irene and her husband, Harold Knox, also members.  They became part of the Andrews’ friend group.  That led to Irene and Harold visiting the Andrews at their home in Detroit.  At the time, Jean was about 12, and her brother, David, 8.  Visits became more frequent when the Andrews purchased a home in Santa Monica Canyon and began to live there.

Irene and Harold Knox

Meanwhile, Clark Lake was very much part of the Andrews’ life.  The Andrews began renting the cottage in 1934, and purchased it in 1941.  Jean says “we lived for the summer.”  Like many others, “the rest of the year was spent in anticipation of arriving at the lake.”  When Jean married Lyle Schweitzer in 1955, they made California their home.  It was there they had three children – David, Suzanne, and Stephanie.  Irene continued to be part of their life.  The Schweitzer kids called Irene “Aunt Reenie.”  Because of all the obligations, the Schweitzer visits to Clark Lake were pared down to two weeks each summer, though the lake left an indelible mark.  Today, Suzanne and her husband, Patrick Walz, live in the Cove, three houses to the east of the Schweitzer-Andrews cottage.

Several reminders of Granny exist at the cottage, like the photos of Irene and Harold, Post magazine cover above, a newspaper article, and this photo, below. 

Jean recalls some of the high points of Irene’s acting career (lots of detail available on Wikipedia).  Born in 1902, Irene’s show business career dated back to Vaudeville.  She toured with Bob Hope and was on his radio show for two years.  In 1946, she joined the cast of the Jack Caron radio show.  She first appeared on TV in 1955 on an episode the Danny Thomas Show.  She became a household word when she played Grannie on the Beverly Hillbilly’s.  So, when Irene visited Waldo and Hazelle at Clark Lake, it didn’t go unnoticed.

Irene’s visits to Clark Lake caught the attention of the Cit Pat.  Their article recounts Irene visited whenever possible over the years for as long as month, but had to “cut the visit short” because of the “meteoric popularity of the show in its first year on CBS Network…”.  The date is missing from the clipping, but is probably from 1963.

The article points to something that Jean confirms about Irene.  “The sprightly actress is walking proof of the genius of Hollywood makeup men.  She is not the aged hillbilly granny she portrays on the show.  A wig and liberal use of makeup transform the personable Miss Ryan into Granny.”

The Cit Pat photo shows Granny (foreground) and Hazelle sitting on the cottage’s comfortable porch.  The photo below shows the same scene, but from the opposite direction.  Jean Schweitzer is sitting in the chair occupied by Irene in the Cit Pat photo.

In 1973, Irene Ryan became ill while performing in the Broadway play, Pippin.  She left the production, flew home for treatment, but did not survive.  Much has been recorded about her life as you can see in Wikipedia.  One account of her life said she owned a cottage at Clark Lake.  Did she?  Jean Schweitzer says “no.”  But her visits to the lake have been talked about for years.  She definitely left some memories behind and is well established in Clark Lake lore.

Further reading: Carolyn Zader mentions Irene Ryan, and David Andrews (Jean’s brother) in Carolyn’s Clark Lake Story, Part II.