Ellen Corby


Actor
Ellen Corby

About

Also Known As
Ellen Hansen
Birth Place
Racine, Wisconsin, USA
Born
June 03, 1911
Died
April 14, 1999

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 o...

Family & Companions

Francis Corby
Husband
Married in 1934; divorced in 1944.

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.

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 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.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

A Walton Easter (1997)
A Walton Wedding (1995)
A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion (1993)
A Wedding on Walton's Mountain (1982)
A Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain (1982)
The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd (1974)
Napoleon and Samantha (1972)
Gertrude
Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)
Abigail [Ames]
The Homecoming (1971)
A Tattered Web (1971)
A Fine Pair (1969)
Mrs. Walker
Angel in My Pocket (1969)
Older woman
The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
Script girl
The Gnome-Mobile (1967)
Etta Pettibone
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
Miss Tremaine
The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)
Anna Miller
The Night of the Grizzly (1966)
Hazel Squires
The Family Jewels (1965)
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
The Strangler (1964)
Mrs. Kroll
The Caretakers (1963)
Irene
Saintly Sinners (1962)
Mrs. McKenzie
Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
Soho Sal
Visit to a Small Planet (1960)
Mabel Mayberry
Macabre (1958)
Miss Kushins
Vertigo (1958)
Manageress
As Young as We Are (1958)
Nettie McPherson
All Mine to Give (1958)
Mrs. Raiden
The Seventh Sin (1957)
Sister St. Joseph
Night Passage (1957)
Mrs. Feeney
Rockabilly Baby (1957)
Mrs. Wellington
God Is My Partner (1957)
Mrs. Dalton
Slightly Scarlet (1956)
Martha
Stagecoach to Fury (1956)
Sarah Farrell
Illegal (1955)
Miss Hinkel
Sabrina (1954)
Miss McCardle
Untamed Heiress (1954)
Mrs. Flanny
About Mrs. Leslie (1954)
Mrs. Croffman
The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954)
Amelia Gravesend
Susan Slept Here (1954)
Waitress
The Vanquished (1953)
Townswoman
Shane (1953)
Mrs. Torrey
Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Townswoman with mayor
A Lion Is in the Streets (1953)
Singing woman
Monsoon (1952)
Mother, [Katie]
Fearless Fagan (1952)
Mrs. Ardley
The Big Trees (1952)
Mrs. Blackburn
The Sea Hornet (1951)
Mrs. Drinkwater
Goodbye, My Fancy (1951)
Miss Birdeshaw
Angels in the Outfield (1951)
Sister Veronica
The Mating Season (1951)
Annie
The Barefoot Mailman (1951)
Miss Della
On Moonlight Bay (1951)
Miss Mary Stevens
Here Comes the Groom (1951)
Mrs. McGonigle
Edge of Doom (1950)
Mrs. Moore
Caged (1950)
Emma
Captain China (1950)
Miss Endicott
Harriet Craig (1950)
Lottie
The Gunfighter (1950)
Mrs. Devlin
Peggy (1950)
Mrs. Privet
The Judge Steps Out (1949)
Mother
Little Women (1949)
Sophie
Rusty Saves a Life (1949)
Miss Simmons
Madame Bovary (1949)
Felicite
The Dark Past (1949)
Agnes
A Woman's Secret (1949)
Nurse
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Nurse
If You Knew Susie (1948)
The Noose Hangs High (1948)
Maid
Strike It Rich (1948)
Mrs. Harkins
I Remember Mama (1948)
Aunt Trina
Fighting Father Dunne (1948)
Colpeck's secretary
They Won't Believe Me (1947)
Screaming woman
Beat the Band (1947)
Mother
Born to Kill (1947)
Maid
Driftwood (1947)
Excitable woman
The Fabulous Joe (1947)
Cathy
Railroaded! (1947)
Mrs. Wills
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947)
Forever Amber (1947)
Marge
Sister Kenny (1946)
Nurse
In Old Sacramento (1946)
Scrubwoman
The Dark Corner (1946)
Maid
Bedlam (1946)
Queen of the Artichokes
From This Day Forward (1946)
Mother
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Woman in corridor
Cuban Pete (1946)
Screaming patient
The Truth About Murder (1946)
Secretary
Lover Come Back (1946)
Rita
Till the End of Time (1946)
Mrs. Sumpter
The Locket (1946)
First kitchen helper
Crack-Up (1946)
Maid
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Mrs. Davis, bldg. & loan
Cornered (1945)
French maid
Rafter Romance (1933)
Icy Air telephone saleswoman

Writer (Feature Film)

Hoppy's Holiday (1947)
Original Story
Twilight on the Trail (1941)
Screenwriter
The Broken Coin (1936)
Original Story

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Swiss Miss (1938)
Screenplay clerk

Cast (Special)

All the Way Home (1981)
Great Grandmother
Safari (1962)
Mrs Butterworth
The Marriage Broker (1957)
Minerva Comstock (Guest)
Alias Mike Hercules (1956)
Birdie Hackett (Guest)
On Trial (1955)
Meet McGraw (1954)

Life Events

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"

1971

Made TV-movie debut, "A Tattered Web" (CBS)

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"

Photo Collections

I Remember Mama - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from the RKO film I Remember Mama (1948). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Caged (1950) - I'm On The Last Lap Bad news from the infirmary nurse (Eileen Stevens) as new inmate Marie (Eleanor Parker) is led to isolation where she meets another nurse (Jane Darwell) and a dying roommate (June Whipple) in John Cromwell's Caged, 1950.
Caged (1950) - Open, Pile Out You Tramps! Opening sequence is in the wagon carrying Marie (Eleanor Parker), Emma (Ellen Corby) and friends to prison, from director John Cromwell's seminal women-in-prison drama Caged, 1950.
Harriet Craig (1950) - Mrs. Craig Must Be So Upset! Director Vincent Sherman delivers bedlam and power relations in the opening, K.T. Stevens as cousin-cum-assistant Clare manages staff and visitors (Ellen Corby, Viola Roache, Fiona O’Shiel) while title character Joan Crawford supervises husband Wendell Corey, in Harriet Craig, 1950.
Macabre (1958) - Now She's With The Dead Nurse Polly (Jacqueline Scott), with the nanny (Ellen Corby), takes a call which turns out to be about the possibly-missing young daughter of doctor Rod (William Prince), who returns from searching, then has trouble getting the story from her, in horror-monger William Castle’s Macabre, 1958.
Illegal (1955) - Napoleon Of The Courtroom The morning after he failed to stop the execution of an innocent man whom he convicted, D-A Scott (Edward G. Robinson) is despondent, drinking, his assistant and close friend Ellen (Nina Foch) unable to shake his determination to leave his post, in Illegal, 1955.
Sabrina (1954) - Money Is A By-Product You’d never guess William Holden and Humphrey Bogart (as filthy-rich corporation-owning brothers David and Linus Larrabee) were not on friendly terms, here tangling over the latter’s plan to marry-off the former, in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, 1954.
I Remember Mama (1948) - All By Herself! Unmarried Norweigan immigrant Aunt Trina (Ellen Corby) drops by unaccompanied, to the surprise of her sister Marta (Irene Dunne, title character) and family, in early 20th century San Francisco, in George Stevens' I Remember Mama, 1948.
I Remember Mama (1948) - You Will Not Laugh At Her! Norwegian immigrant Irene Dunne (title character) her husband (Philip Dorn) in support, threatens elder sisters (Edith Evanson, Hope Landin), with retaliation if they are unkind to fourth sister Trina (Ellen Corby), who has confided marriage plans, in George Steven’s I Remember Mama, 1948.

Trailer

Pocketful Of Miracles (1961) -- (Original Trailer) Bette Davis plays Apple Annie in Frank Capra's last movie, Pocketful Of Miracles (1961).
Susan Slept Here - (Original Trailer) A Hollywood screenwriter (Dick Powell) takes in a runaway girl (Debbie Reynolds) who's more woman than he can handle. Directed by Frank Tashlin and narrated by an Oscar statuette.
Gunfighter, The - (Re-issue Trailer) The fastest gun in the West (Gregory Peck) tries to escape his reputation in The Gunfighter (1950).
Dark Corner, The - (Original Trailer) Secretary Lucille Ball helps her private eye boss when he's framed for murder in The Dark Corner (1946).
Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, The - (Original Trailer) The Bowery Boys battle a family of mad scientists in The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954).
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte - (Academy Preview Trailer) Heads will roll as Bette Davis fights to keep her family's secrets in Robert Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
Sister Kenny - (Original Trailer) Rosalind Russell gives an Oscar nominated performance as Sister Kenny (1946), the true story of the Australian nurse who fought to gain acceptance for her polio-treatment methods.
Night Passage - (Original Trailer) James Stewart's guarding the railroad's money and his brother Audie Murphy is out to take it in the western adventure Night Passage (1957).
Support Your Local Gunfighter - (Original Trailer) When a con man (James Garner) sneaks off a train, he's mistaken for a gunman in Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).
Madame Bovary (1949) - (Original Trailer) A romantic country girl sacrifices her marriage when she thinks she's found true love in Madame Bovary (1949) starring Jennifer Jones.
Seventh Sin, The - (Original Trailer) Eleanor Parker stars in The Seventh Sin (1957) based on Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil.
Harriet Craig - (Original Trailer) Joan Crawford wants everything in her house just so or she goes nuts in Harriet Craig (1950).

Companions

Francis Corby
Husband
Married in 1934; divorced in 1944.

Bibliography

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.