Ellen Corby was an expert in playing old ladies

When you needed an old lady, you called Ellen Corby.

Warner Brothers

While she was well known for playing Grandma Walton in The Waltons, Ellen Corby had an incredibly illustrious career as an actor in both film and television before she joined the cast of the hit television series.

But although Corby had appeared in various television programs and films, she tended to have a type when it came to her characters.

"Even when I was young, I was playing old people," Corby said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner. "Just the way I looked, I guess. You fill a need, and soon everyone is using you. Never was the heroine, though. Always the older woman giving advice, consoling another, raising the children. Just like Grandma Esther."

Like any good actor, Corby did her due diligence in ensuring that she understood Grandma Esther. Despite her experience playing elderly characters, no two old ladies are exactly alike.

"She sees no humor in anything," Corby said. "And, of course, this makes it harder for me to find the comic side within her. She's usurptive, she was a frontiers-woman fifty years before, and hard as nails."

But while the comedy of The Waltons was difficult to find at times, that doesn't mean that it didn't exist, according to Corby. "I think Grandma has her human side, her comedy side, which does come across," she said.

"So do all the Walton characters. It's what makes the series so meaningful to me. I hark back to the days when pictures were good and uplifting. Not filled with all this sex and violence, like they are today. I've never lost sight of those entertainment values of yesteryear. And I believe that people are good, and The Waltons shows us to be sensitive human beings people who care, who are concerned."

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3 Comments

AnnieM 11 days ago
I loved that they kept her on as Grandma Walton after she had her stroke. Most shows would not have done something like that. It was hard to see her struggle, but it was also something that real families go through all the time. Plus the love that she and the cast had for each other was so apparent.
SteveMcnary 12 days ago
She was one of the aliens on The Invaders.
DS62 13 days ago
I saw Ellen Corbin on The Johnny Carson Show. She was quite different than Grandma Ester. Very well traveled, very progressive spiritually and very calm and astute-not that her character wasn’t astute but she could be very uptight. I loved Grandma Ester none the less-and she was humorous in an acerbic kind of way.
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