Joe Conley of The Waltons was about to quit acting when he got cast as the singing shopkeeper Ike Godsey
"To millions of people, I am Ike Godsey." But he was also a real estate mogul.
In a gorgeous baritone, Ike Godsey belts out while working in his shop: "I've been working on the railroad." He's holding on the final note in operatic fashion as John-Boy enters his store.
Although Godsey's in the middle of giving another customer a close shave, he stops his singing and shaving to talk to John-Boy, a frequent customer who was pretty much always hanging out in Ike's store on The Waltons, usually with all his siblings cluttering the aisles around him.
In this episode of The Waltons, "The Bequest," Grandma receives a small inheritance from an old friend. Though modest, it's a lot of money to the Waltons, and it finds the kids hanging in Ike's shop, where the family's new purchases are discussed.
Throughout the series, it was common to see the kids hanging around Ike's store, sharing tiny cups of ice cream and cracking jokes. According to Mary Beth McDonough (Erin Walton), the actor who played Ike, Joe Conley, was just as friendly with the kids behind the scenes, and he frequently sang to the kids off-screen, too.
"We had many other 'family members' on the show, all of whom were an integral part of the show's success," McDonough wrote in her book Lessons From the Mountain. "Joe Conley was Ike Godsey, the storekeeper. He was always so nice to all of us kids and treated us the same way off and on camera. Joe had a wonderful singing voice and used to sing me a made-up song, 'Mary Elizabeth Is Her Name.' I would get embarrassed. He'd wink at me and smile that dazzling smile of his. He was such a part of our Walton lives. Seems like we were always at Ike's store."
That familiarity with the shop is why, for fans of The Waltons, Ike Godsey is a very memorable character.
However, before Conley took the role, it may surprise you to learn that he was pretty much ready to give up on acting entirely. Not because he was broke like most struggling actors, but because he accidentally hit it rich in his side-venture as a real-estate hotshot.
When the acting parts had dried up for Conley by 1972, he drastically switched gears, opening and operating not one but three successful real estate offices in the San Fernando Valley. He was doing extremely well, becoming wealthy from his real estate ventures, and that's when his agent called saying Earl Hamner wanted him to do The Waltons.
He couldn't turn down the role, of course, so he did what any agreeable businessman would do: He did it all. He kept running his real estate offices while working two days a week filming The Waltons. And he didn't sweat it! "I like the independence of doing both," Conley said in a 1977 newspaper interview.
That didn't mean the world saw him as a real estate mogul, though.
"To millions of people, I am Godsey," Conley said, according to The Independent. "People walk up and just call me Ike and carry on a conversation like we're old friends. I have to remember that for 10 years I did visit their home every week. To them, I am an old friend or a member of the family."
While discussing his memoir with a Waltons fan blogger, Conley described the close friendships he struck on The Waltons, including with Eric Scott (Ben Walton), the pair meeting up for lunch regularly, and his onscreen wife Ronnie Claire Edwards (Corabeth Godsey), who he continued to see periodically at fan and reunion events after the show ended. Then she moved to Texas, a thousand miles from where he lived, and it became harder to get together.
McDonough said she remembered how Ike’s character shifted after Edwards joined the cast. She admired their onscreen chemistry: "They created a dynamic duo whom fans still talk about today."
There's a great biography of Earl Hamner that sums up Ike and Corabeth's dynamic well.
"The Godseys, Ike and Corabeth, sought to build a successful marriage despite remarkable differences in temperament. Ike, portrayed by Joe Conley, was content to be a simple storekeeper all his life, while Corabeth, brought marvelously to life by Ronnie Claire Edwards, was a complex character — a warm-hearted and generous woman underneath several layers of insufferable snootiness, a thwarted aristocrat who was constantly trying to bring a sense of elevated culture to rustic Walton's Mountain."
In a Facebook post after Conley passed away in 2013, Edwards wrote: "It was one of the greatest pleasures of my television career to play Corabeth opposite Joe because he made me so much better."
Conley agreed their shared time on The Waltons was special. "It was a joy," Conley said of his time on the show.