Grandma Walton on Bonanza

Before she said goodnight to John Boy, Ellen Corby appeared in just about every TV series you can think of, including two episodes of “Bonanza”: “The Gunmen” (1960) from the 1st season and “The Hayburner” (1963) from the 4th season.

“The Gunmen” was a particularly silly episode in which Michael Landon and Dan Blocker played dual roles. As Little Joe and Hoss, they get mistaken in a Texas town for Big Jack Slade and Little Jim Slade, two notorious outlaws. Hoss was okay as Big Jack Slade but, even chomping on a cigar, Little Joe looked about as much like an outlaw as Grandma Walton.

Was there ever a tenderer tenderfoot than Little Joe? Even though Michael Landon was about 23 when this episode was filmed, he really looked 17 years old, Little Joe’s age in that season. They may very well have had 17 year old outlaws in the Wild West and perhaps it was even an advantage in real life, but on a 1960s TV series, it just made you laugh.

Hoss and Little Joe ride into a Hatfield and McCoy type feud. The McFaddens hired the Slade boys to kill all the Hadfield boys, “the fastest gun” Anse Hadfield, in particular. The townsfolk are acting mighty strange, and the Cartwright boys are soon confronted by an army of ladies led by Ellen Corby’s character, Lorna Doone Mayberry, who intones: “Repent, sinners! The day of retribution is at hand.” She begs them to spare the town’s men because “there ain’t enough of them to go around as it is.’

The other ladies second that with a resounding “Amen,” and a befuddled Hoss tells them they’ll spare the men “if they’re worth sparing,” just to get out of there. When they walk outside, the Hadfields begin shooting at them. Hoss and Little Joe throw out their guns in surrender. They are held at gunpoint while they try to explain they aren’t the Slade boys. Anse Hadfield persuades his Pa to let the Sheriff hold them in jail until they can establish their identity. Anse’s motive for not wanting to kill the boys becomes apparent later when Lorna Doone is enlisted to end the feud.

The Sheriff says if he can’t find Twirly Boggs, the one man who can identify the Slade brothers, Hoss and Little Joe will “get hung.” Lorna Doone appears at the jail, with 2 lovely young ladies who have their eye on Little Joe, and recites a very long poem to “comfort those poor sinners in their final hours.”

Oh poor doomed prisoners,
It ain’t too late —
Down on your knees as you face your awful fate.
Repent your crimes before that trap is sprung,
And you like a side of beef are hung.

Her poem turns out to be so long, Little Joe wonders if hanging wouldn’t be a better fate than listening to Lorna Doone.

Just a few of the popular shows Ellen Corby appeared in include “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Granny tries to marry her up with Jed Clampett), “I Love Lucy,” “Perry Mason,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Dennis the Menace,” until she got her long-term role on “The Waltons.”

Other interesting tidbits on “The Gunmen” actors:

  • Jenny Maxwell, who played one of the girls arguing over Little Joe, later got herself a spanking from Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii” (1961).
  • John Gilmore (Anse Hadfield) quit acting to become an author and later interviewed Charles Manson for one of his books.
  • Bill Clark and Bob Miles, two uncredited performers in “The Gunmen,” worked on the “Bonanza” series for years and years, appearing as various townspeople and as stuntmen standing in for Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, David Canary and various guest stars. Bob Miles was in 130 episodes. Bill Clark lent his talents to 141 episodes. They played bartenders, cowboys, Indians, deputies, stagecoach drivers, poker players and anyone else they needed. Bill was in “The Hayburner’ episode in which Ellen Corby plays William Demarest’s wife.
  • Ellen Corby also has something in common with Farrah Fawcett. Ellen appeared in several films before she commenced her long career as a television actress, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in “I Remember Mama” (1948). Like Farrah, Ellen was also snubbed as a television actress by the Academy Awards in 2000, the year after she passed away.

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