Ellen Geer, the daughter of beloved The Waltons actor Will Geer, sat down with The Associated Press in 2001 for an interview about her father. Will Geer played the iconic Zebulon Walton on the television series The Waltons. Ellen also appeared in two episodes of The Waltons: “The Pledge” and “The Ceremony.”
In this interview, Ellen Geer discussed her upbringing.
Geer recalled a time when her father had been blacklisted from acting in the ’40s and ’50s. In response, her father moved the family to a deserted canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. When asked why her father made the move, she claims it was to keep the family together during such difficult times.
However, initially, their time in the canyon was incredibly challenging. “We used to get our water down at the bottom of the canyon,” Ellen said. “We used to have a spigot inside of the mountain.”
However, the ever-determined star of The Waltons hatched an idea. Geer decided to start a Shakespearean acting group and theatre in the middle of the desert. However, perhaps Geer subscribed to the old adage “if you build it, they will come.” Because against all odds, The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum opened in 1951 and remains open to this day. Here’s the amazing story behind Geer’s project.
The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Before acting, Geer had actually obtained a Master’s degree in Botany. Clearly, plants and the natural world were passions of Geer. His Theatricum Botanicum holds every plant mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s works.
Before he had the funds to build the theater, and long before The Waltons, Geer would perform makeshift shows under the stars. Ellen claimed he would “Put up a sign in the road. Get an actor up there in costume. Wave ’em down and—you know—say, ‘hey, please come to our show.'”
However, over time, Geer managed to cultivate a loyal following. The theatre became popular for actors and musicians, even hosting folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Even after Geer managed to become a successful actor again during the 1960s and ’70s by landing roles like Zeb on The Waltons, he never moved to Hollywood or abandoned his theater in Topanga, California.
Ellen became an actress herself, appearing on television as recently as 2020. She presides as Producing Artistic Director at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.
Geer is incredibly proud of her father’s life work, especially his iconic turn on The Waltons. However, she’ll admit her childhood was difficult at times. For instance, she grew up without the modern conveniences of plumbing. However, she remains proud that her father was able to hold the family together during those times.
She feels confident that her father would express gratitude for her work in continuing the theatre’s mission. “I think Pop would have liked it. I think he would have been very proud.” The Renaissance man died in 1978 during the show’s run.