Will Geer - Later Years

Later Years

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Geer played several seasons at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, where he created a second "Shakespeare Garden" on the theater's grounds. By this time he was also working sporadically on Broadway. In 1964 he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for 110 in the Shade. In 1972, he played the part of "Bear Claw" in Jeremiah Johnson along with Robert Redford. 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.

Geer maintained a garden at his vacation home, 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.

When Geer died, shortly after completing the sixth season of The Waltons, the death of his character was written into the show's script as well. His final episode, the last episode of the 1977-78 season, depicted his being reunited with his onscreen wife Esther (Ellen Corby, who played the character, had been absent for the entire season, due to a stroke). Geer's character was mourned onscreen during the first episode of the 1978-79 season.

His ex-wife, actress Herta Ware, was best known for her performance as the wife of Jack Gilford in the film Cocoon (1985). Although they eventually divorced, they remained close throughout the rest of their lives. Geer and Ware had three children, Kate Geer, Thad Geer and actress Ellen Geer. Ware also had a daughter, actress Melora Marshall, from a previous marriage.

As Will Geer was dying on April 22, 1978, of respiratory failure at the age of 76, his family sang Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and recited poems by Robert Frost at his deathbed. Geer's remains were cremated; his ashes are buried at the Theatricum Botanicum in the "Shakespeare Garden" in Topanga Canyon, near Santa Monica, California.

Geer was the inspiration for the character Ben Duane in Richard Yates' novel Young Hearts Crying (1984).

Read more about this topic:  Will Geer

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