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Walton's in the Media.
The New York Times
1973

Ellen Corby ...
the favorite grandma

Ellen Corby, seen here with Will Geer, won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Grandma Walton on the popular CBS Television series The Waltons.

 

 

 

 

By PENNY P. ANDERSON

Ellen Corby never gave much thought to grandmotherhood until a year ago when she joined the cast of CBS-TV's The Waltons and quickly became North America's FAVORITE grandma. Now it's a way of life.

"I live alone and never had a family of my own," she explained. "These children on the show are like my own grandkids, and I really AM the grandma around here." She was giving me the cook's tour of the 1933 home where she spends so much of he time — the one constructed on the Burbank studios soundstage.

"This show is what I've ALWAYS wanted, she went on. "And what I just KNEW I'd get someday. You see, I believe in positive KNOWING — not thinking, mind you."

Despite her optimism, the spritely 60-year old at one point feared her dream of a TV home and family would be nipped in the bud by illness.

"I never finished the role on The Home-coming (the CBS special which served as the series pilot). I got sick and wound up in the hospital in surgery. I was afraid the producers wouldn't want me back. After all, I had caused them a great inconvenience, delayed production, and didn't seem very healthy."

But Waltons producers had their minds set on Ellen playing Grandma and when the series was sold, her name was among those included in the regular cast.

With the series came a bonus. Besides a sense of family, Ellen has come to enjoy the kind of attention and professional kudos actresses dream of.

This year she won an Emmy award for Best Supporting Actress — but she's not exactly sure why.

"I sometimes think it was not for my work on the show, but more for the 40 years of service I've given to the entertainment industry." she said and laughed.

The gold statuette is not the only bonus she's collected in this, her 40th professional year. "THIS is my REAL pride and joy," she bubbled, handing me a script on the cover of which was printed, "The Separation . . . From a Story by Ellen Corby."

"I'm so darned proud of that," she beamed. "Maybe I shouldn't say this — I DO talk too much, you know — but maybe I'm proving in my own way that not all actors are is stupid as some people think they are."

She has had stories accepted by producers in the past, "but somehow they never made it to the screen. I sold ideas to The Millionaire and Hazel but both series were taken off the air before my stories were produced."

While her writing credits have not been extensive, the acting credits of the Racine, Wisconsin-born actress have been. Since she arrived in Hollywood in 1933 — along with the Depression — she has appeared in more films and TV shows "than I can keep track of."

Her movie debut was as a waitress in a low-budget production, Twisted Rails.

"I was promised a salary of $25." she recalled with a grin. "But we had to wait around until the producers were able to get enough money to begin production.

"Finally, someone's nephew sold a paper route for $1,500 and that's the budget we made the picture on."

Ellen's mother also came to the aid of the shoe-string production by cooking lunch for the cast and crew each day.

Even with the completion of the film, the financial problems were far from over. The producers were debt-laden and it was their ingenue actress, Ellen Corby, who cashed in a personal insurance policy to give them enough money to get out of town.

She remembers the experience with humor and fondness, but admits, "It was quite a way to make a movie debut!" Her television series debut some years back proved less chaotic — but not nearly so endearing. "I was in Trackdown, Bob Culp's first series," she recounted.

"I didn't much care for the show — but it wasn't TOO bad."

Needless to say, The Waltons is a far more satisfying experience.

When she is not with her TV family — at work or at leisure — Ellen spends her time at her own home, a charming old place only walking distance from the Sunset Strip. Her dearest companion is a Burmese cat named Charlie Brown.

Last winter, while the series took a production hiatus, Ellen bundled Charlie into a camper and set out to explore the South-western U.S. For the slight lady with the bent for lyricism and a heart full of good will, her sojourn was second only to John Steinbeck's own Travels With Charlie.

"Traveling's my hobby," she explained. "It always has been. I've been 'round the world twice."

Hers is an ambitious and courageous life — both off the screen and on. And if she takes her role as "Grandma Walton" seriously, it is no more so than the American public takes it.

Earl Hamner, creator of the popular series, has said that viewers find a sense of security in the TV family. "It represents something most of us long for in our own lives, a kind of stability."

In an era when grandmothers wear go-go boots, false eyelashes and no longer bake cookies, it's nice to have the elder "Mrs. Walton" around.

It is also nice to have Ellen Corby around to make grandmahood seem extra special.

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