Will Geer

Family tree of Will Geer

Actor, Singer & Musician

AmericanBorn William Aughe Ghere

American actor, musician, and social activist

Born on March 09, 1902 in Frankfort, Indiana , United States

Died on April 22, 1978 in Los Angeles, California , United States

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Will Geer (born William Aughe Ghere; March 9, 1902 – April 22, 1978) was an American actor, musician, and social activist, who was active in labor organizing and other movements in New York and Southern California in the 1930s and 1940s. In California he befriended rising singer Woody Guthrie. They both lived in New York for a time in the 1940s. He was blacklisted in the 1950s by Hollywood after refusing, in testimony before Congress, to name persons who had joined the Communist Party.
In his later years, he was well known for his role as the grandfather figure Zebulon Walton in the TV series The Waltons until his death.

...   Will Geer (born William Aughe Ghere; March 9, 1902 – April 22, 1978) was an American actor, musician, and social activist, who was active in labor organizing and other movements in New York and Southern California in the 1930s and 1940s. In California he befriended rising singer Woody Guthrie. They both lived in New York for a time in the 1940s. He was blacklisted in the 1950s by Hollywood after refusing, in testimony before Congress, to name persons who had joined the Communist Party.
In his later years, he was well known for his role as the grandfather figure Zebulon Walton in the TV series The Waltons until his death.


Early life
Geer was born in Frankfort, Indiana, the son of Katherine (née Aughe), a teacher, and Roy Aaron Ghere, a postal worker. His father left the family when he was 11 years old. 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 was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.


Career
Anglicizing his name, Geer began his acting career touring in tent shows and on riverboats. He worked on several left-oriented documentaries, including narrating Sheldon Dick's Men and Dust, about silicosis among miners.
He created the role of Mr. Mister in Marc Blitzstein's 1937 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 (as Wyatt Earp), Broken Arrow, Comanche Territory (all 1950) and Bright Victory (1951).
He became a dedicated activist, touring government work camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s with folk singers such as Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie (whom he introduced to the People's World and the Daily Worker). In 1956, the duo released an album together on Folkways Records, titled Bound for Glory: Songs and Stories of Woody Guthrie. In his biography, Harry Hay described Geer's activism and their activities while organizing for the strike. He is credited with introducing Guthrie to Pete Seeger at the 'Grapes of Wrath' benefit which he organized in 1940 for migrant farm workers.
He acted with the Group Theatre (New York) studying under Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. He acted in radio, appearing as Mephistopheles (the Devil) in the 1938 and 1944 productions of Norman Corwin's The Plot to Overthrow Christmas. He also acted in the radio soap opera Bright Horizon.


Blacklist
Geer was blacklisted in the early 1950s for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, he appeared in very few films over the next decade. Among them was Salt of the Earth (1954) which starred and was produced, directed and written by blacklisted Hollywood personnel. It 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.


Later years
In 1951, Geer founded the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, California, with his wife, actress Herta Ware. He combined his acting and botanical careers at the Theatricum, cultivating every plant mentioned in Shakespeare's plays.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, he played several seasons at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. In addition, he created a second Shakespeare Garden on the theater's grounds.
By this time, he was working sporadically again on Broadway. In 1964, he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for 110 in the Shade. In 1967 he performed a soliloquy as the prosecutor delivering the closing argument against the two murderers in the film In Cold Blood. In 1972, he played the part of Bear Claw in Jeremiah Johnson.
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.
When he died, shortly after completing the sixth season of The Waltons, the death of his character was written into the show's script. His final episode, the last episode of the 1977–1978 season, depicted his being reunited with his onscreen wife Esther (played by Ellen Corby; she had been absent for the entire season, due to a stroke). His character was mourned onscreen during the first episode of the 1978–1979 season, titled "The Empty Nest".


Personal life
Geer married actress Herta Ware in 1934. He and Ware had three children, Kate Geer, Thad Geer, and actress Ellen Geer. Ware also had a daughter, actress Melora Marshall, from another marriage. Although he and Ware divorced in 1954, they remained close for the rest of their lives.
In 1934 he met Harry Hay at the Tony Pastor Theatre where Geer worked as an actor. They became lovers. He and Hay participated in a milk strike in Los Angeles. Later that year, he and Hay performed in support of the San Francisco General Strike, where they witnessed police firing on strikers, killing two. He was a committed leftist, with Hay later describing him as his political mentor. He introduced Hay to Los Angeles' leftist community, and together they took part in activism, joining demonstrations for laborers' rights and the unemployed, and on one occasion handcuffed themselves to lamposts outside UCLA to hand out leaflets for the American League Against War and Fascism. He became a member of the Communist Party of the United States in 1934. After Hay had become increasingly politicized, Geer introduced him to the Party. In 1934, he and Hay gave support to a labor strike of the port of San Francisco, part of the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike. Geer became a reader of the West Coast Communist newspaper People's World.He maintained a garden at his vacation house, 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. He also had a small vacation house in Solana Beach, California, where his front and back yards were cultivated as vegetable gardens rather than lawns.
As he was dying on April 22, 1978, of respiratory failure at the age of 76, his family sang Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and recited poems by Robert Frost at his deathbed. His remains were cremated; his ashes are buried at the Theatricum Botanicum in the Shakespeare Garden in Topanga Canyon, California.


TV and filmography


Discography


References


External links

Will Geer at IMDb
Will Geer at the Internet Broadway Database
Will Geer at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
Will Geer at Find a Grave
Discography of Will Geer on Folkways



Biography from Wikipedia (see original) under licence CC BY-SA 3.0


 

Geographical origins

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