Will Geer brought home the eggs laid by the chickens on The Waltons set
The chickens lived a fan’s dream — residing on Walton’s Mountain 24/7.
While seeing an actor pull off a character completely different from their real personality is impressive, there’s joy in knowing that a performer and the character they play on TV are very much alike. Will Geer, the beloved actor who played Grandpa Zeb on The Waltons, belongs in the latter category.
Zeb Walton’s playful grin, his infectious laugh and enormous heart were all traits that Geer effortlessly brought to the role because he embodied them as well. Geer was also an avid gardener, bringing real-world knowledge and experience to Grandpa’s love of all things grown from soil. He even planted his own flowers and vegetables on the outdoor Waltons set.
Though the interiors — like the iconic kitchen and many bedrooms — were filmed on a soundstage, anyone who has seen even just one episode knows much of The Waltons takes place outside.
The Warner Bros. backlot provided locations for the school, the church and, of course, the house. The Walton abode was just a façade without any actual rooms in it but everything else about Walton’s Mountain was real. The actors drove real (but sometimes finicky) 1930s cars, real plants grew in the yard, in part thanks to Will Geer, and real animals gave the show authenticity.
The bigger animals like Old Blue the mule, Reckless the dog and Chance the cow were handled by professional trainers and only brought to the set when needed. The chickens on the other hand were as much a part of the environment as the garden or the barn. Their coop was completely real and they even stayed overnight — for a time.
Judy Norton, who played oldest daughter Mary Ellen, recently released a video interview with Waltons production assistant John Dayton. John was responsible for making sure everything ran smoothly behind the scenes and was sometimes given difficult tasks like finding and securing rare vintage cars to use for specific scenes.
Judy and John reminisce about their time making the show and John reveals many interesting tidbits. For example, when the subject of the animals comes up, he notes that the chickens “originally did stay overnight and weekends, but when Will started collecting eggs… and taking them home, they got a little upset with him.”
That’s right, Will Geer not only brought his own greenery to the set, he also snagged a few eggs from the chickens like he was on his own farm! We can’t say we blame him, but the animal wranglers didn’t take too kindly to it. They no longer let the chickens live there around the clock.
Whether just a prank or an opportunity for free breakfast, or both, Geer’s fun and mischievous nature is perfectly exemplified in this behind-the-scenes anecdote. It shows how much he and his character were alike because we believe Grandpa Zeb would have done the same thing.
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Another aspect is that maybe they used those eggs to feed the cast and crew? But that one would still seem kind of petty to get mad over.
Geer was one of the stars of the show. If he wanted the eggs, let him keep the eggs, and the studio office could've written what was literally a couple of extra dollars a week into the show's production budget to pay off the chicken wranglers.
That'd have been a small price to pay to keep Geer happy.
I have wondered this ever since I watched Little House On The Prairie, when Ma Ingalls says to Mrs. Oleson when Harriet is trying to lower the price to pay Caroline for her eggs she brought in to the store. Ma Ingalls says, "6 of them are double yolks!"
I always wondered how she could tell they are double yolks without breaking them open? I didn't think it was so easy to see inside a chicken egg?!
I grew up in the country but we never had chickens.