|William Auge Geer was born in Frankfort, Indiana, on March 9, 1902. He was probably best known for his Emmy award winning role of The Grandfather, Zebulon Walton, in the series The Waltons. The role of Zeb in The Homecoming was played by Edgar Bergen.
He attended the University of Chicago where he majored in plant and animal husbandry and also held a Masters Degree from Columbia University. It was while he was at college that he became interested in drama, when he participated in several student productions. He married Herta Ware and they had one daughter.
During his long career in show business, he performed in a multitude of plays, movies and television shows. He even toured the country, performing as a folk singer, at one time.
Geer's debut as an actor was in 1928, when he appeared on stage in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Perhaps many of the more well known plays he appeared in were Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Anthony and Cleopatra. Other classic plays included The School for Scandal and The Wild Duck.
His earliest movies included roles in Misleading Lady, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Union Pacific. Further roles included To Please a Lady, Broken Arrow and The Barefoot Mailman. Unfortunately he became a victim of the blacklist after he was called to answer before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1951. He had praised the Russian stage and cinema in 1948, in an article which appeared in a Communist Party newspaper. With this blacklisting he was unable to get acting work until 1962, when a director, Otto Preminger, hired him for the film Advise and Consent.
Whilst he was unable to obtain work because of being blacklisted, Will Geer started up a theatre group for other actors who were also blacklisted, and so began what is now known as the "Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum". Geer had always loved plants, and he was able to combine this love with his love for acting. An amphitheater was formed in the gardens and many actors joined together to bring drama to the people. The idea of this theatre group was to bring the great plays, particularly Shakespeare's plays, to everyday people, who might not normally be able to see such works in a theatre.
Sadly, on April 22nd 1978, the beloved Grandpa of the Walton children, and one of America's best loved actors, died just before the filming for the next season of The Waltons was due to begin. It has been nice to see that his memory was still incorporated into the scripts of The Waltons, and he was, and still is, often referred to by the Walton family members, in just the same way as a loved grandparent might be in any family. His photo is still around the Waltons set, and we often see flashbacks as family members recall specific incidents.
Today, the ashes of Will Geer rest in his beloved Theatricum Botanicum. The theatre company at the gardens now produce 4 plays each season, and is under the care of his family. His daughter, Ellen, herself an actress who appeared several times on The Waltons, remains very involved with the theatre company, and works very hard to help to keep Will's dreams and memory alive.
|Ellen Corby was born Ellen Hansen in Racine, Wisconsin, on June 3, 1911. She was the daughter of Danish immigrants and was raised in Philadelphia. She decided to make to the move to Hollywood in 1933 after winning several talent shows. Although she did some acting work, she also worked for some time as a script girl for RKO and then at the Hal Roach studios. It was here that she met and married Francis Corby and although the marriage didn't last, she kept the name of Corby.
By 1944 she had decided to give acting another try and this time managed to earn minor movie roles. The 1948 movie, I Remember Mama, gave her an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category, for her role as Trina the maid.
She continued making movies until she won the role of Esther Walton in The Homecoming. Some of her movies include Madame Bovary, On Moonlight Bay, About Mrs. Leslie, The Seventh Sin, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and The Gnome Mobile.
Ellen also appeared in a great many television programs including Bonanza, Lassie, The Rifleman, Hazel, The Addams Family (where she played Mother Lurch), Ben Casey, Gomer Pyle USMC, Donna Reed, and Get Smart. She also appeared on stage in 1962 in The Child Buyer.
Following her appearance in The Homecoming she became the only adult to be retained from the movie cast to appear in the series The Waltons. Her role as Esther Walton, earned her several Emmy awards, and she stayed with the show until 1976, when she suffered from a stroke which affected one side of her body as well as her speech. Her stroke was written into The Waltons storylines and during season five we saw Grandpa having to adjust to life without Esther by his side. Corby returned to the show at the end of season 6 and stayed on in a minor capacity.
In 1981 she went on to appear in the role as Great-Grandmaw in a televised version of the play All the Way Home. In this she appeared alongside Sally Field and William Hurt.
Ellen Corby has continued to delight viewers, and has returned to our screens in the movie specials of The Waltons, the latest one being A Walton Easter which was televised in 1997. She has just celebrated her 87th birthday.