Did you grow up watching the drama series The Waltons? It was a wonderful story about a family in rural Virginia and their lives during The Great Depression and The Second World War.
The show was created by Earl Hamner Jr. and was based on his book Spencer’s Mountain as well as the film adaptation. The excellent writing and direction made the show into the success it was.
But what really made the show a major success were the incredible actors who made up The Waltons cast members.
Sadly, the main cast members have now left us. Let’s look back at their incredible lives and careers….
Ralph Waite was born in White Plains, New York in 1928. Upon his high school graduation in 1946, he served in the US Marine Corps.
He would eventually study at Yale University’s Divinity School to pursue a career as a Presbyterian Minister. However, he later decided that he wanted to pursue a career as an actor.
He began his career on stage as a member of the Pennsylvania Players in the 1960s. Throughout this decade he began regularly acting in plays both on Broadway and off-Broadway.
He soon began his film career appearing in what are now considered to be classic American films. His early filmography included roles in Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, Kid Blue, The Grissom Gang, and Chato’s Land.
He would also appear in popular films during the later stages of his career such as The Bodyguard and Cliffhanger. His later stage work also included the seminal performance of Will Kidder in The Young Man from Atlanta.
He began acting in television as early as the 1960s, but it was his role in The Waltons that made him a household name on television. His role as John Walton Sr. was one of his most popular roles and was one that he loved playing. He even directed a few episodes of The Waltons.
His final acting role was in 2012 when he played “R.L. Dutton” in the film Gabe the Cupid Dog.
He died in 2014 at the age of 85.
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Will Geer was born in Frankfort, Indiana in 1902. He originally decided to become a botanist, developing an interest in the subject by his grandfather.
However, while studying botany he also developed an interest in acting. He began his acting career by performing live in tents and on traveling riverboats.
After working on stage, he began pursuing a film career. He appeared in films such as Winchester 73, Comanche Territory, and Bright Victory. Due to his involvement in the Communist Party and his association with many Communists, he was blacklisted for several years by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
His film career largely came to a halt, and he returned to theatre. Then, he was cast as Grandpa Walton in The Waltons which made him a household name. This would become the role that he was best known for.
He died at the age of 76 in 1978.
Ellen Corby was born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1911. She developed an interest in acting during her high school years.
In her early twenties, she moved to Atlantic City where she worked as a chorus girl. Later on, she would move to Hollywood to work as a script supervisor. She worked primarily for RKO Studios and Hal Roach Studios and was the script supervisor on many of the Our Gang comedy short films.
Ellen Corby worked as a script supervisor for 12 years all while taking acting classes on the side. She also had many bit parts during this decade of her life, though many roles were uncredited.
Ellen had her first credited role in the 1945 film Cornered and had a speaking role in the 1946 film The Locket – though this was an uncredited performance. She also began working as a writer for Paramount studios at this time.
Her big break with acting came when she appeared in the 1948 film I Remember Mama for which she received an Academy Award nomination. This helped her get regular work in film and television.
In 1971, she got another break when she appeared as Grandma Walton in the TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. This led to the series The Waltons in which she reprised her role. This would become the role that she was best known for.
Sadly, she suffered from a stroke during the later years of working on the show which slowed down her work. In the 1980s and 1990s, she appeared in a few TV movies that were spinoffs from The Waltons TV series.
She died at the age of 87 in 1999.
Merie Earle was born in Morrow, Ohio in 1889. While she spent much of her childhood as a singer and a dancer, she actually began her acting career very late in life.
Her feature film debut was in 1967 in the film Fitzwilly. She then appeared in other films such as Fatso, Crazy Mama, Going Ape, and Dr. Max.
She also began appearing on television in the 1960s and 1970s. She appeared in TV shows such as Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Bob Newhart Show, and All In The Family. But her big break was with Maude Gormley in The Waltons.
Later in life she became a regular guest on The Johnny Carson Show.
She died at the age of 95 in 1984.
Beulah Bondi was born in 1888 in Chicago, Illinois. She began her acting career during her childhood appearing in stage plays.
Beulah Bondi first appeared on Broadway in 1925 in the play One of the Family. She continued to act regularly in major stage productions. Beulah began her movie career in 1931 with a role in the film Street Scene.
She continued to act regularly in films throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Beulah eventually moved on to television, starting with appearing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Her final television appearance was in a few episodes of The Waltons where she played Martha Corrine Walton.
She received an Emmy award for her appearance in “The Pony Cart” episode of The Waltons. It was fitting that, toward the end of her career she won audiences over with her performance.
As she walked to collect her award, she received a standing ovation from the audience. Hers is truly a remarkable career that we can all take inspiration from.
She died in 1981 at the age of 92.
Nora Marlowe was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1915. She began her career in the 1950s with an uncredited appearance in the film I’ll Cry Tomorrow – released in 1957.
Her first major TV role was in Law of The Plainsman where she played Martha Commager. Nora’s later TV roles included bit parts and recurring roles on shows such as Gunsmoke, 77 Sunset Strip, The Millionaire, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Donna Reed Show, Petticoat Junction, The Green Hornet, and Barnaby Jones.
Her most famous role was as Flossie Brimmer in The Waltons – a role that she played for 27 episodes of the series.
She also appeared in major films such as North By Northwest and The Thomas Crown Affair.
She died in 1977 at the age of 62.
Mary Jackson was born in Milford, Michigan in 1910. She began her career as a schoolteacher during the Great Depression before deciding to pursue a life as an actress.
Mary decided to attend Michigan State University to pursue a degree in fine arts. She then began performing in summer stock theatre in Chicago after she completed her degree. Mary began her television career in the 1950s during what was known as The Golden Age of Television.
She appeared in TV shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Fugitive.
In the 1970s, she was cast as Emily Baldwin in The Waltons which became the role she was most known for. She continued to act in television throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Her film work included roles in The Exorcist III, Leap of Faith, and A Family Thing.
She died in 2005 at the age of 95.
John Ritter was born in Burbank, California in 1948. He was born into a showbiz family, with his father Tex being a singing cowboy and his mother Dorothy being an actress.
While John attended the University of Southern California as a psychology major and had the intention of working in politics, he soon realized he couldn’t make his acting talent go to waste!
The breakthrough of his television career came in the drama series Dan August. His next big break was as Reverend Matthew Fordwick – a character which he played for 18 episodes in The Waltons.
He continued to make regular appearances in some of America’s most popular TV shows. One of his most popular characters was Jack Tripper in Three’s Company and Three’s A Crowd. His film career included roles in great films such as Nickelodeon, Skin Deep, Sling Blade, Jack the Dog, Manhood (his final film to be released during his lifetime), and Bad Santa.
One of his last major roles was in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter in which he played the lead role. He felt ill one day during work and it was later found that he was suffering from an aortic dissection.
He died too soon in 2003 at the age of 54. John Ritter’s remarkable career is another great inspiration for anyone wishing to pursue their dreams.
Are you a fan of The Waltons? The show was one of the best drama series that America has produced and one that reminds us of the hardship and perseverance that makes the country special.
So that brings up the question:
Do you think that a show like The Waltons will still resonate today? Or are audiences today more eager to watch shows about modern times?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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