Earl Hamner was labeled a kook for claiming he saw Will Geer's ghost
The Waltons creator said he wasn't crazy. He just felt that Grandpa's spirit "permeated the set."
Earl Hamner's poignant writing at the heart of The Waltons made him a popular graduation speaker across the country in the Seventies.
But one college president in the midwest abruptly canceled Hamner's appearance after hearing a rumor that The Waltons creator had been known to claim he felt the ghost of Grandpa actor Will Geer on the set after Geer passed away during the show's run in 1978.
"This man is some kind of kook. He sees ghosts," the president insisted, according to how Hamner told the story to the Television Academy.
For all his experience as a gifted narrator, Hamner couldn't find the words to make the college president understand his point-of-view.
"What he didn't understand and what I later tried to explain to him was that there are certain people whose personality's so great, so forceful, so unique, that they leave an imprint on where they lived," Hamner said.
"What I meant to say and what this college president simply never understood, was that Will was that kind of person. He permeated the set with his personality. With his love. With things that he did. He planted a rose garden. He planted a vegetable garden. How many people do that on a movie set?"
Geer's costar Michael Learned likened the Grandpa actor to Johnny Appleseed, saying, "Wherever he went, he planted a garden."
In his interview, The Waltons star Richard Thomas echoed a feeling of ample admiration for Geer's "larger-than-life personality." Losing him must have been incredibly tough for everybody on set, who no doubt like Hamner thought of Grandpa every time they passed by the gardens.
Hamner said that Geer was "a big, mischievous, fun-loving guy" who "didn't really portray Grandpa. He was Grandpa."
The series creator recalled how people from his Virginia hometown would come to set to take a tour and see behind the scenes of the show. It was Geer who would always make them feel most welcome.
"He'd be in his dressing room and he'd come to the door and he'd say, 'Any Virginians out there?' which is charming," Hamner added.
But perhaps Hamner's fondest memory of Grandpa happened on the day his hometown declared the first-ever Earl Hamner Day.
Geer surprised Hamner by showing up, after driving a bus from Alabama and stealing a bushel of corn from a farm along the way. When he got to the ceremony, he presented the corn to Earl with a wink, joking, "They called The Waltons corny, but I want you to know there's more corn than concrete in the country."
"Will, I adored," Hamner said decades later, clearly still touched by their special friendship.
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But I knew about the Waltons before I knew that, by a few years, I can't be certain that his infamy was known without the fame if the show.