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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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
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Shirley on 09/06/2017

Gramma Walton was gay too..who gives a flying one..she lived with her lady "friend"..never married..loved her..

Nina on 09/05/2017

You are incorrect about not being able to visit the where the "real" Walton's used to live. The man who wrote the book and created the show was from Nelson County, Virginia. The book and the show were based on his life. There is Walton's Museum located in his old high school in Schuyler, Virginia. Every time John Boy went to the big city, he was actually driving over to Charlottesville, Virginia. These are all places you can visit. And by and large the people who inhabit Nelson County are still good down to Earth folk.

Karen Marie on 06/29/2017

A note to Sandra's comment. Christians shouldn't be assumed as though they would cringe if they knew the reality of the actors real lives.
God created all people and we all struggle with something because we are human.
I'm a Christian and I know people have issues. But that doesn't mean because I am I cringe or am shocked.
Jesus understood and said "Go and sin no more "It was the "so called religious " who looked down as if they were perfect.

Jimmy warren on 03/19/2017

I would have thought they were more of a Apostlic faith rather then baptis faith ... amen only Apostlic alive that clean amen the one God belivers

Sandra on 01/04/2017

Haha. So funny that this show was deemed appropriate by Christians when they would have cringed had they known the life of the actors. I believe on gay rights and applaud the bravery of Will and Ellen for living their life.

con on 11/22/2016


ConnieIsAnIdiot on 10/09/2016

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

Tim on 10/05/2016

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..

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