Earl Hamner Jr. felt Grandpa Walton's presence on set long after Will Geer passed away

Geer's personality and heart "permeated" the set even after he was gone.

Image: The Everett Collection

Few characters are remembered as fondly as Grandpa and Grandma Walton. The two made a great pair, as feisty as they were loving. Their presence during the show's early seasons provided guidance and stability, not to mention many hilarious exchanges, to a family struggling through hard times.

Sadly, time caught up with elderly actors Ellen Corby and Will Geer. Corby suffered a stroke and had to miss many episodes. She recovered and her health problems were written into the show. Geer passed away suddenly after filming the end of season six. Show creator Earl Hamner Jr. decided to incorporate the tragic event into the series.

The two-part, season-seven premiere "The Empty Nest" picks up six months after Zeb Walton's death, the family still stricken with grief. In an emotional scene made even more heart-wrenching by the real-world context, the children tend to Grandpa Zeb's grave on Walton's Mountain. Grandma states that her beloved Zeb will live on through all of them.

In a way, that sentiment also applied to actor Will Geer. While not actually related to anyone in the show's cast, he was everyone's grandfather on set. Earl Hamner Jr. told the Archive of American Television, "He didn't really portray Grandpa, he was Grandpa."

Hamner also related how, after Geer’s death, he felt the jovial actor's presence in spirit. "He permeated the set with his personality, with his love, with things that he did," Hamner remembered. "He planted a rose garden, he planted a vegetable garden. How many people do that on a movie set?"

Hamner compared Geer's lasting effect on the Waltons set to someone like Thomas Jefferson's on Monticello. "There are certain people whose personality is so great, so forceful, so unique that they leave an imprint on wherever they live," Hamner said, "Will was that kind of person."

Hamner described Geer as "a big, mischievous, fun-loving guy" who was always ready with a joke or a story. Though he died in 1978, Will Geer's legacy lives on in the many great things he left behind — not least of which is his cherished portrayal of Grandpa Zeb on The Waltons.

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Hogansucks1 6 days ago
To get to know Somebody with a TRUE pure heart is rare anymore, well, I’m gonna leave it there! Will Greer brought himself to be his self as Grampa Walton. (I think). 😊
Denn2 12 days ago
If more families prayed together today, we would be a much better place. These days there is so little reverence for marriage or family. It is hard to watch the self destruction .
JD1701 12 days ago
Yeah, I'm an atheist, but for sure almost 100 years ago and especially rurally, prayer held an important role for folks, especially for a family like The Walton's portrayed. Never made me not enjoy the show.
Fuming 12 days ago
Will was made to play the part of grandpa Walton, he was so good at it. I especially like the fun he had with grandma, the little things he'd say to get arise out of her. They made a great old couple, it look very natural for them.
Fior 12 days ago
It gave me a chuckle when after the end of the prayer and everyone said, "Amen" Grandpa would often add "Awomen."
DerekBird 13 days ago
Just r5eading some of this has brought me to tears.
stephaniestavr5 13 days ago
Something else Will Geer left behind, {well, it remained until the show ended,} was the hand holding the family did around the table when they prayed. That was Will Geer's idea.
That was a nice touch, but it would have been better without the praying.
Gary DerekBird 12 days ago
Disagree. Prayer held a lot more families together back then.
chris1970 DerekBird 12 days ago
Why is that, Derek? In that era, in that area of the country especially, prayer, the Bible, going to church, that was still a huge part of a family's life. It's an accurate depiction.
chris1970 DerekBird 12 days ago
In fact, in many areas of the country and with many families this still holds true today.
I think one of the reasons prayer and the reading of the Bible is stronger in the South, may stem from the Civil War. The South lost so much, that they probably turned to prayer more so during the war than before. I'm not saying they weren't extremely religious prior to the War Between The States, {as Grandpa preferred it being referred as,} during times of struggle and strife, people turn to religion more, or "discover" it for the first time. Sure, the North had problems as well, but not as many as the South. Religion brings people/families closer together, and gives them the strength they feel they need to get through the hard times. Especially the slaves, all they had to hold onto [aside from kinfolk,] was the Bible, prayer and the Spirituals they sang in the cotton fields. That's what saw them through all the hardships.
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