Will Geer was the king of improvising on The Waltons

One in every four lines Grandpa spoke were totally improvised.

For big fans of The Waltons, watching for Grandpa’s improvised moments provides some of the greatest joy in rewatching episodes.

Sometimes these improvisations would catch his cast mates off-guard, but that was no matter for Grandpa actor Will Geer, who as a young man learned improvisation from one of the first celebrity actresses, Minnie Maddern Fiske.

For example, in the two-part episode called "The Wedding," there’s a moment you can catch where John-Boy and Grandpa have an exchange at dinner.

In the scene, Grandpa tells John-Boy, “Into each life, some rain must fall, so wear your smile for an umbrella.”

If you watch, you’ll see Thomas laugh and say, "Who wrote that?"

Geer told The Boston Globe in 1974 that at minimum a quarter of his dialog is totally improvised.

"I have great leeway in my dialog," Geer said. "I’m allowed to improvise at least 25 percent of the lines."

On top of being talented as a veteran improvisational actor, Geer also had the gift to improvise as Grandpa because he felt as if he and Grandpa were the exact same person.

That means, basically, every improvised line was just Geer being Geer and saying the kind of thing he would say to his real grandchildren.

"It’s the easiest job I ever had,” Geer said. “I’m just playing myself. Like Grandpa Walton, I’m a father (of eight) and a grandfather (of three). I share his fondness for the open air. I’m an ecologist. I’m great on seeds and planting."

Because Geer and Grandpa were so closely aligned, writers didn’t even bother to give Grandpa lines in many scenes.

"‘Just say it the way you want to, gramps,’ they tell me," Geer said. "‘You’ve lived it all. By now, you know this character inside out.’"

If you want to geek out over all of Geer’s hilarious and charming improvisations, you might want to check out this thread on a Waltons fan page cataloging "Grandpa’s impromptus."

Fans recollect everything from Grandpa squeezing a tomato onto Jim Bob’s face to the way he interjected with "A-men and A-women."

They also recalled how Eric Scott remembered the whole cast struggling to keep up with what Geer would say next.

You could definitely say Geer spiced up the show.

When Geer was first offered the part of Grandpa, he wasn’t sure if the show had enough legs to keep an audience coming back week after week.

"When it started, I thought it was too syrupy and sweet," Geer said. "‘This is fine for Christmas, once a year, but every week? I don’t know,’ I said to myself."

That impression quickly changed when the show became popular.

"I learned kids need Christmas every week," Geer said. "I was impressed with the way the series caught hold and the quality fare it provided. It had the warmth and glow of folklore, which, in a sense it is. I’m proud of being part of it."

That gave Geer an excuse to continue his improvisations on The Waltons until he passed away in 1978.

We can be sure Geer would’ve been glad the show stretched on for three more years after the tragic loss of Grandpa.

"The Waltons can go as long as it wants, as far as I’m concerned," Geer said.

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Ric 2 months ago
Greetings. I've always been a fan of Will Geer. His wry sense of humor, unconventional behavior and refusal to conform Made him a personal favorite. We are so Blessed to have "known"
him. GOD Bless.
JustGeri 3 months ago
I watched a few times. ML/Olivia looks up apprised. EC/Grandma’s reaction is more subtle. You can see the girls giggle a little.
preacherson1 3 months ago
Lost my cable not sure what to do they just kept adding charges on my account tell I could not pay over $200 a month and no help from customer service ill miss perry Mason I've watched avery one of them
Coldnorth 3 months ago
I liked Grandpa he always had a twinkle in his eyes when he was up to something. He teased Grandma a lot but I loved it when she romantically called him an old fool. I don’t know how she hold a straight face. And the kids sure loved him
METVisbestTV Coldnorth 3 months ago
Zeb sure did have a "twinkle in his eye". All of the characters had something special. Didn't realize it back in the 70's but what a great show! Americana as it was in depression era. The "twinkle" in Grandpa Walton's eye and every member of the family real life day to day struggles makes the show rank amongst my alltime favorites. Thank you MeTv for bringing it to us viewers :-)
slim115W 3 months ago
I liked all the characters on the Waltons. Albeit, Grandma got on my nerves sometimes!
WandaG 3 months ago
I love the Walton's, I work my day around it, as much as possible. I have watched episodes over and over but never get tired of watching.
VanHalen 3 months ago
Did not and DO NOT like will gear and his character.
He had ties to the Communist party of America.
VanHalen 3 months ago
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Michael VanHalen 3 months ago
The blacklist wasn't punishment enough?

Once again, the country was in a depression, and many were desperate. Not Walton desperate, but no home at all. People may have made a bad choice, but they were looking for solutions. And the Communists were organizing labor, when people were being badly treated.

Will Geer paid for his affiliation. Ihave no idea if he changed, but he refused to testify, a separate act. The blacklist was a mean time in US history, you coukd land on it without having done anything but refuse to comply. See John Henry Faulk.

It's interesting that as the blacklist faded, Will Geer had guest appearances on many a MeTV classic tv show.
LoveMETV22 Michael 3 months ago
Your right.
The Love Boat, Columbo (up to recently aired), Bewitched ( formerly aired), Bonanza, Gunsmoke,
The Invaders, Mission Impossible. What a great actor he was.
LadyAgnes 3 months ago
I didn't know my grandfathers, but it felt like on Thursday nights I had one.
Andybandit 3 months ago
I like Will Greer. He is a good man on the Waltons. I don't understand why John and Olivia call him Grandpa. If that is John's Father and Olivia Father in law. I don't get it.
LoveMETV22 Andybandit 3 months ago
I think Ralph Waite (John) has called him both Pa and Grandpa on the series, just depends on the way the script was written for particular episodes. Probably the same for Michael Learned ( Olivia).
MrsPhilHarris Andybandit 3 months ago
I can remember my parents calling my grandparents by the names us kids used such as Grandpa, etc.
MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
My favourite character on the show. I haven’t watched in years though.
Yeah, he was great on the show. I like their reaction to his ad lib.
LoveMETV22 MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
Great show with great characters. I'm glad the producers gave Will Geer the freedom to adlib some of his lines.
birddog 3 months ago
Grandpa was a hard act to follow!! Always liked him, especially in Jeremiah Johnson as mountain man Bear Claw. You make good rabbit Pilgrim!! :))
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