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The Story of Martha Corinne
From Episodes #51 & #52: The Conflict (Third Season)
Of all of the Waltons episodes, this two-hour show, which kicked off the third season in 1974, was probably my favorite. It's a story that explores the conflict between a family's heritage and the inevitable demands of modern society.
In this episode, we meet Martha Corinne Walton, a Waltons matriarch who is threatened with eviction from her cabin by a crew building the new Blue Ridge Parkway on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. John and Olivia, acting as peacekeepers, encourage Martha and her family of three generations to move to government housing down on "the flatlands." Martha, stubborn yet pragmatic, inspects the house but ultimately refuses to move. The episode culminates in a brief skirmish between the Walton clan and the deputies, after which Martha agrees to move.
This episode was written by Jeb Rosebrook who, while working at the University of Virginia in 1952, heard about a co-worker's family being evicted from their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930s, to make way for the new Parkway. Rosebrook named Martha Corrine after two of his aunts. Today, a stage version of The Conflict is acted out each summer in Schuyler.
Martha Corinne, in an amazing performance by actress Beulah Bondi, was one of the most memorable characters ever portrayed in The Waltons (in case she looks familiar, Beulah had played Ma Bailey in Jimmy Stewart's 1946 Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life). In the poignant closing scene of The Conflict, after the skirmish, Martha returns to her cabin and sweeps it out carefully, just before the construction crew arrives. The bride of a Confederate soldier, she and her husband Henry had built the cabin in 1865 and she wanted to leave it just as clean as it was when she moved in.
Martha Corinne appeared in two more Waltons episodes after The Conflict. In her final appearance, The Pony Cart (from the fifth season, set in 1937), she stays with the Waltons for a while, but her suggestions about doing things "the old way" cause tension in the family. Things get resolved towards the end of episode, though, when it's revealed that the 90-year old Martha has been having fainting spells. Martha, whose maiden name was Tyler, writes down the Walton and Tyler family history for John-Boy so he'll know where he came from, and she paints Ben's new pony cart (or "shay," as she calls it) in "the old way." When Ben finishes his pony cart, he takes Martha for a ride, then she gets out to pick some daisies while Ben goes on ahead. While Martha is picking the daisies, she clutches her heart and passes away. In the final scene, we see John-Boy standing by Martha's grave, which is next to that of her husband, Henry, high atop her beloved Blue Ridge Mountains.
I've described The Conflict in much more detail in Episode 51 & 52: The Conflict. To see photos of the Blue Ridge Parkway during my visit in 2001, see News: July 16, 2001.
Trivia questions for The Conflict (answers below):
1). What kind of animals chase Mary Ellen, Erin and Elizabeth up a tree on Martha's property?
2). Complete Martha's quote from her widowed husband Henry: "You live with your land..."
3). Who gets shot during the final confrontation?
Above left: The wise and wizened Martha Corrine.
Above center: Martha checking out the new house down in "the flatlands" that the government had built for her.
Above right: The final confrontation. That's John-Boy and Martha's son, Boone Walton.
Answers: 1). Three little pigs, which the boys scare away. 2). "...and you die with your land." 3). John-Boy, but fortunately for the show, it was just a flesh wound.
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