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Will Geer (1902-1978)

Will Geer

Will Geer was an American actor and an ardent advocate for social justice, workers rights and a pacifist. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

William Aughe Ghere was born on March 9th in Frankfort Indiana. His father, A. Roy Ghere was a postal worker and his mother Katherine was a teacher.

Geer was deeply influenced by his grandfather and became interested to become a botanist. He even studied at the University of Chicago and obtained a masters degree in Botany.

Geer eventually changed his occupation and started performing with a touring company in tent shows and on river boats. During his 60 years career he acted in different movies, TV series, and in different Shakespearian plays; in a one-man performance as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain and in numerous documentaries, such as the narrating in Men and Dust.

Men and Dust, is a powerful 16 minute film by Sheldon and Lee Dick about the effects of silicosis in the zinc mining industry in the surroundings of Joplin, Missouri (1939-40).

Geer’s acting, as grandpa, in the Waltons (1970s) was outstanding. He also won an Emmy Award for supporting actor in this Drama Series (1975).

Geer joined the Communist Party USA in 1934. He supported and even organized successful labour strikes especially in California. In 1951, Geer was blacklisted and as a result was banned and could only perform in a very few movies. In response to the ban, he formed the Theatricum Botanicum at the Shakespeare Garden in Topanga Canyon, California. There he trained actors, encouraged outdoor philosophical discussions and of course folk singing concerts. Theatricum was a haven for many blacklisted Hollywood actors.

In 1954, Geer acted with other blacklisted comrades in the Salt of the Earth, written by Michael Wilson.

Will Geer and actress Herta Ware married in 1934. They had 3 children: Kate, Thad, and Ellen. Ellen Geer is an Actress, screenwriter, director, and a professor. Geer and Herta divorced in 1954.

Geer died on April 22 of respiratory failure in LA, California. His ashes were laid in a corner of the Theatricum Botanicum. In his deathbed, his family sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and recited Robert Frost’s poems.

Here are some of his other famous works:

  • Misleading Lady (1932)

  • Wild Gold (1934)

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

  • Union Pacific (1939)

  • The Fight for Life (1940)

  • Deep Waters (1948)

  • Intruder in the Dust (1949)

  • Lust for Gold (1949)

  • Broken Arrow (1950)

  • Convicted (1950)

  • The Kid from Texas (1950)

  • Comanche Territory (1950)

  • The Barefoot Mailman (1951)

  • Racket Squad (1951)

  • Bright Victory (1951)

  • The Tall Target (1951)

  • Mobs, Inc. (1956)

  • Advise and Consent (1962)

  • East Side/ West Side (1964)

  • Black Like Me (1964)

  • The Trial of O’ Brien (1966)

  • The Crucible (1967)

  • The Cold Blood (1967)

  • The President’s Analyst (1967)

  • Certain Honorable Men (1968)

  • Bonanza (1969)

  • The Moonshine War (1970)

  • Of Mice and Men (1970)

  • Sam Hill: Who Killed Mr. Foster? (1971)

  • Love, American Style (1971)

  • O’ Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971)

  • Napoleon and Samanta (1972)

  • Executive Action (1973)

  • Silence (1974)

  • The Hanged Man (1974)

  • The Night that Panicked America (1975)

  • Hollywood on Trial (1976)

  • Law and Order (1976)

  • Eight is Enough (1977)

  • A Woman Called Moses (1978)

  • Unknown Powers (1978)

  • CBS: On the Air (1978)

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