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Will Geer

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Title: Will Geer  
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Subject: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Jeremiah Johnson (film), Herta Ware, The Billion Dollar Hobo, The Brotherhood of the Bell
Collection: 1902 Births, 1978 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Male Actors, Actors from Los Angeles County, California, American Male Film Actors, American Male Television Actors, Bisexual Actors, Bisexual Men, Deaths from Respiratory Failure, Disease-Related Deaths in California, Hollywood Blacklist, Lgbt Entertainers from the United States, Lgbt People from Indiana, Male Actors from Indiana, Members of the Communist Party USA, Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy Award Winners, People from Frankfort, Indiana, People from Topanga, California
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Will Geer

Will Geer
Geer (with Ellen Corby) as Grandpa in The Waltons
Born William Aughe Ghere
(1902-03-09)March 9, 1902
Frankfort, Indiana, US
Died April 22, 1978(1978-04-22) (aged 76)
Los Angeles, California, US
Years active 1932–1978
Spouse(s) Herta Ware (1934–1954; divorced)
Children Kate Geer
Thad Geer
Ellen Geer

William Aughe Ghere, known as Will Geer (March 9, 1902 – April 22, 1978), was an American actor and social activist, known for his portrayal of Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton in the 1970s TV series The Waltons.


  • Personal life 1
  • Early career 2
  • Blacklist 3
  • Later years 4
  • Filmography 5
  • Discography 6
  • Notes 7
  • See Also 8
  • External links 9

Personal life

Geer was born in Frankfort, Indiana, the son of Katherine (née Aughe), a teacher, and Roy Aaron Ghere, a postal worker.[1][2] He was deeply influenced by his grandfather, who taught him the botanical names of the plants in his native state. Geer started out to become a botanist, studying the subject and obtaining a master's degree at the University of Chicago. While at Chicago he also became a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.

He began his acting career touring in tent shows and on riverboats. He worked on several Left-wing politics-oriented documentaries, including narrating Sheldon Dick's Men and Dust, about silicosis among miners.

Geer was also the lover of gay activist Harry Hay.[3] In 1934, Hay met Geer at the Tony Pastor Theatre, where Geer worked as an actor. They became lovers, and Hay credited Geer as his political mentor.[4] Hay and Geer participated in a milk strike in Los Angeles, where Hay was first exposed to radical gay activism in the person of "Clarabelle," a drag queen who held court in the Bunker Hill neighborhood and who hid Hay from police. Later that year, Hay and Geer performed in support of the San Francisco General Strike.

Early career

Geer made his Broadway debut as Pistol in a 1928 production of Much Ado About Nothing, created the role of Mr. Mister in Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock, played Candy in John Steinbeck's theatrical adaptation of his novella Of Mice and Men, and appeared in numerous plays and revues throughout the 1940s. From 1948 to 1951, he appeared in more than a dozen movies, including Winchester '73, Broken Arrow, Comanche Territory (1950) and Bright Victory.

Geer became a member of the

External links

See Also

  1. ^ American National Biography: Fishberg-Gihon, John Arthur Garraty, Mark Christopher Carnes, American Council of Learned Societies, Oxford University Press, 1999 [3]
  2. ^ "Christine-Alcorn - User Trees -". 
  3. ^ Kevin Starr, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance 1950–1963, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 469
  4. ^ Levy, Dan (June 23, 2000). "Ever the Warrior Gay rights icon Harry Hay has no patience for assimilation". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  5. ^ a b Michael Bronski "The real Harry Hay", Boston Phoenix, October 31, 2002
  6. ^ a b Denning, Michael, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century, Verso (1998), ISBN 1-85984-170-8, ISBN 978-1-85984-170-9, p. 14
  7. ^ Stuart Timmons, The Trouble With Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement (1990), pp. 64 & 67
  8. ^ "StartLogic". 
  9. ^ Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  10. ^ onlineTangent"The Plot to Overthrow Christmas: Norman Corwin",
  11. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 119.
  12. ^


  • Folkways: The Original Vision (2005) Smithsonian Folkways
  • Ecology Won: Readings by Will Geer and Ellen Geer (1978) Folkways Records
  • Woody's Story: As Told by Will Geer and Sung by Dick Wingfield (1976) Folkways Records
  • American History in Ballad and Song, Vol.2 (1962) Folkways Records
  • Mark Twain: Readings from the Stories and from "Huckleberry Finn" (1961) Folkways Records
  • Hootenanny at Carnegie Hall (1960) Folkways Records
  • Bound for Glory: Songs and Stories of Woody Guthrie (1956) Folkways Records



As Will Geer was dying on April 22, 1978, of respiratory failure at the age of 76, his family sang Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and recited poems by Robert Frost at his deathbed. Geer's remains were cremated; his ashes are buried at the Theatricum Botanicum in the "Shakespeare Garden" in Topanga Canyon, near Santa Monica, California.

His ex-wife, actress Herta Ware, was best known for her performance as the wife of Jack Gilford in the film Cocoon (1985). Although they eventually divorced, they remained close throughout the rest of their lives. Geer and Ware had three children, Kate Geer, Thad Geer and actress Ellen Geer. Ware also had a daughter, actress Melora Marshall, from a previous marriage.

When Geer died, shortly after completing the sixth season of The Waltons, the death of his character was written into the show's script as well. His final episode, the last episode of the 1977–78 season, depicted his being reunited with his onscreen wife Esther (Ellen Corby, who played the character, had been absent for the entire season, due to a stroke). Geer's character was mourned onscreen during the first episode of the 1978–79 season.

Geer maintained a garden at his vacation home, called Geer-Gore Gardens, in Nichols, Connecticut. He visited often and attended the local Fourth of July fireworks celebrations, sometimes wearing a black top hat or straw hat and always his trademark denim overalls with only one suspender hooked.[12] Geer also had a small vacation home in Solana Beach, California, where his front and back yards were vegetable gardens instead of lawns.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Geer played several seasons at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, where he created a second "Shakespeare Garden" on the theater's grounds. By this time he was also working sporadically on Broadway. In 1964 he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for 110 in the Shade. In 1972, he played the part of "Bear Claw" in Jeremiah Johnson along with Robert Redford. In 1972, he was cast as Zebulon Walton, the family patriarch on The Waltons, a role he took over from Edgar Bergen, who played the character in the pilot. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for The Waltons in 1975.

In 1951 Geer founded the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, California, with his wife, Herta Ware. He combined his acting and botanical careers at the Theatricum, by making sure that every plant mentioned in Shakespeare was grown there.

Later years

Geer was blacklisted in the early 1950s for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, Geer appeared in very few films over the following decade. Notable among them was Salt of the Earth which was produced, directed, written, and starring blacklisted Hollywood personnel and told the story of a miners' strike in New Mexico from a pro-union standpoint. The film was denounced as "subversive" and faced difficulties in its production and distribution as a consequence.


In 1950, Geer played Wyatt Earp in the James Stewart film Winchester 73.

Geer acted in radio, appearing as Mephistopheles (the Devil) in the 1938 and 1944 productions of Norman Corwin's The Plot to Overthrow Christmas.[10] He also acted in the radio soap opera Bright Horizon.[11]

Geer did summer stock at the Pine Brook Country Club located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut with the Group Theatre (New York) studying under Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. The artists took up residency at the lake during the summer of 1936.[8][9]

at the 'Grapes of Wrath' benefit Geer organized in 1940 for migrant farm workers. Pete Seeger Geer is credited with introducing Guthrie to [7] Geer became a dedicated activist, touring government work camps in the 1930s with

[6].People's World Geer became a reader of the West Coast Communist newspaper, [5]

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