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Ellen Corby

Ellen Corby

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Also Known As: Ellen Hansen, Ellen Hansen Died: April 14, 1999
Born: June 3, 1911 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Racine, Wisconsin, USA Profession: actor, script supervisor, screenwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Ellen Corby was small, prim, and had a face to which smiling did not come easily, but she appeared in supporting and small roles in dozens of films and TV programs. Possibly, she would have been one of those character actors whose faces are known to the audience but whose names are a lost in memory had it not been for her Emmy Award-winning work as the no-nonsense Grandma Esther Walton on the CBS TV series "The Waltons" (1972-79) and in subsequent TV reunion movies on NBC in 1982 and in CBS in the 90s. Corby began working in motion pictures as a script girl [a position now known as script supervisor or continuity], a job which brought her steady employment for twelve years. But she had other aspirations, and in 1941, even co-wrote a now obscure Paramount Western called "Twilight on the Trail" and provided the story for another oater, "Hoppy's Holiday" in 1947. In 1945, Corby convinced RKO she could be in front of the cameras, playing maids in her first three films, beginning with "Cornered" (1945). For three decades, she appeared in more than 75 films, often as a gossipy neighbor or a dour spinster, rarely walking lightly, yet she had virtually no periods without work. Corby was best known as the...

Ellen Corby was small, prim, and had a face to which smiling did not come easily, but she appeared in supporting and small roles in dozens of films and TV programs. Possibly, she would have been one of those character actors whose faces are known to the audience but whose names are a lost in memory had it not been for her Emmy Award-winning work as the no-nonsense Grandma Esther Walton on the CBS TV series "The Waltons" (1972-79) and in subsequent TV reunion movies on NBC in 1982 and in CBS in the 90s.

Corby began working in motion pictures as a script girl [a position now known as script supervisor or continuity], a job which brought her steady employment for twelve years. But she had other aspirations, and in 1941, even co-wrote a now obscure Paramount Western called "Twilight on the Trail" and provided the story for another oater, "Hoppy's Holiday" in 1947. In 1945, Corby convinced RKO she could be in front of the cameras, playing maids in her first three films, beginning with "Cornered" (1945). For three decades, she appeared in more than 75 films, often as a gossipy neighbor or a dour spinster, rarely walking lightly, yet she had virtually no periods without work. Corby was best known as the eccentric Aunt Trina in "I Remember Mama" (1948), for which she received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Even two decades later, Corby could be seen in small roles, such as the town gossip in "Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1965). Her function was to inform the audience of the back story by acerbically gabbing with other women.

Corby began working in TV when production became active in Hollywood, making her first pilot for CBS via an episode of "Four Star Playhouse" in 1954, entitled "Meet McGraw". She had a recurring role on "Trackdown" (CBS, 1958-59), which featured Robert Culp as a Texas Ranger. In numerous episodes, she was Lucy Ricardo's former drama teacher thrilled to see her pupil do Shakespeare with Orson Welles in a 1956 airing (although she was two years younger than Lucille Ball), and was Mother Lurch in a memorable 1965 "The Addams Family". Corby's first regular series role came as Martha O'Reilly, the maid of the Nash family and its four All-American boys on "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (NBC, 1965-67). In 1971, she made her TV-movie debut in "The Tattered Web" and followed with "The Homecoming - A Christmas Story" (also 1971). The latter cast Patricia Neal as the mother of a Blue Ridge Mountain brood struggling through a snowy December. Corby was the wife of the patriarch of the clan, a formidable pillar of strength, a sober Baptist and a woman who not only was the keeper of tradition but also understood that her grandchildren had a right to their own mind within propriety. When CBS turned the TV-movie into a series, Corby became a regular on "The Waltons", keeping family and husband Will Geer in line, and winning three Emmy Awards for her efforts. She suffered a stroke in 1977 and missed most of that season. Returning in 1978, Corby was visibly frail and unable to speak more than a mumble. Though the series continued until 1981, Grandma Walton was not seen after 1979. Yet, it was not "The Waltons" without her and when NBC revived the concept in 1982 for three reunion specials, Corby was back, reprising Grandma Walton, albeit mostly seen looking warm and strong in a rocking chair. She also appeared in three CBS TV-movies (1993, 1995 and 1997) which continued the story. The 1997 installment, set in 1970, possibly put the Walton family to rest for good, but Grandma Walton remained an icon of TV Americana, less Norman Rockwell than Grant Wood.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Walton Easter, A (1997) Grandma Walton
2.
 Walton Wedding, A (1995) Grandma Walton
3.
 Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, A (1993) Grandma Walton
4.
 Wedding on Walton's Mountain, A (1982) Grandma Walton
5.
 Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain, A (1982) Grandma Walton
6.
 Story of Pretty Boy Floyd, The (1974) Ma Floyd
7.
 Napoleon and Samantha (1972) Gertrude
8.
 Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) Abigail [Ames]
9.
 Tattered Web, A (1971) Mrs Simmons
10.
 Homecoming, The (1971) Grandma Walton
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1933:
Worked as script girl in motion pictures
1941:
Co-wrote screenplay, "Twilight on the Trail"
1945:
Made screen acting debut with RKO's "Cornered"
1948:
Played Aunt Trina in "I Remember Mama"; earned Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress
1954:
Made first TV appearance in "Meet McGraw"
:
Had recurring role on "Trackdown"
:
Played Martha the maid on "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (NBC)
1971:
Made TV-movie debut, "A Tattered Web" (CBS)
:
Played Grandma on the long-running CBS drama series "The Waltons"
1982:
Reprised role as Grandma Walton on three NBC reunion specials
1995:
Once again played Grandma Walton in "A Walton Wedding" (CBS)
1997:
Again played Grandma in "A Walton Easter"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"A consummate actress. She had incredible spirit and humor and strength really. Even after her stroke and she couldn't speak, she still understood exactly was the scene was about and how to play it." --"The Waltons" co-star Michael Learned, quoted in Corby's obituary in Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1999.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Francis Corby. Married in 1934; divorced in 1944.

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