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Walton's in the Media.
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Will Geer is quite a ladies man. He's got one on the East Coast and another in the West. Ralph Waite's life is more subdued. He is a very happily married man.

The Waltons Men

Everybody knows TV is pretty much romanticized reality and that's exactly why some shows are so popular. After all, who wants to sit down in an easy chair with a bottle of beer after a hard day's work and just watch more of the same thing he's been living with all day long? We like to escape into fantasy for relaxation.

Certainly, The Waltons is a good example of this. Almost nobody who really lived through the Great Depression would agree that the series faithfully depicts the hard times of that era. Yet, there was a certain togetherness back then which many find lacking in today's society and that's probably one of the reasons The Waltons is so appealing - both to people old enough to remember the 30's and those young enough to wish for a simpler life than the 70's provides. But I quite possibly two of the top male stars on the TV show, are exceptions to the idea that life is better on-screen than off. Both Will Geer and Ralph Waite - Grandpa and Father Walton to you viewers - seem to have a lot more going for them in their real lives than they ever could in the land of make-believe.

Take Grandpa Walton for instance. On the series he's obviously settled into the role of "wise old man of the household "-with his long-time marriage to Grandma still the high point of his life. He rarely does anything more risque than to sneak off every now and then to sample the home brew concocted by a spritely pair of old ladies. Afterwards, of course, he's greeted with silence from Grandma-and at least once was made to sleep on the couch-until the other Waltons persuade them to make up and continue another decade of married bliss.

In real life, however, Will Geer is far friskier more fun-seeking than Grandpa Walton would ever dare be, even if he let the thoughts enter his head, which is doubtful. Geer may be 72-years-old but he's got the charm and derring-do of a man half his age. He admits his own philosophy of life is an optimistic one. "You get to a certain age and people look on you as an oracle. You're either a monument, a running brook or an old crock and you have to be careful how you steer in between. If you live long enough, everything good will happen to you." .

His personal life would leave many a man of any age envious. He has land, homes and ladies on both coasts, In the hills near Hollywood during the TV season he lives in a sort of bohemian cottage, complete with a garden filled with the 400 plants mentioned by Shakespeare in his play, It's shared by Herta Ware, his "favorite" wife who divorced him two years ago but with whom he's remained friendly. Herta is the granddaughter of "Mother" Bloor, one of the founders of the U.S. Communist Party. Himself a lifelong radical, Geer was subpoenaed to testify before the House Commitee on Un-American Activities during Senator Joe McCarthy's reign of terror and intimidation in the 1950s, But Geer is not a man easily scared - he appeared in a bright red shirt and a purple plaid tie and good-humoredly called the questions "hysterical." Nevertheless, he was blacklisted by Hollywood for years.

When he's not taping The Waltons, Geer lives on his 13-acre farm in the rolling hills of Connecticut. Keeping him company there on the East coast in a happy non-marital arrangement is a woman he calls his "next favorite" wife.

Maybe the reason Geer is so convincing as Grandpa Walton, despite his freeliving life style, is that he knew lean times, since he was born on an Indiana farm and later experienced poverty all over the country as the family followed his father around in his job as a railroad worker. His mother was a schoolteacher, who was paid in scrip- really not much better than IOU notes. So Will decided to get his college degree in something a little more profitable.

In between his personal and professional gardening, he acted in tent shows, on riverboats, in silent movies and the first talkies, on radios and in repertory theater all over the U.S.- especially Shakespearean festivals. Even now, when he's on hiatus from The Waltons, a group of seasoned and fledgling actors gathers on the stage he has built in rugged Topanga Canyon, five miles from the Pacific Ocean, to perform Shakespeare with him on weekends. Only the gas shortage this year kept him from taking his troupe on the road as usual in his own customized Greyhound bus

"The important thing isn't where you are studying but where are you playing," he says to budding actors whom he feels spend too much time in theater schools. "Are you doing some classics? Are you learning a poem every day of your life? Are you capable of doing a sonnet in one breath? "

He gives as much freedom to his theater as he allows in his own private life. Because of that, he says actors can "budge over, go over the edge, do things by they want to do. Anyone can come here on a Sunday and say, 'I feel like playing Ophelia today,' or 'I feel like playing Romeo'." That latter phrase could easily be attributed to Will Geer himself, as he flits around Hollywood with pretty women on his arm. And on Geer's photo covered walls, alongside the picture of a lady stripteaser, there's Mother Bloor at 76 with her lovely l6-year-old grand daughter, Herta Ware.

Will and Herta produced a family of actors - Kate, Ellen and Thaddeus Stevens Geer. When she was still a baby, Kate appeared with her dad and folksinger Woody Guthrie in the controversial 1940 film Fight For Life. She and Ellen both married actors and their younger brother Thaddeus is now his father's understudy.

Will says he still loves Herta, even, though "she sort of fell in love with an actor named Marshall" and divorced Geer so she could marry Marshall. She had a daughter, Melora Marshall, now one of Geer's four adopted children. After Marshall disappeared, Herta returned to Geer's Topanga Canyon home. But Geer himself never remarried.

He says he calls the woman who shares worker. his Connecticut home his "next favorite wife" because "she doesn't like it when I say 'my common law wife'. Has something to do with sin." The woman is an old suffragette friend who was raising three children her sister's son and two of her own. Geer says he treats all ten children under his care equally - and from what we've heard they all treat him with an equal amount of respect and affection.

On The Waltons, Grandpa's son doesn't really approve of his dad's occasional tippling either, though he does humor it because he has his own form of rebellion - mainly in not always going to church with his wife and kids. That's sortof an ironic way for Father Walton to show his independence, considering that in real life the man who plays him used to be a minister. Ralph Waite doesn't like to talk about the time he spent as a pastor for the United Church of Christ in Garden City, Long Island. "That was 12 years ago, and it was a small part of my life," he declares. "I usually refuse to talk about it because I get bombarded with calls from fundamentalist sects who want me to come to talk to their youth."  But Waite assures an interviewer that his giving up the pulpit for the stage isn't so out-of-character after all.. "I was always a loner," he says, "growing up in the suburban community outside of New York City. I found in the ministry a chance to be a part of a community of loving people who were interested in the things I never found when I was young. I found loving and caring people who were very serious about "life."   

But the handsome 46-year-old Waite, who was a bachelor of divinity degree from Yale University, admitted he became disillusioned with the church after four years of being a minister. He wouldn't go into details but said he drifted for a year or two after giving up the ministry. "Then in a haphazard way I found myself in the acting business. It was a tough struggle. I went from a minister with a 2,500-member church to a lunch time waiter, making about $6 an afternoon while waiting for acting assignments."   

His hard work and dedication paid off. He appeared in eight New York plays in eight years, plus about 15 off-Broadway plays, his most recent being Joseph Papp's Public Theater production of Killdeer. What he was searching for when he I entered the ministry also prompted Waiteto find his calling in the theater.  

"I was very serious about bringing something to life that was very honest," he said. "The theater again turned me on. I responded to this. And, in truth, I foundin the acting community people who would sacrifice anything to bring to life Ion the stage something that is more honest and beautiful than in ordinary life. -- The theater replaced in me a need that I didn't find in the church."   Waite credits The Waltons with making him rich enough "to pick and choose whatever I want to do from here on in. My next project is to start a professional theater in California, which it desperately needs. Also I'm going to produce a movie called Crazy Jack about my 12 years in the New York theater."

   Kami Cotler, smiled broadly when a reporter asked her what she thought about her TV father. "He's fun," she said. So perhaps although he does keep his conversation on the set mainly to the business at hand, evidently his kind and attentive manner rubs off on those around him. After all, only one member to a series should have the title of "the world's oldest hippie," is Will Geer was lovingly dubbed by Ellen Corby, Grandma Walton.

But these two men who play father and son on one of TV's highest rated shows aren't really worlds apart at that. Each in his own way has sought out a career and a life style which makes him happiest and capable of sharing that happiness with others.


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