‘The Waltons’: Richard Thomas Explained Will Geer’s Love for Nature, Would Spread Seeds like ‘Johnny Appleseed’

by John Jamison

If there’s a person we can appreciate here at Outsider, it’s someone willing to bring a bag of seeds to work, casually sowing them all over the place. That type of person has achieved an appreciation for nature to which most can only aspire.

And who could have guessed Will Geer, who played Grandpa on “The Waltons,” is that exact person.

Will Geer was apparently a bit of a character in his own right. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was punished for it. And despite his acting career, which spanned six decades, Geer never lost his passion for nature. At one point, he even pursued a Master’s in botany at Columbia.

Stopping to say hello to trees and addressing them by their scientific names was not unusual behavior for Will Geer. He even started a theater where actors came to discuss philosophy outdoors and sing folksongs. He was a man after our own heart.

All of this is to say that when Richard Thomas, who played John-Boy on “The Waltons,” gave an interview to the Archive of American Television and talked about Will Geer’s bag of seeds, it’s not that hard to believe.

“Because of Will’s sort of pantheism and his passion for nature, and for plants, in particular, I don’t know if you know all this about him,” Thomas said in his 2016 interview. “Having planted Shakespeare gardens all around the country, Johnny Appleseed. I mean he’d come to the set with a sack, and kind of sometimes dressed in a sack. And he’d sort of just be, you know, we’d be having conversations and he’d be just throwing wildflower seeds out while he was talking.”

‘The Waltons’ Grandpa Brought ‘Critical’ Perspective to the Set

Will Geer’s passion for nature and overall philosophy made him a fascinating “patriarch.” He brought much of himself to the role of Grandpa Zeb Walton, a “green man” quality, as Richard Thomas put it. But his contribution didn’t stop there.

Will Geer was an invaluable resource to the young actors on “The Waltons” set.

“But he also brought to the set something that was critically important, especially for young actors. Especially for me,” Richard Thomas said. He explained why, saying that he “could very easily start to take for granted the immeasurable gift that had been granted to me.”

Will Geer was blacklisted and denied acting work for years. Because of that perspective, he acted as a grounding influence for the young cast. Many of them were experiencing major fame for the first time. And Geer’s wisdom helped steer them through.