Ellen Corby (June 3, 1911 – April 14, 1999) was an Academy Award-nominated American character actress. She is most widely remembered for the role of Esther Walton on the television series The Waltons, for which she won three Emmy Awards.


Corby was born Ellen Hansen in Racine, Wisconsin, the daughter of Danish parents. She grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An interest in amateur theater while in high school led her to Atlantic City in 1932 where she briefly worked as a chorus girl. She moved to Hollywood that same year and got a job as a script girl at RKO Studios and Hal Roach Studios, where she frequently worked on the Our Gang Comedies, next to her husband, cinematographer Francis Corby. She held that position for the next twelve years and took acting lessons on the side


Corby began her career as a writer, working on the Paramount Western Twilight on the Trail and 1947's Hoppy's Holiday. She landed her first acting job in 1945, playing a maid in RKO's Cornered.

In 1948 she received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress playing a lovelorn aunt in I Remember Mama (1948). Over the next four decades, she worked steadily in both film and television, often playing maids, secretaries, waitresses or gossips. She was a favorite in western films (including Shane, 1953) and had a recurring role as "Henrietta Porter" in the western television series Trackdown (1957 – 1959). Other television appearances included Wagon Train, The Rifleman, I Love Lucy, The Virginian, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Get Smart and The Andy Griffith Show.

Her most famous role came on CBS in 1971 when she was cast as "Grandma Esther Walton" on the made-for-TV film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which served as the pilot for The Waltons. Corby would go on to resume the role on The Waltons, which became a weekly series from 1972-1981, and resulted in several sequel films. For her work in The Waltons, she won her three Emmy Awards and three more nominations as Best Supporting Actress. She left the show early in 1977, due to a massive stroke she suffered, which impaired her speech. Despite her condition, Ellen Corby returned as Esther in Season 6 of The Waltons, and continued her role throughout the rest of the series as well as the reunions.

Unfortunately, Ellen Corby passed away on April 14, 1999.



  • Rafter Romance (1933)
  • Sons of the Desert (1933)
  • Twisted Rails (1934)
  • Speed Limited (1935)
  • The Broken Coin (1936)


  • Cornered (1945)
  • The Scarlet Horseman (1946)
  • Living in a Big Way (1947)
  • They Wont Believe Me (1947)
  • I Remember Mama (1948)
  • The Noose Hangs High (1948)
  • Mighty Joe Young (1949)
  • Madame Bovary (1949)


  • Captain China (1950)
  • Caged (1950)
  • The Gunfighter (1950
  • On Moonlight Bay (1951)
  • The Sea Hornet (1951)
  • Stars over Hollywood (1951)
  • Fearless Fagan (1952)
  • Monsoon (1952)
  • Untamed Heiress (1954)
  • General Electric Theater (1954)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955)
  • The Seventh Sin (1957)
  • The 20th Century-Fox Hour (1957)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958)
  • Perry Mason (1959)
  • Trackdown (1959)
  • Peter Gunn (1959)


  • The Rifleman (1960)
  • Tales of Wells Fargo (1960)
  • Thriller (1960)
  • Tightrope (1960)