6 Ellen Corby roles that are the opposite of Grandma Walton
She bossed around the Addams family, hoodwinked Barney and Gomer, and even played an alien!
Ellen Corby will forever be remembered as Grandma Esther in The Waltons. However, her most famous role came relatively late in her long career. She started decades early in films then transitioned to guest roles on television. Many of her TV characters were sweet, if a little strict, mothers or grandmothers similar to Grandma Walton.
But some memorable portrayals were the exact opposite! Here are six times Ellen Corby played nefarious characters who would never be welcome on Walton’s Mountain.
1. Miss Samantha – Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Bull in a China Shop” will sound very familiar to any fans of the 1944 Cary Grant dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. One of the funnier episodes of Hitchcock’s thriller series, it follows four elderly women who can’t get enough of the handsome, and unmarried, detective who lives nearby. Ellen Corby plays Miss Samantha, one member of the seemingly sweet quartet who will find any excuse, including arsenic poisoning, to see the strapping investigator again.
2. Myrt “Hubcaps” Lesh – The Andy Griffith Show
One of Ellen Corby’s most memorable single-episode roles is the kindly Mrs. Lesh in The Andy Griffith Show who tearfully sells Barney a car belonging to her late husband. Of course, Myrt “Hubcabs” Lesh wouldn’t be on this list if that was the end of the story. When Barney’s new ride turns out to be a total lemon, he and Andy discover the sweet old lady who sold the car is really the head of criminal automobile racket. She even has Allan Melvin, who played many crooked characters in Mayberry, as a henchman.
3. Mother Lurch – The Addams Family
Though Ellen Corby’s turn as Lurch’s mother in The Addams Family stays within the confines of the law, she certainly isn’t very pleasant to be around. When Lurch confesses that his mother thinks he owns the Addams’ house, Gomez and Morticia agree to be his temporary servants. Little did they know that Mother Lurch would criticize their every move and even convince her son to fire them! It’s a great showcase of Corby’s sterner side and the perfect opposite to the sometimes ornery but always kind Grandma Walton.
4. Aunt Sara – The Invaders
As far as “secretly bad but pretending to be good” characters go, Corby’s role as Aunt Sara in the very first episode of The Invaders might be the most extreme. After all, petty thieves and con artists are nothing compared to an alien planning to take over the world! The pilot episode sets up the series premise that architect David Vincent sees a flying saucer and finds out that extraterrestrials disguised as humans are infiltrating society. Ellen Corby plays an elderly woman who’s extended pinky fingers give away she’s not who she seems.
5. Criminal Mother #1 – Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
After swindling Barney in The Andy Griffith Show, Ellen Corby played two different criminals in the spinoff Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Both shady characters were mothers who seemed like the last people in the world to break the law. In “The Case of the Marine Bandit,” Corby and her daughter, played by frequent '60s guest star Kathie Brown, trick Gomer into robbing multiple liquor stores. They even get Sergeant Carter in on the act before Gomer realizes the ruse and has them arrested.
6. Criminal Mother #2 – Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Ellen Corby’s second maternal outlaw role on Gomer Pyle comes in the episode “The Short Voyage Home.” Gomer plans to buy the filling station in Mayberry and takes $1,600 in cash with him on the bus home. Corby’s character, credited simply as “Mother,” tries to snag the money out of Gomer’s pocket at the station. When that doesn’t work, she and her son follow them onto the bus. Sergeant Carter’s attempts to protect Gomer backfire and Corby’s sweet old lady act gets her off the hook yet again— at least until the end. This episode originally aired three years before Corby started on The Waltons and became everyone’s favorite TV grandma.