Lynn Hamilton delivered some of The Waltons' most emotional moments
Earl Hamner, Jr. tried to develop a whole series around the Verdie Grant actor.
Watching The Waltons episode "The Family Tree," certainly the most emotional moments come from the character Verdie Grant.
With the help of Jason Walton, she’s researching her family history and for the first time ever, retracing her own roots.
Playing Verdie Grant was Lynn Hamilton, an actor who had previously auditioned for a role on The Waltons and didn’t get the part.
It wasn’t that she didn’t prove to be the best at the casting call, though.
It was actually that The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr. was so impressed by what he saw, that he suddenly had a more challenging role in mind for the rising actor.
Critics saw what Hamner saw in Hamilton.
When the character of Verdie Grant was first introduced in the first-season episode "The Scholar," respected Los Angeles Times critic Cecil Smith proclaimed that even among the finest actors on The Waltons cast, it was Hamilton whose performance he found "unforgettable."
"Lynn Hamilton played Verdie Grant in the play that touched me more deeply than anything I saw on television last season: ‘The Scholar,’ the episode of The Waltons that won dramatist John McGreevey an Emmy," Smith wrote.
At the same time Hamilton appeared for Hamner as Verdie Grant, she had a similar experience with producer Aaron Ruben when she auditioned for a part on Sanford & Son.
Ruben was so impressed, he cast her in a one-off role as a landlady, but then also created a recurring character just for her. As Donna Harris, Hamilton held her own as the girlfriend of Redd Foxx’s Fred G. Sanford.
But arguably Hamner saw the most potential in Hamilton, going so far as casting her in a TV pilot as the mother of a Waltons-like family living in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, that series never came to fruition, but Hamilton stayed busy.
After The Waltons ended in 1981, she continued to appear in TV and movies through the Eighties and Nineties, reprising her role as Verdie Grant twice in The Waltons TV movies in 1993 and 1997.
In the 2000s, she retired, with her final TV appearance on a 2009 episode of Cold Case. She’s stayed out of the spotlight since.
When Hamilton was first trying to make it as a young actor, she told the Los Angeles Times in 1973 that she was constantly cast older than she was, playing 60-year-olds starting at the age of 16.
Tired of wearing the aging face makeup, Hamilton was happy in the Seventies to finally have aged into the roles she was given as a younger star. She found as an older actor, she was able to play a broader range of characters, giving us the heart-wrenching drama of Verdie and the fast-paced comedy of one of her best-known sitcom characters Donna Harris.
"This may not be the proper thing for a lady to say, but I’m glad I’ve reached the time of life when I can do so many things," Hamilton said.
Talking to Smith about her work as Verdie, Hamilton said how much easier it was to identify with the character being at the same time in her life. "I think the thing I like now is that I’m old enough to play myself," Hamilton said.