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Will Geer, old folkie (1902-1978)

Related thread:
Happy! - Mar 9 (Will Geer) (2)


Cluin 20 Nov 03 - 10:52 PM
Big Mick 20 Nov 03 - 11:57 PM
Ernest 21 Nov 03 - 02:24 AM
Kevin Sheils 21 Nov 03 - 04:06 AM
Kevin Sheils 21 Nov 03 - 04:10 AM
Dani 21 Nov 03 - 07:49 AM
jbailes 21 Nov 03 - 12:27 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 21 Nov 03 - 12:39 PM
Acme 21 Nov 03 - 01:29 PM
Cool Beans 21 Nov 03 - 02:38 PM
GUEST,Bill Kennedy 21 Nov 03 - 03:33 PM
georgeward 21 Nov 03 - 03:38 PM
McGrath of Harlow 21 Nov 03 - 07:06 PM
Hrothgar 22 Nov 03 - 07:20 PM
NH Dave 22 Nov 03 - 08:00 PM
Margret RoadKnight 22 Nov 03 - 09:03 PM
PapaWhiskey 22 Nov 03 - 10:51 PM
GUEST,Frankham 23 Nov 03 - 12:12 PM
georgeward 23 Nov 03 - 02:43 PM
Cluin 24 Nov 03 - 06:33 AM
Desert Dancer 28 Jun 11 - 01:37 PM
PHJim 28 Jun 11 - 03:48 PM
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Subject: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Cluin
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 10:52 PM

Having just acquired the DVD of Jeremiah Johnson, I was going through the actor bios on the disc. Reading the one on Will Geer, I learned that he was a great friend and supporter of Woody Guthrie and folk music in general. And that he suffered a bit from the blacklisting during the McCarthy days.

I was most familiar with Will Geer--like most of my generation--as Grandpa Walton when I was growing up, though my favourite role of his will always be as Bearclaw Chris (never could make out the last name) in the movie named above. But I didn't know of his contribution to Folk music.

So I went looking on the web and through old posts here on Mudcat to learn more. I found a bit of information (on his wife as well), but not near enough. Was he a folksinger as well? Did he perform/write/collect/manage? I see Mudcatter Frank Hamilton and others here knew more about the man so I figure this might be the place to respectfully ask for more details.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Big Mick
Date: 20 Nov 03 - 11:57 PM

Seems as though I remember that Woody, when visiting Geer and his wife, would always borrow Geer's guitar ( a Martin ) and would heist it when he left.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Ernest
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 02:24 AM

Wasn`t the role name you did not get "Bearclaw Chris Lapp"?
Not sure where I read it.
Yours
Ernest


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Kevin Sheils
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 04:06 AM

Will Geer also appeared with Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others in the Ballad Opera "The Martins and The Coys" produced by Alan Lomax in 1944 for the BBC.

It's available on CD in the Rounder Lomax Collection series.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Kevin Sheils
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 04:10 AM

Just for clarity above, "appeared" may be slightly misleading as it was BBC radio not TV, wartime TV in the UK having been suspended. (I'm told, not personal memory.)


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Dani
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 07:49 AM

I heard him read from Woody's Bound for Glory (WONDERFUL book) at some kind of Woody tribute concert, telling some story or other beautifully.

Dani


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: jbailes
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 12:27 PM

geer was an actor prominent in lefty/commie causes and productions, who gave financial support to a down-and-out guthrie. he acted in nyc and california in the 30s and 40s. he didn't sing so far as i know; he is on a folkways record of guthrie's, reading selections of guthrie prose preceding the songs. a recent history of the folk revival (2003 i think) says he was instrumental in getting guthrie his nyc early tv work, the same job i think where he had to dress up in comic clothes in order to sing and which he quit in disgust (this is mentioned i believe at the end of bound for glory).
this is from memory and may not all be correct.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 12:39 PM

Will Geer appeared on the Woody Guthrie Tribute Album - the one recorded in 1968 at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.

I also have an LP from a folk festival that will was involved in. I don't have the LP in front of me at the moment, but I believe it was the Topenga Folk Festival. The LP featured Geer reciting some of Woody's prose if my memory serves me correctly.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Acme
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 01:29 PM

I'll add a link to his information at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). He was clearly very busy as an actor. I remember his face in so many programs, and like Edward Everett Horton, he seems to have been an old man all of his life. :)

SRS


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Cool Beans
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 02:38 PM

Will Geer is mentioned quite extensively in Woody Guthrie's memoir "Bound for Glory." NPR's "Morning Edition" recently did a feature on the Los Angeles theater that Geer established when he was blacklisted and couldn't get movie film work, and that his daughter continues to run. Geer was in some 30 Broadway plays, beginning in 1928.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 03:33 PM

I'm hoping Kytrad shares some memories of Will with us.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: georgeward
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 03:38 PM

For the interested who haven't found it, the institute that Will Geer founded - a happenin' place going strong, it seems - is here:

Theatricum Botanicum

The site bio of WG doesn't add much in answer to Cluin's original question, except to say that, " He performed with Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie for migrant farm workers during the Depression and continued working for the good of all until his death in 1978."

It'd be more than fun to know more about how those then-young guys went about that, what they performed and sounded like, how they were received, what they learned, what they believed they were doing, no ?

They were all word people. Did any of them write about it ?


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 21 Nov 03 - 07:06 PM

My favourite Woodie Guthrie record is "Bound For Glory: Songs And Story Of Woody Guthrie", 15 of Woody's best songs, with exracts from his book, read by Will Geer, and he puts it across great.

I've got it on vinyl in a record put out by Topic in England many years ago, but it's on a Smithsonian/Folkways CD now.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Hrothgar
Date: 22 Nov 03 - 07:20 PM

I think have the same thing on a tape, McGrath - put out on an Italian label called Albatross, and crediting an original Folkways recording. The label is copyright 1975. Can't remember where I picked it up.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: NH Dave
Date: 22 Nov 03 - 08:00 PM

According to MSN'S Celebrety Listings he worked government work camps with Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie during the thirties.

Dave


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Margret RoadKnight
Date: 22 Nov 03 - 09:03 PM

In the eighties I sang at a folk concert in Topanga Canyon at the above mentioned Theatricum Botanicum, which had a Shakespearean Garden (all the plants named in the bard's work) established by Will Geer....
Also on the bill: Guy & Candy Carawan, and Peter Alsop (at that time, and possibly still, partner of Will's daughter, the actress & director Ellen Geer)
Margre RoadKnight


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: PapaWhiskey
Date: 22 Nov 03 - 10:51 PM

The movie 'The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack' has a little to say about Will Geer's place in Topanga Canyon among lots of stories about the folk movement in the 1950a and 60s.


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: GUEST,Frankham
Date: 23 Nov 03 - 12:12 PM

Hi Cluin,

It's my honor to share info on Will Geer. His friends called him "Bill". He was hurt very much by the blacklist and pursued his other love (than acting) as a landscape architect working for a sucessful home builder named Garrett Ekbo in California. He was married to Herta Ware (granddaughter of Mother Bloor, a well-known labor organizer). Herta is (was?) a fine actress also. The last part I saw her on was Star Trek playing Captain Picard's mother. Herta sang,wrote songs and played guitar with a sweet soprano voice.

The Geers had Katy, Ellen and Tad. Katy and Ellen are fine actresses and Ellen is the better known. Tad went into construction work.
I've been out of touch with them for many years. Ellen's husband, Peter Alsop has a national rep as a children's performer and songwriter.

It was quite a soap opera when Woody ran off with Aneke in Topanga Canyon. Aneke was married to Dave Marshall, a construction guy who was left when Aneke took off. Will and Herta had divorced when Will went to New York to do Coriolanus on Broadway.

Aneke had met Woody and helped him build on his little piece of
land that he bought from Topanga's realtor, Bob DeWitt. He called it "Pretty Polly Canyon" reminiscent of a Thomas Hart Benton landscape. It was rocky and straight up and down.

When they left, Dave married Herta and they have a talented
daughter who is a fine actress and great singer who plays guitar. Melora.
Melora was named after the character in the Benet play, "John Brown's Body". Melora could have done very well in the folk scene but I think she preferred acting.

Will Geer did sing. He sang in a gruff, resonant voice and really could put a song across. He could regale audiences with singing folk tales. He rendition of "Noah and Jonah and Captain John Smith" was memorable as well as his ditty "One step forward and two steps back. That's the method of the liberal attack." In those days, the "liberal" was considered to be a compromiser to many of the issues of the left wing.

Will was a great humanitarian, a brilliant actor and a generous human being. He was very supportive to me in my singing career. Herta was also. They were people with great heart and Woody owed so much to them. Will did so much for many people in the folk music field aside from Woody. He helped Cisco get started in Hollywood, had many
folksingers and folk song collectors as visitors to his ranch home in Topanga. He supported Pete and the Weavers during the hard old days...which apparently are here again. The more things change...... I practically grew up there. There was a nucleus of folkies in LA that did well under Will and Herta. It was a great experience for me.

Jack Elliott was one. There's a lot missing from his movie.

Josh White. Cisco. Odetta. Derrol Adams. Weavers....other lesser-known but IMHO equally important such as Guy Carawn, Dave Zeitlin, Marcia Berman and Jo Mapes.

Bess Lomax and and Butch Hawes became neighbors in Topanga through Will and Herta. Bess is a powerful influence on American folk music and not mentioned much because she preferred to stay behind the scenes.

Ellie Geer is quite a remarkable talent and is ably carrying on her father and mother's legacy. Theatricum Botanicum is a must visit when you are in LA area.

Hopes that gives you a little picture.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: georgeward
Date: 23 Nov 03 - 02:43 PM

Frank, this musical "scene" we are all somehow in is really a community of generations. And as with any family, there are names of those who have gone on that surface from time to time. One knows that they are somehow important, but not why.

Thanks for adding a page to the family album. And thanks to Cluin for asking.    - George


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Cluin
Date: 24 Nov 03 - 06:33 AM

Thanks for the info, folks. Especially Mr. Hamilton. It's indeed a privilege to hear about the subject from someone who was very "there".


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 28 Jun 11 - 01:37 PM

The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

From the History page at that web site:

"The beginnings of the Theatricum Botanicum stretch back to the early 1950s when Will Geer, one of the many actors victimized by the McCarthy Era Blacklisting, opened a theatre for Blacklisted actors and folk singers on his Topanga property. He also cultivated a large garden and, unable to find work in Hollywood, Will and his wife, actress Herta Ware, earned a living by selling vegetables, fruit, herbs, and theatre. With the advent of television's "The Waltons" and subsequent popularity of Will's portrayal of Grandpa, in 1973 Will Geer re-gathered his family (who were now working actors at theatres across the country) and together they formed a non-profit corporation, The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. Audiences flocked to free workshop performances of Shakespeare, folk plays, and concerts featuring such well-known artists as Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Della Reese & Burl Ives, among others.

"At the death of Mr. Geer in 1978, the family and a small band of players decided to work towards becoming a professional repertory theatre, incorporating educational programs and musical events. The local community and surrounding environs encouraged the theatre's artistic goals and proved their support by donating the labor and materials to begin a campaign which would expand and improve the theatre's facilities."

~ Becky in Long Beach
not been there yet, but it's on the list... have driven past the sign...


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Subject: RE: Will Geer, old folkie
From: PHJim
Date: 28 Jun 11 - 03:48 PM

My strongest memory of Will Geer is his role as Stan in The Rowdy Man set in Newfoundland with Gorden Pinsent as Will Cole.


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