Ellen Corby - "Esther Walton"

Ellen Corby died on Wednesday, April 14, 1999 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 87. In a career that spanned almost 60 years, Ellen delighted in playing characters rich in flavor and a no-nonsense flair. Her most famous character was that of matriarch Esther Walton. She was born Ellen Hansen in Racine, Wisconsin but grew up in Philadelphia. Both parents were Danish born and Ellen liked to say that she was "Danish at heart." Her father died when Ellen was a child and her mother, Dagmar, went into the business of operating a restaurant. The crash of 1929 swallowed up the Hansen savings and Ellen learned the value of a dollar. Beginning with her last year of high school, she earned money by entering amateur stage contests.

She thought she was ready for show business and in 1932 she traveled to Hollywood by way of Atlantic City, NJ, where she appeared as a chorus girl for six months.

Someone told her the way to "break into the movies" was to go to a place in Hollywood’s Gower Gulch called "Poverty Row" where films were made on a shoestring. Ellen got a $25 part but the film was delayed and she eventually found work as a script girl. In the meantime, her mother also came to Hollywood and found work with the same film company as a cook. Dagmar Hansen was kind to everyone on the film, often feeding the hungry cast from her home. Her kindness earned her the nickname of "Buddy." Ellen went on as a script girl for the next 12 years working for RKO Radio Pictures on 150 films. During the evening, Ellen attended classes at The Actor’s Lab in Hollywood to learn more about the art of acting, and in the mid-1940’s got her break as an actress.

She once remarked that she knew virtually everyone in Hollywood. "I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone I worked with,"she said. "When the children on ‘The Waltons’ heard that I worked with Laurel and Hardy, I was in." She worked with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on three features and several shorts. She also worked the Hopalong Cassidy movie series and wrote two scripts for it. She was married briefly to cameraman Francis Corby. They were divorced in 1944.

After her debut in the 1946 film ‘’Dark Corner,’’ she worked steadily as a character actor, often playing a fussy spinster or a busybody. Because of her reputation as a studious and reliable worker, all of her film roles were negotiated directly with studio executives, thus eliminating the need for an agent. She was eager to act and felt that exposure was important along with earning while learning. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the lovelorn aunt in the 1948 film ‘’I Remember Mama,’’ starring Irene Dunne. It turned out to be her favorite film but she did not win the award.

grandma2.jpg (20321 bytes) She appeared in more than 100 movies, including ‘’Shane’’; "Vertigo’’; "It’s a Wonderful Life," in which she played a depositor who withdrew a small amount of money from the beleaguered Bailey Building and Loan; the original "Sabrina," in which she was Humphrey Bogart’s secretary; "Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte," in which she was the town gossip and "Please Don’t Eat the Daisies," in which she portrayed Martha the maid. Her mother died on September 9, 1963, at the age of 76. The loss of Ellen’s mother left an emptiness that could never be filled. "A great deal of me disappeared with her," said Ellen. "She was a large part of my life-much more than my husband ever was."

She also had an active career on television before The Waltons: As Hubcaps Lesch, she sold Barney Fife a bad car on "The Andy Griffith Show"; she played Mother Lurch in "The Addams Family"; and Miss Hanna, the beloved acting teacher in an episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucille Ball meets Orson Welles. She had a recurring role with Robert Culp in the Western series "Trackdown," which appeared in 1957-1959, and on the family comedy "Please Don’t Eat the Daisies" which ran from 1965 to 1967.

Ellen made guest appearances on many television Westerns, including ‘’The Virginian,’’ ‘’The Rifleman’’ and ‘’Wagon Train.’’ She received a Golden Boot award from the Motion Picture and Television Fund in 1989.

She was recognized for her outstanding contribution on The Waltons by winning Emmy awards in 1973, 1975 and 1976 and a Golden Globe Award in 1974.

Ellen owned a RV and loved to travel around the country with her cat, Charlie Brown. She also traveled internationally going around the world twice, to Europe six times and twice to India.

Grandma is survived by her friend and care-giver of many years, Stella Luchetta of Los Angeles, and will be remembered by her loving fans around the world.

Good night, Grandma.