True Facts About The Waltons That Would Have Shocked The Waltons

by JoHarrington

The tales from Walton's Mountain invoke an age of innocence; though naturally we're talking about the fictional family, not the actors who played them!

'The Waltons' represented an ideal life-style, which is still referenced by politicians to make a point.

Broadcast weekly on television, viewers were treated to stories that were as wholesome as apple pie. The family at the center of the show were God-fearing, good ol' folks. All American Southern Baptists, who disdained hard liquor and epitomized family values.

The same couldn't be said about the actors who played them. And I'm not just talking about the fact that Jason was British!

The Waltons: A Timeless Classic Television Show

I grew up watching The Waltons.  First broadcast the year before I was born, it was subject to many repeats.

It represented precisely the sort of values that my parents would have me learn. Child friendly tales clustered around a loving extended family. Hospitable, generous, never breaking the law, always there to aid their fellows and to help build a strong community.

I used to dream of visiting Walton's Mountain, even after I realized that it was fictitious. These were the kind of heart-warming tales, where every ripple was resolved with home sprung values, love and a quiet determination.

Each of the Waltons wears a face, which speaks to me of wholesome goodness. But the reality can be much more jaded, and a lot more interesting.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

Set on a Depression Christmas Eve in 1933, this heart-tugging story centers around the Waltons. They’re a rural American family preparing to celebrate Christmas together. Though ...

View on Amazon

The Waltons Movie Collection (A Wedding on Walton's Mountain / Mother's Day / A Day for Thanks / ...

Honesty. Integrity. Family. Stories of a family's - and a nation's - yesteryear continue in six reunion movies. Set in the 1940s are: A Wedding on Walton's Mountain (will Erin ha...

View on Amazon

Grandma Walton was a Lesbian

She was also a chain-smoking, hard-headed woman, with a penchant for cursing.

Image: Ellen Corby as Grandma WaltonWhen Ellen Corby died in 1999, the chief mourner at her funeral was Stella Luchetta.  If this lady was mentioned at all in the press, it was as friend and/or caretaker.

However, it was an open secret in Hollywood that Stella was much more than that. The couple had been in a committed relationship for forty-five years by then. 

Ellen's last words were spoken to Stella. They were 'love you'.

Ellen Corby had once been married.  She was born Ellen Hansen, and tied the knot with film director Francis Corby in 1934. It was largely for the sake of her reputation. Fans and studio executives would not have embraced a lesbian in the 1930s, as they might do today.

The marriage lasted just ten years and didn't produce any children. She met Stella in 1954 and they stayed together until the end.

In the show, Grandma Walton was a fussy, God-fearing woman, prone to abstinence of all suspected vices. She didn't even approve of dancing, as it might lead to temptation. She also famously stated that, "If the good Lord had intended us to smoke He would have put a chimney in our heads!"

Grandma Walton Disapproves of Sinful Ladies and Smoking

This is a clip from an episode of 'The Waltons' entitled 'The Actress'.

In reality, she chain-smoked. Ellen probably said that line, waited for the director to shout 'cut', then promptly lit up.

Earl Hamner - the writer behind The Waltons and the real world prototype for John Boy - revealed later that he frequently entered into arguments with Ellen Corby about the prominence of Grandma Walton.

Ellen would take scenes and rewrite them to give herself twice as many lines. When Earl dismissed them in favor of the originals, Ellen would unleash a barrage of abuse, littered with expletives.

We can just imagine what Esther Walton would say!

Open Secret: Gay Hollywood--1928-2000

Part social history and part exposé, this revealing, entertaining, and provocative book spans nearly seventy years as it explores the lives and careers of some of the silver scr...

View on Amazon

Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969

William Mann's Behind the Screen is a thoughtful and eye- opening look at the totality of the gay experience in studio-era Hollywood. Much has been written about how gays have b...

View on Amazon

Grandpa Walton was a Gay, Blacklisted Communist Activist

He was also shot at as an agitator for the Trade Union Movement and an influential friend of Woody Guthrie.

Image: Will Geer as Grandpa WaltonGrandpa Walton was so unflappable and mischievous, that I like to think he wouldn't have been at all shocked by the life of the actor who played him.

When we look at the history of the Gay Rights Movement in the USA, one name looms large. This is Harry Hay, considered by many to be the father of it all.  Yet go back to 1934, to the very beginning of this civil rights story, and look beyond Mr Hay to his boyfriend.

Grinning right back at us is the face of a young Grandpa Walton.

Will Geer was more than merely Hay's significant other back then. That famous early gay activist credited Will with introducing him to activism!

As a young actor, Will was already a member of the Communist Party of the United States. He campaigned on behalf of striking workers, taking Harry Hay along with him. In 1934, the couple were on stage, entertaining trade unionists during the 83 day West Coast strike in San Francisco, when police began openly firing upon the crowd.

Just like Ellen Corby, Will had been advised by his agent to enter into a 'New York marriage' with a woman, to conceal his homosexuality. Will ignored it.

However, he also discovered that the Communist Party disapproved of same-sex relationships. This was a different matter entirely. Geer approached Herta Ware, his female co-star in Let Freedom Ring, with the request that she become his wife.

In the full knowledge of his true inclinations - and the presence of his boyfriend Harry - she agreed. They remained husband and wife for the next twenty years, until their divorce in 1954. They had three children, including actress Ellen Geer.

Another important activist befriended and mentored by Will Geer was folk singer Woody Guthrie. The actor introduced Guthrie to both Peter Seeger and John Steinbeck, at the time when the latter had just published The Grapes of Wrath. Throughout the 1940s, Geer was frequently on stage with Guthrie, and fellow performer Burl Ives, and appeared on many of the former's records.

Will Geer's open social activism, and membership in the Communist Party, naturally came to hinder his acting career during the McCarthy Witch Trials.

During the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a national campaign, which sought to highlight the 'Red Scare' and expel all Communist sympathizers from positions of influence in the USA. Many Hollywood careers were ruined, when that focus shifted to the silver screen.

Legends such as Charlie Chaplin were chased from America, often with the scantiest bit of dodgy evidence, or merely rumor, as testimony against them. People like Will Geer had no chance, particularly when a sub-plot of McCarthyism was to equally oust known homosexuals.

Will refused point blank to even testify at the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Therefore he was black-listed and no film studio would hire him accordingly.

It took until the 1970s for this hysteria to blow over. Then Will was back on our screens, cast in old age as Grandpa Walton.

Yes, I think that Zebulon Walton would have smirked.

John Walton was an Alcoholic and a Presbyterian Minister

So much for Pa Walton's resistance to ever stepping foot in a church service. Though Olivia would be pleased that he was baptised in reality!

Image: Ralph Waite as John WaltonAs the father, John Walton was a moral stalwart of the show.

He might sneak an occasional wee dram of the recipe, but he largely deferred to wife Olivia's stance on the evils of hard liquor.

Not so the actor who portrayed him.

Ralph began drinking in tragic circumstances in 1964. His nine year old daughter died of leukemia. Drunkenness numbed the mourning pain, which never quite seemed to go away. So Ralph carried on drinking.

Part of this was also Ralph's sudden loss of faith in God. He couldn't reconcile his daughter's death with a loving Lord. For most, this would have been a spiritual crisis to be worked out all in good time. For Ralph, it was his job.

He was a practicing Presbyterian minister, who stepped down from the pulpit and became a full-time actor. His marriage failed two years later.

By the time he was cast in The Waltons, Ralph thought nothing of having three Martinis with his lunch. It was so much part of his life, that he didn't even consider himself to have a problem; plus it got him through the afternoon's filming.

However, Ralph looked at those scripts as a wake up call. In some ways, this was The Waltons at its best, playing out just like an on-screen story.

Ralph Waite compared himself to John Walton, and decided that he wanted to be more like his screen persona. After a year of playing the role, he began to seriously address his alcoholism, finally becoming sober around season two.

The Waltons: The Complete Second Season

Richard Thomas, Ralph Waite, Michael Learned. For nine seasons, America was transfixed with this Depression-era family's struggles to survive. This second-season collection focu...

View on Amazon

Waltons: The Complete Third Season

They built their home on the timeless mountain that bears their name. They built their lives on even stronger stuff: the bedrock of family. This 5-disc set features all 25 Seaso...

View on Amazon

The Waltons: The Complete Fourth Season

It's 1936: Hitler and Mussolini threaten the world, King Edward gives up the English throne for love, Gangbusters is on the radio, a movie crew hires John-Boy as a scriptwriter,...

View on Amazon

In his later years, Ralph Waite entered politics. During the 1990s, he ran for Congress three times, on a Democrat ticket with distinctly left-wing views.  It's intriguing to wonder how far the influence of Will Geer played out here.

Particularly since, in 2010, Ralph finally found God again. He discovered a Presbyterian church in Palm Springs, which was known for welcoming gay members to the congregation, addressing gay issues and encouraging gay activism. The actor isn't homosexual himself, but stated that he was persuaded back into the fold, because the church shared his 'religious and political views'.

After fifty years blaming God for his daughter's death, Ralph picked up his Bible again. Still an ordained minister, he has even been known to lead sermons there again.

John Walton would have ran for the hills, or at least the top of Walton's Mountain!

John Walton Talks about Fear and Love in 'The Waltons'

He wasn't a total atheist. He just hated going to church and hadn't been baptized. There are sentiments here which sound more like Ralph talking than his on-screen persona.

Olivia Walton was an Alcoholic

Ma Walton would have banned the actress playing her from ever stepping foot in the Walton home!

Image: Michael Learned as Olivia WaltonHow many times have we seen Olivia Walton purse her lips, and embark upon a rant about the evils of drink?

She won't have alcohol in the house. She even rails against her children visiting the Baldwin house, as the free-flowing 'recipe' is actually bootleg whiskey. Olivia's sniffy condemnation of the naive Baldwin sisters is practically a mainstay of the show.

Hence it's all the more surprising to learn that Miss Michael Learned was an alcoholic. She even attended the audition with a bottle of bourbon in her pocket, yet somehow convinced the casting crew that she was perfect for the role.

She was thirty-two years old, recently divorced, with three adolescent children and felt that she'd hit 'rock bottom'. It really didn't help reading those scripts and performing those scenes. Far from taking inspiration from her character, as Ralph did, Michael would compare herself to Olivia, feel the failure burning and have another drink.

The turn around came when she turned to her ex-husband, finally admitting to him that she needed help. During a gap in filming, she spent ten weeks alone at his remote Californian beach-house and got her head together.

Somewhere between seasons 5 and 6, Miss Michael Learned drank her last drop of alcohol. That was 1977, when her second marriage had just dissolved in divorce, prompting her to finally become sober. She has remained so ever since.

The Waltons: The Complete Sixth Season

It's a big year for welcomes on Walton's Mountain. Welcome back to John-Boy, visiting from New York, and to Grandma, finally home from the hospital. And welcome to the family f...

View on Amazon

The Waltons: The Complete Fifth Season

Front-page news! The Blue Ridge Chronicle hits the streets, with publisher John-Boy Walton covering everything from a local break-in (Ben is among the suspects) to his eyewitnes...

View on Amazon

But What About the Children?

The actors playing John and Olivia's brood were very young. Therefore they brought little that was surprising, when compared to their on-screen roles. Children are children everywhere.

However, we may note that Richard Thomas was twenty-one years old, when he first began playing seventeen year old John-Boy. But that's just sensible casting. After all, John-Boy carried The Waltons, as its central character, and an adult actor could work for longer hours.

Slightly more confusing is the fact that Jon Walmsley, who played Jason, wasn't even American. He was born in Blackburn, a town in Lancashire, England. But that accent wasn't all acting. His family emigrated to the USA when he was just an infant, so he'd had plenty of time to acquire one!

But the child actors in The Waltons did grow up.

We're going to have to assume that the Walton family lived happily ever after. This Wizzley article is all about the actors who played them!
Updated: 12/18/2013, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


ConnieIsAnIdiot 14 days ago

I'm sure Connie (and her mother) have both packed fudge with their boyfriends/husbands. Hypocrisy is everywhere.

Tim 19 days ago

Poor Connie (below): It doesn't occur to you that Will Greer might have been happy being in a relationship with Harry. No, you'd rather say, "yuk". So who are you more concerned about...Grandpa Walton...or yourself?

Connie on 09/19/2016

I still can't believe grandpa Walton packed fudge with another guy. Yuck!

Shirl on 09/07/2016

Loved the waltons still do on 5 days a week 3 times a day.keeps ending then starting again.know them inside out could mastermind..the insight was brill..

c on 06/20/2016

Well, so what? "The Waltons" was a TV show, folks, and these people were actors playing roles. Why should it be a surprise to find out that some of them were (or started out as being) nothing like their characters? The positive message of the show remains the same.

Steve on 11/22/2015

Sounds like a load of propaganda bullshit!

JoHarrington on 01/11/2014

Awww! Thank you! Yes, the Dallas era ushered out the feel good factor of shows like 'The Waltons'. I watched both though. (We're seriously showing our age here!)

Mira on 01/11/2014

Pinned onto my Movies and TV Series board.
No, it was never on TV in my lifetime! I did see a lot of Dallas though!:)

JoHarrington on 01/03/2014

Mira - Did 'The Waltons' never make it to your country? Or are you too young to have been exposed? It was ubiquitous in my chiildhood!

JoHarrington on 01/03/2014

Evelyn - It adds a whole different dimension to watching those re-runs now!

You might also like

What Happened to the Waltons After The Waltons Finished?

We're going to have to assume that the Walton family lived happily ever after...

Nostalgic about Prisoner Cell Block H

Bea Smith, Frankie Doyle, Marilyn, Pixie, Lexie, Judy, Lizzie and my own pers...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...