‘The Waltons’: ‘Grandma Walton’ Actress Ellen Corby Overcame a Stroke to Continue Role on Show

by Joe Rutland

Actress Ellen Corby already had established herself on “The Waltons” when she suffered a stroke. Instead of leaving the show, she stayed.

Corby, who played “Grandma Walton” on the CBS family drama, impressed her costars with her stamina and willingness to keep working. Corby suffered her stroke in November 1976, which was just a few seasons into “The Waltons” stay on CBS.

Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton, talks about one time she was interacting with Corby.

“She did stick with the show,” Learned said in 2020 as part of an interview with TV Line. “She had to leave for a while, but she came back. And she was amazing because she couldn’t talk as well as it came across on television.”

Ellen Corby Learned to Speak Again for ‘The Waltons’

Learned said Corby, who appeared in more than 100 films and numerous TV guest appearances, spoke very slowly upon returning to “The Waltons” set. Learned added that Corby would practice a lot so that she sounded better on camera than in real life.

“I remember once when she was trying to tell me something and I just couldn’t get it,” Learned said. “I kept saying, ‘What? What?’ And she kept trying to tell me.

“Finally, after about what seemed like an hour, I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you say so!'” Learned said. “She fell off her chair laughing.”

Positive Attitude From Corby Impressed Learned a Lot

One thing Learned recalled about her beloved costar is her attitude after suffering the stroke.

“She had a wonderful, wonderful attitude about what was a terrible hardship for an actress, having no voice,” she said. “But she showed up on that set. She was fabulous, I loved her so much.”

Will Geer played “Grandpa Walton” and was a part of the episode where Corby officially returned to “The Waltons” in her role.

Corby starred alongside Alan Ladd in “Shane” in 1953, Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina” in 1954, and James Stewart and Kim Novak in “Vertigo” in 1958. Her TV appearances included guest-starring roles on “I Love Lucy,” “Dragnet,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Adam 12,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Corby died on April 14, 1999, at 87 years old.