‘The Waltons’ Creator Earl Hamner Followed Ellen Corby’s Advice to Make Esther Walton Character ‘Lemony’

by Joe Rutland
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When it came to acting experience, Ellen Corby had “The Waltons” creator Earl Hamner Jr. beaten by a mile. She used it to her advantage.

Corby, who famously played Grandma Esther Walton on the CBS family drama, was quite firm and direct with the younger show creator. She had an idea about being Grandma on “The Waltons” that was different from Hamner’s own interpretation.

“Oh Ellen is a case,” Hamner said in a 2003 interview with the Archive of American Television. “Ellen, from the beginning, she portrayed the grandma character as being quite dour, very spare, very stern.”

Earl Hamner Said Corby Added ‘Tartness’ To His Show

This did not sit quite well with Hamner, who went over and had a chat with Corby.

“I went to her and said, ‘Ellen, you know you are portraying my real grandmother and in real life,'” Hamner says. He adds that his real grandmother is “a jaunty little lady” taking everything in stride. Hamner says she “was never so grim as you portrayed her.'”

Corby had a comeback already in her back pocket for “The Waltons” creator. Hamner says she said, “‘Young man, you have got so many sweet people in this show that the viewer’s going to die of diabetes, of sugar poisoning.'”

Well, she told Hamner her plan is “to provide some tartness to your show.”

Hamner Agreed With Ellen Corby On Her Acting Plan

“She was absolutely right because she made the grandmother sort of lemony, a bitterness, a little edge,” Hamner said. “She was almost bigoted at times in her appraisal of people.”

Corby’s Grandma Walton played opposite of Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton. Her acting abilities did receive a blow after suffering a stroke in November 1976. Corby did recover from it. Her ability to talk was seriously hampered. She returned to appear on “The Waltons.”

Ellen Corby, who won three Emmy Awards for her work on the TV series, died on April 14, 1999, at 87 years old. Hamner died on March 24, 2016, at 92 years old.

The magic that Corby brought to the show added a unique touch against the backdrop of this family drama. Her role remains fixed in fans’ minds and hearts 30-plus years since the shows originally ran on CBS.

Outsider.com