There’s a ton of behind scenes magic that went into making The Waltons. Behind The Scenes of The Waltons, a youtube series by Mary-Ellen actress Judy Norton explores that.
In a recent Q&A episode where Norton answers questions from fans, she talks about how directors got around the fact that Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton, didn’t drive. A former director even reached out to her to talk about it.
“I have mentioned at times about Will Geer not driving,” she began. Norton never knew exactly why Geer didn’t drive, whether there was a story there or he simply chose not to.
“Sometimes you think you see Grandpa driving but usually you’re just seeing inside the cab. That would have been what we call process shots that were done on the sound stage. There is footage of country roads behind them and someone in the crew rocking the car,” she explained. Even for actors who do drive directors take a lot of driving that way.
“You might have seen him get into the truck at times then supposedly take off but it was a wider shot and you wouldn’t necessarily see him in the car.”
And for the shots where they needed a close-up of Geer pulling in somewhere? The crew would simply use rope and pull the car.
‘The Waltons’ Director Ralph Senesky Told Norton How He Handled Driving Scenes With Geer
After seeing another episode where Norton mentioned Will Geer didn’t drive, one of the directors who worked on The Waltons reached out.
“You mentioned you did not know if Will drove the truck in one shot. I have an interesting Will Geer story for you,” he began. Geer told Senesky this story himself when they were working together on The Waltons.
“It was in 1949 and Will was cast in Intruder in the Dust an MGM film directed by Clarence Brown. The film was being shot on location in Oxford, Mississippi. The company was well into production when Will arrived,” he wrote. But the moment Will got started, he was faced with a challenge.
“Early in the morning on his first day of filming the assistant director explained to Will the long, complicated shot they had planned. Will was to drive a truck quite a long distance and stop on a definite mark, get out of the vehicle, and get into a dialogue scene.” That would be pretty nerve-wracking for a person who doesn’t drive.
And unfortunately, when Will told the assistant director that he didn’t drive, the assistant panicked, knowing that the director really wanted the shot. He also knew the director would NOT be happy with that, so someone got Geer driving lessons.
Still, driving lessons are a hard thing to do quickly, and when it was time to do the scene. “Will not only missed stopping the truck on the designated mark, but he drove it right into something,” according to Senesky.
So thankfully, nobody tried to push him to the wheel on The Waltons.