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Moment of Indiana History

Will Geer

Actor Will Geer, "Grandpa" from "The Waltons" fame, recited poetry as a boy at the knee of James Whitcomb Riley, and went later to the University of Chicago.

Known as Grandpa on the 1970s television serial “The Waltons,” Hoosier-born actor Will Geer achieved prominence before settling on Walton’s Mountain. Born in 1902, the Frankfort, Indiana native recited poetry at the knee of James Whitcomb Riley before going on to study horticulture at the University of Chicago. His thespian talents soon prevailed, however. Geer participated in college productions, and toured with several theatre companies after graduation. As his star rose, so did Geer’s political consciousness. He embraced the causes of pacifism, civil rights, and union organization, and took roles in Broadway productions with similarly charged themes–“Let Freedom Ring,” “The Cradle Will Rock,” and “Of Mice and Men.” Geer claimed that he always “injected a little Hoosier” into whatever role he played, and took every opportunity to return to his home state.

Geer’s political activisim, which included repeated appearances at fundraisers for the American Communist Party, landed him a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. He refused to name names or to deny party affiliation, and was consequently blacklisted by the movie industry through the 1950’s. He returned to the screen in 1962’s “Advise and Consent,” and Geer worked steadily in films, on stage, and on television for the rest of his life. A year before his death in 1978, when Geer was again called up before a house subcommittee to testify against mandatory retirement age policies, he was hailed as “a great American.”

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