The American film industry is one that has been in existence for more than a hundred years and in all that time, there have been people who have come and gone through this industry, leaving their mark and making a name for themselves. Ellen Corby is one of such people and she is mostly remembered for the work she did on television.
Keep reading to learn more about how this woman from a small town was able to become one of the most familiar faces on American television in the seventies.
Ellen Corby’s Bio
This actress was born on the 3rd of June, 1911, in the city of Racine in Wisconsin as Ellen Hansen. Her parents were immigrants from Denmark and she was very close to them, particularly her mother who she described as being a large part of her life more than even her husband had been.
Although she was born in Wisconsin, most of Ellen’s childhood was spent in Philadelphia. As a child, she showed an interest in acting and nursed her dreams of becoming an actress into adulthood. When Ellen was twenty-one, she moved to Atlantic City and worked as a chorus girl. From Atlantic City, her dreams led her to the hub of acting, Hollywood.
Her first job in Hollywood was that of scriptgirl while she took lessons in acting; she used to work at RKO Studios and at the now defunct Hal Roach Studios. Between the years 1930 and 1940, Ellen had very minor roles in more than twenty-five films, all of which were uncredited roles. It was until her role in the 1945 film Cornered she got credited for her acting. Three years after, she was landing much bigger roles. The first recognizable performance she gave was in 1948 I Remember Mama, for her role of Aunt Trina, she was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe.
For most of the early years in her career, this actress mostly acted in Westerns and she was duly recognized for this as she was given the 1989 Golden Boot, an award that honours people in film for their contribution to the Western genre.
Ellen Corby’s marriage to Francis Corby, a cinematographer in 1934, was a great boost to her career. Although she only acted in mostly small roles for the entirety of their marriage which was ten years, the experience she had in those years was a great foundation for her career.
Grandma Esther Walton is her most popular role and her first appearance as the character was in the film, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. The film was released in 1971 and it served as the pilot for the show The Walton where she reprised her role and was the only person from the pilot who remained on the show for the eight years it aired. For playing Grandma Esther, Corby won three Emmys; she also continued to perform the role in the five films that were spinoffs from the television show.
Sometime in her life, Ellen learned transcendental meditation and she became a teacher of this practice.
Ellen Corby worked as an actress for sixty-six years and the body of her work features brilliant performances which garnered awards and nominations, all of which speak of her brilliance as an actress.
What Did She Die of and How Old Was She When She Died?
Ellen Corby continued to act until her death in 1999 and her passing was triggered by complications of a stroke she suffered in 1976. The day she had the stroke, her onscreen husband Will Geer could sense that something was off as Corby never came to the set late. He went to her house with some of the show’s producers and upon getting there, they found her afflicted by the stroke. After the incident, Corby could barely act but was still on the show. The writers gave her character, Esther a stroke so it was not abnormal for her character to deliver one-liners. When the last two seasons of the show came around, she became a recurring character instead of the series regular she had been.
By 1999, she died in her home. The later years of her life were spent with her friend Stella Luchetta as Corby had no children. She was 87 at the time of her death.