Grandpa Zebulon of The Waltons stuck to his goal of meeting five new people on set every day.
Will Geer who played Zebulon Walton portrayed a pretty normal, everyday grandpa on The Waltons. But his real-life was anything but normal. In addition to befriending and performing with Woody Guthrie, Will was a dedicated social activist. He helped with labor organizing and other movements in the 30s and 40s. And in the 1950s he was blacklisted as a Communist for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, he wasn’t able to perform in many films or television shows for years. So, when he did land a role on The Waltons, he cherished his work every day. During a recent interview, the cast shared stories about Geer.
“And because he had been blacklisted for all those years and couldn’t work, the energy he brought to work, the joy and relish with which he did his work,” said Richard Thomas who played John-Boy on the show. It always made me value the fact that I had this job I had at that time. Because I would look at his and think about all the years he wasn’t allowed to work…It was very inspiring.”
Eric Scott, who played Ben on The Waltons, added that Geer was like an on set “Buddha.”
“He also came to work and he always said that he wanted to meet five knew people every day,” said Scott. “By lunch, there were about 7-8 people sitting around. But at the end of the day, there’d be 10-12 people. He’d be quoting someone, reading from some book. It was almost like having a Buddha on set. He drew people over to him and gave people a wonderful, wonderful time that day. And he did that every day. Every day, there were new people there.”
The Waltons Cast Knew They Had to Bring Their A-Game When Working With Their Onscreen Parents
Richard-Thomas also added that, anytime The Waltons kids saw that they had a scene with either Michael Learned (Olivia Walton) or Ralph Waite (John Walton Sr.), they knew they had to bring their best acting skills.
“If you were going into a scene with Ralph or Michael, you knew you had to bring your stuff,” said Thomas. “And this was all with love, of course…But you really knew you had to reach high to play with them. And I learned so much.”
Eric Scott added that the unpredictability of Ralph Waite’s acting talents made each scene of The Waltons exciting.
“I, fortunately, had a lot of scenes with him later on in the series. And every time I went in, I didn’t know what I was going to get from him. But I knew it was going to be incredible, said Scott. “And I loved working with Ralph. He was such a giver on the energy side. If I just memorized my lines, everything would be fine. But, I just miss him so much…He was a third dad to me. I miss him tremendously.”