Friday, March 22, 2024

Beulah Bondi in "The Pony Cart" episode of THE WALTONS

Beulah Bondi in “The Pony Cart” episode of The Waltons, is “still on the top of her game,” or so recalled Judy Norton-Taylor, who played “Mary Ellen” in the popular family television drama.  It is a performance worth noting for that, and also because it was Miss Bondi’s very last role, and because she won an Emmy for it.

This is my entry in the 10th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts blog.  Have a look at the other great posts listed.

“The Pony Cart,” season 5, episode 10, broadcast December 2, 1976, is actually the second appearance of Beulah Bondi on the program, having introduced the character of Martha Corinne Walton two years earlier in season 3, an episode called “The Conflict,” broadcast September 12, 1974.  In that episode, Martha Corinne, who is the Grandfather Zeb’s (played by Will Geer) sister-in-law, having married his older brother Henry, is being forcibly removed from her home.  She lives in a cabin in the mountains.  She, her son Boone and her great-grandson and his wife have to leave the area when a new highway is to be built and the land has been taken by eminent domain. 

In “The Pony Cart,” it is summer 1937 and Martha Corinne comes to visit the Waltons, bringing with her some personal treasures as gifts to everyone.  At first she is a welcome guest, a part of their family history.  Indeed, she still dresses in old-fashioned ways including a bonnet when she goes outside.  She settles into family life, but soon proves to be an irritant for her outspoken opinions and suggestions, and everyone from Grandma Walton (played by Ellen Corby, with whom she appeared decades earlier in It’s a Wonderful Life) to some of the kids chafe under her strong, independent personality.  She pokes her nose into everyone’s business, and it is actually pretty funny, if it’s not your business.

Brother Ben, played by Eric Scott, is constructing a pony cart in the family’s sawmill, and Martha Corinne takes special interest in this; it is something like her, a time traveler from the past and gentler days.  In her time, they called it a shay.  She interferes here as well, telling him the best way to build it. 

Understanding she has worn out her welcome, she asks John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, to take her back to her new home, but first to ride up to the remains of her old cabin and to visit her husband’s grave in the mountains.  On that trip, she remarks on what is the saddest prospect of all about growing old: “The sad thing is to see your kin and your friends go, one by one.  That’s the hardest part.”

She is teary-eyed upon standing on the ruins of her cabin, which she and her husband had built together in the late 1800s.

She has an attack of angina, and admits that being 90 years old, “I’m wore out.”  He wants to take her back to the Waltons’ house, but she refuses.  “I’ve got too much pride,” but agrees only when he promises not to tell anyone she is dying.

Back at the Waltons, where nobody is at first all that happy to see her again, they later relent and coddle her when John-Boy tells them the truth about Martha Corinne’s health.  She is furious.  “Now they’re all waitin’ for me to drop dead so they can pick me up before I hit the floor…I don’t want to be dead before I die.”

She is given the project of painting Ben’s pony cart, and fashions it into a lovely piece of folk art with stenciled flowers.  Ben gives her the first ride when it is finished, and along the road, she asks to be let out to stretch her legs near a patch of wildflowers.  As Ben pulls away, intending to circle around and come back, Martha Corinne is alone for the moment, blissful in the sunshine, picking flowers, when suddenly, another attack of angina, and bending over, she looks upward toward the sky, squinting, not exactly in distress, but rather a look of almost childlike curiosity.  There is a slow fadeout, and we know that Martha Corinne has passed away, peacefully enjoying her final earthly moment in nature.

I can still recall the first time I saw the episode and tearing up at this scene.  Having watched it again for this blogathon, it retains its power and delicacy.

What makes the episode especially interesting is that Martha Corinne is the focus of the entire episode.  The subplots that occur reflect her place in the story.  With exquisite respect to a veteran actress, the episode is given over to her, and Beulah Bondi has the strength and skill to command the entire episode; she is in nearly every scene.

At age 87, she won the Emmy for “Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series.”  Her last film had been in 1963, and had made only a handful of television guest appearances in between.  “The Pony Cart” and its resultant Emmy was a triumphant way for a marvelous actress to end her long career.  Miss Bondi passed away in 1981 at 92 years old.

Compare this performance with her devastating turn as the elderly woman parted from her husband in Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), which we discussed here. 

Here’s a clip of Beulah Bondi sweetly recalling her husband on their wedding day in the first episode, “The Conflict.”

Have a look here at Judy Norton-Taylor’s remembrance of and touching insights on “The Pony Cart” episode here on her YouTube channel devoted to The Waltons.

For more posts on great TV show episodes by some great bloggers, have a look here at the roster for the 10th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon!


Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were Hollywood's weapon.

Get your copy of my book Hollywood Fights Fascism here at Amazon in print or eBook, or FREE here for a limited time at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a variety of other online shops.


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.


Terence Towles Canote said...

I have to think The Waltons episode "The Conflict" was my first exposure to Beulah Bondi. I wouldn't see It's a Wonderful Life for a few more years. And I think both "The Conflict" and "The Pony Cart" are great ways to be introduced to her. She is at the top of her game in both episodes, but of the two "The Pony Cart" is my favourite. She gives it her all. It was certainly a good role to go out in. Anyway, you summed up why this episode and Beulah Bondi's performance are so special. Thank you for taking part in the blogathon!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Terence, and thank you for hosting this always fun blogathon. I look forward to it every year.

Rebecca Deniston said...

I haven't seen this episode, but Beulah Bondi was wonderful. It was always comforting to see her.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome to the blog! Yes, she was really wonderful, in this episode and in her work as an actress. One of the greats.

Related Products