Who was Ellen Corby?
The late American actress and screenwriter Ellen Hansen Corby, was born in Racine, Wisconsin USA, on 3 June 1911, meaning that Gemini was her zodiac sign. She appeared in 267 movies and TV series; she passed away in 1999, and is perhaps still remembered best for starring as Esther ‘Grandma’ Walton in 146 episodes of the popular family series “The Waltons”; it also starred Mary Beth McDonough, and was created by Earl Hamner Jr. The series aired from 1972 through 1981, followed the lives of members of a Virginia mountain family, and won 20 of its 73 award nominations.
Ellen Corby (1911–1999) was born on this day. She was an Oscar nominee for I REMEMBER MAMA (1948) and an Emmy winner for THE WALTONS.What do you remember her from?
Education and early life
Ellen was raised in Racine by her parents, who had moved to the USA from Denmark not long before she was born; Ellen avoided speaking about her family in public, because she respected their privacy, and it’s believed that she was an only child, as she never mentioned siblings.
The family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before Ellen turned 10, and she began acting upon enrolling at a local high school. She was 17 when she made her debut film appearance in the 1928 short comedy “Buster’s Big Chance”, then upon matriculating in 1929, Ellen enrolled at acting school.
She moved to Atlantic City in 1932, and then to Hollywood, California in pursuit of an acting career.
Roles in movies
Ellen played Serbian Peasant in the 1933 romantic war movie “Storm at Daybreak”, and some of her following roles were in the 1934 family fantasy comedy “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, the 1935 crime action “Speed Limited”, and the 1936 drama “The Broken Coin”, before her career was interrupted by World War Two.
The year 1945 saw her play Swiss Maid in the popular thriller “Cornered”, directed by Edward Dmytryk, and which starred Dick Powell, Walter Slezak and Micheline Cheirel. It follows Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard whose wife’s been murdered, while he’s now pursuing her killer to Argentina and Switzerland. Some of Ellen’s notable performances in the remainder of the ‘40s were in the 1946 mystery horror “The Spiral Staircase”, the 1947 crime drama “Born to Kill”, and the 1949 mystery “A Woman’s Secret”.
What marked the ‘50s for her was perhaps playing Miss McCardle in the romantic comedy “Sabrina”, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, and was written and directed by Billy Wilder. It follows a wealthy man who’s fallen for the daughter of his family’s chauffeur, and the movie won seven of its 15 award nominations, including an Oscar win for Best Costume Design, Black and White.
Ellen Corby (uncredited), It's a Wonderful Life, 1946… pic.twitter.com/L2S6otuOdx
— Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) June 4, 2019
Some of Ellen’s most notable performances in the ‘60s were in the 1961 comedy “Pocketful of Miracles”, the 1963 western comedy “4 for Texas”, and the 1966 family mystery comedy “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”.
She had only a couple of film roles in the ‘70s – what marked the decade for her was playing Esther Walton in the 1971 family drama “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story”, which starred Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal, and was directed by Fielder Cook. It follows the Waltons as they’re spending the 1993 Christmas together – the film won one of its six award nominations.
Ellen appeared in only three movies in the ‘80s: the 1981 drama “All the Way Home”, the 1982 drama “A Wedding on Walton’s Mountain” and the family drama “A Day for Thanks on Walton’s Mountain” in the same year.
Her final three film roles were in the 1993 family drama “A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion”, the 1995 drama “A Walton Wedding”, and the 1997 drama “A Walton Easter”, in all of which she portrayed Esther ‘Grandma’ Walton.
Roles in TV series
Ellen’s debut TV series role was playing Rosa Peterson in three episodes of the 1950 drama “Stars Over Hollywood”, and the ‘50s then saw her appear in an episode or two of numerous series, including the crime drama “Alias Mike Hercules”, the drama “Telephone Time” and the family western “The Roy Rogers Show”.
From 1961 through 1968, Ellen played four characters in four episodes of the critically acclaimed family adventure “Lassie”, which starred June Lockhart, Jon Provost and Lassie, and follows the lives of the Martin family and their pet dog Lassie; it won four of its 11 award nominations. The ‘60s saw Ellen make a guest appearance in numerous series, such as the crime mystery “Hawaii Five-O”, another crime mystery “Ironside” and the war comedy “Gomer Pyle: USMC”.
She spent the ‘70s focused on shooting for “The Waltons”, while some of her other appearances were in an episode or two of the fantasy horror “Night Gallery”, the romantic comedy “Love, American Style” and the crime drama “Tenafly”.
Ellen appeared in only one more TV series after “The Waltons”: the 1983 episode “Between Fathers and Sons” of the drama “The Mississippi”.
Ellen wrote the 1936 drama movie “The Broken Coin”, the 1941 western film “Twilight on the Trail”, and the 1947 western movie “Hoppy’s Holiday”.
Her last talk-show appearances were in the ‘70s, in “The Mike Douglas Show”, “Bicentennial Minutes” and “CBS: On the Air”.
Awards and nominations
Ellen won six of her 13 award nominations. She won two Golden Globes in 1949 and 1974, for her performances in “I Remember Mama” and “The Waltons”, respectively, three Primetime Emmys for her performance in “The Waltons” in 1973, 1975 and 1976, and a 1989 Golden Boot.
Ellen was also nominated for a 1949 Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for her performance in “I Remember Mama”.
Love life and relationships
Ellen was married once: she and American film director and cinematographer Francis Corby exchanged vows in 1934, and divorced in 1944; she was 23 when they married, while Francis was 43.
Ellen met American non-celebrity woman Stella Luchetta in 1954, and the two women were together until Ellen passed away; although Ellen never confirmed that they were romantically involved, it’s widely believed that they were.
Ellen was in a long-term relationship with Stella Luchetta at the time of her death, was married once and didn’t have children.
It was the late American actor and musician Will Geer who saved Ellen’s life when she suffered a stroke in November 1976; the two starred alongside in “The Waltons”, and after Ellen failed to show up for the shooting, Will assumed that something was wrong because she’d never been late before. He and the show’s producers drove to Ellen’s home, where they found her unconscious having suffered a stroke.
She was a teacher of Transcendental Meditation, and was trained by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India.
Ellen wasn’t the original cast member of the 1948 family movie “I Remember Mama”, but was rather cast after the late American actress Jessica Tandy dropped out.
She was a philanthropist and often volunteered with charity organizations that helped underprivileged children; Ellen was also a huge lover of animals.
Death and wealth
Ellen was 87 when she died on 14 April 1999, after years of declining health; she was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Ellen’s net worth at the time of her death was estimated at over $500,000.