‘The Waltons’ Star Will Geer Also Starred in Several Episodes of ‘Bonanza’

by Craig Garrett

Will Geer famously played the grandfather on The Waltons, but he made multiple appearances on a classic tv western. According to his IMDB page, Geer played on three episodes of Bonanza. Geer played three different characters in a short span of time, from 1969 to 1971.

In Will Geer’s first Bonanza appearance, he plays against type as the heavy. “The Running Man,” aired on March 30, 1969, during season 10. In this episode, Joe and the ranch hand Candy become enraged by the actions of Calvin Butler (Geer) a wealthy landowner. The landowner and his men abuse and intimidate homesteaders, seizing control of their assets. Butler has put the citizens of Butlerville in a state of collective terror with the aid of corrupt Sheriff Daniels.

When Candy’s old sweetheart, Barbara, and her spouse, Jess, are targeted as targets, Joe and Candy agree to act. Jess has seen a fire that Butler and his men started, which killed a mother and her child. However, he is concerned that before he can report the crime to the authorities, Butler will murder him. Joe confronts Butler, who claims that since there is no proof and just an allegation, he will not be convicted of arson or murder. Joe and Candy are then forced to defend their friends and devise some form of resistance against Butler’s tyrannical behavior.

Family takes center stage in Will Geer’s next Bonanza appearances

In his next appearance, Will Geer plays a more nuanced character. Airing in the fall of 1970, “The Love Child”, is from season 12. In this Micael Landon-directed episode, Geer plays a stern father unwilling to reconcile with his ailing daughter. The reason for the friction between the two is the daughter (Carol Locatell) had a child out of wedlock. To set the obstinate old gent straight, Ben risks his family’s relationship with the Randolphs.

In his third and final appearance on Bonanza, Will Geer plays another stern family member. ‘A Home for Jamie’ aired on December 19, 1971 during season 13. Ben begins the process to adopt Jamie as his son, but the procedure becomes difficult when Jamie’s paternal grandfather, Ferris Callahan (Geer), comes forward asking for custody. This episode incorporated flashbacks from previous episodes featuring Ben and Jamie. This is Will Geer’s second time playing Mitch Vogel’s grandfather. Previously, they starred in the 1969 film The Reivers.

Will Geer lands his most famous role

In 1972, he was cast as Zebulon Walton, the family patriarch on The Waltons. This was a part that he took over from Edgar Bergen in the pilot. In 1975, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for The Waltons. Will Geer died shortly after the sixth season of The Waltons was completed. His character’s death was incorporated into the script. His final episode, the final episode of the 1977–1978 season, showed him reunited with his on-screen wife Esther. During the first episode of the 1978–1979 season, titled “The Empty Nest,” his character was eulogized onscreen.