Ellen Corby

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Ellen Corby

Corby in 1978
BornEllen Hansen
(1911-06-03)June 3, 1911
Racine, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedApril 14, 1999(1999-04-14) (aged 87)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1933–97
Spouse(s)Francis Corby (1934-44)
 
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Ellen Corby

Corby in 1978
BornEllen Hansen
(1911-06-03)June 3, 1911
Racine, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedApril 14, 1999(1999-04-14) (aged 87)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1933–97
Spouse(s)Francis Corby (1934-44)

Ellen Hansen Corby (June 3, 1911 – April 14, 1999) was an American actress. She is most widely remembered for the role of "Grandma Esther Walton" on the CBS television series The Waltons, for which she won three Emmy Awards. She was also nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Aunt Trina in I Remember Mama.

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Early life

Ellen Hansen was born in Racine, Wisconsin to Danish parents, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An interest in amateur theater while in high school led her to Atlantic City in 1932 where she briefly worked as a chorus girl. She moved to Hollywood that same year and got a job as a script girl at RKO Studios and Hal Roach Studios, where she frequently worked on the Our Gang comedies, alongside her future husband, cinematographer Francis Corby. She held that position for the next twelve years and took acting lessons on the side.[citation needed]

Career

Corby began her career as a writer working on the Paramount Western Twilight on the Trail and 1947's Hoppy's Holiday. She landed her first acting job in 1945, playing a maid in RKO's Cornered. In 1948 she received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as a lovelorn aunt in I Remember Mama (1948). Over the next four decades, she worked steadily in both film and television, often playing maids, secretaries, waitresses or gossips. She was a favorite in western films (including Shane, 1953) and had a recurring role as "Henrietta Porter" in the western television series Trackdown (1957 – 1959), starring Robert Culp.

Other television appearances included Wagon Train, Cheyenne, The Restless Gun (two episodes), The Rifleman, Fury, I Love Lucy, Tightrope, Bonanza, Meet McGraw (as a maid), The Virginian, Channing, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, and the Night Gallery episode, "Fright Night." She also had a recurring role in the 1965-1967 TV series Please Don't Eat the Daisies.

Her best-known role came in 1971 as "Grandma Esther Walton" on the made-for-TV film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which served as the pilot for The Waltons. Her husband, Zebulon Walton, was portrayed by famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. (Bergen and Corby had played an engaged, later married, couple 23 years earlier in I Remember Mama.) Corby would go on to resume the role on the weekly television series The Waltons (she was the only adult actor from the original Homecoming pilot to carry her role over to the series). Actor Will Geer played her husband in the series from 1972 until his death in 1978, at which time the character of Zebulon Walton was also buried. The series ran from 1972–1981, and resulted in several sequel films.[citation needed] For her work in The Waltons, she won three Emmy Awards and earned three more nominations as Best Supporting Actress. She left the show early in 1977, due to a massive stroke she suffered, which impaired her speech and severely limited her mobility and function. She returned to the series during the final episode of the 1977-78 season, with her character depicted as also recovering from a stroke. She remained a regular on The Waltons through the end of the 1978-79 season, with Esther Walton struggling with her stroke deficits as Corby was in real life. Although Corby was able to communicate after her stroke, her character's lines were usually limited to one word or one-phrased dialogue. She resumed her "Grandma Walton"' role in five of the six Waltons reunion movies during released between 1982 and 1997.[citation needed]

Private life

Corby was married to Francis Corby, a film director 20 years her senior, from 1934 until they divorced in 1944. Francis Corby lived until 1956. The union was childless. She suffered a serious stroke in November 1976 but recovered and returned to her role onThe Waltons in March 1978. Her stroke was written into the show, with Grandma Walton also suffering a stroke and struggling to regain her speech. Her final role was in the Walton's reunion film A Walton Easter (1997).[citation needed]

Corby died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, aged 87, following several years of declining health. Her mausoleum is in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Filmography

1930s
1940s
1950s
1960s
1970s
1980s
  • All the Way Home (1981)
  • Wedding on Walton's Mountain (1982)
  • A Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain (1982)
1990s
  • A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion (1993)
  • A Walton Wedding (1995)
  • A Walton Easter (1997)

Writer

Miscellaneous crew

External links