This actress appeared in both The Waltons and the movie Spencer's Mountain
Virginia Gregg was in two adaptations of Earl Hamner's childhood.
"As an average TV fan, does the name Virginia Gregg mean anything to you? It didn't to me, and I discovered I'd seen her in about 15 TV films within the past year." So writes Charles Witbeck in 1959 article for The Decatur Daily Review.
In his profile of the prolific character actress, Witbeck relates how often Gregg could be seen on television at the time. She continued to appear on screens big and small through the 1980s. She also lent her voice to many radio programs. In fact, she was in both the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke, Dragnet and Have Gun – Will Travel.
For an episode of the 1950s TV iteration of Dragnet, she prepared for her role as a drunk by having a few drinks the night before the shoot then waking up at 4:00 a.m. the morning of her scene. As Witbeck wrote for his Decatur Daily Review story, "When she got up she looked terrible – who wouldn't!"
Gregg told Witbeck that she was often cast in a certain type of role. "When casting people have a call for a woman who looks like the wrath of God," says Virginia, "I'm notified."
That description holds somewhat true, though a bit overblown, for her role in the two-hour Waltons episode "The Ordeal." Gregg plays Ada Corley, a rough-around-the-edges mountain woman who regards modern ways, including medicine, with suspicion. Ada prefers to concoct her own natural remedies using herbs and other plants. She becomes one of many people who try to help the youngest Walton child, Elizabeth, regain the ability to walk after she breaks her legs in a fall.
Gregg had a small role in the previous Waltons episode "The Fledgling" as well. She played the owner of a boarding house. But she was also in an entirely different version of The Waltons altogether.
The first screen adaptation of the life of writer Earl Hamner Jr. was the 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara and James MacArthur. It was inspired by Hamner's book of the same name.
Like The Waltons, the film followed a large family living in the mountains and focused on oldest son Clay's efforts to go to college. One character in the film who encourages Clay is schoolteacher Miss Parker — played by Virginia Gregg.
In a departure from the unpleasant roles she most often played, Gregg gave an uplifting performance as the teacher who saw Clay's potential and knew he was destined for the big city.
Gregg wasn't the only person to appear in both adaptations. Actor Victor French, known for starring alongside Michael Landon in the 1980s drama Highway to Heaven, had a small role as one of the Spencer brothers in Spencer's Mountain. Years later, he appeared as blacksmith Curtis Norton in a season-two episode of The Waltons.
The similarities between Spencer's Mountain and The Waltons onscreen are obvious but it's interesting to know they had connections behind the scenes as well.