Interview with Joe Conley

By Jenna (used with permission)

JT-I read your bio. Can you give me a little bit of information on how you got interested in this business? I understand that your grandfather was traveling medicine man?

JC-'Snake Oil' Johnny McMahon.

JT-Your mother was a vaudvillian?


JT-So were you influenced as a young child? Or as you got older...

JC-When I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, NY my mother would regale me with stories of her eccentric father, who was 'Snake Oil' Johnny McMahon. And I just loved to hear the stories about what he did and where he was and the various people that were in his shows and the various people that my mother met when she was young. They were friends with the Foys, the Foys and the McMahon's were friends. They had 7 and the McMahon's had 6. They knew each other and appeared together. I listened to the stories and I became interested as little kids will. As I grew older I decided that I wanted to be a radio announcer because that was the big thing then when I was a kid. Disc Jockies were just beginning to come in. That sounded wonderful to me and that's what I wanted to do.

JT-As a young man you were on some radio shows.

JC-Yeah I did a few radio shows in Buffalo. I was on with Bob Smith. He had a show in Buffalo, where he started and that's why he's called Buffalo Bob. He had a show and he had kids on it from various schools who would sing, entertain and answer questions. I was on his show a couple of times.

JT-When did you get interested in stage work and actual acting?

JC-I did high school things, the shows we did in high school and also grammar school. We had the annual Christmas Pageant and I played one of the three kings (Joe now sings a few bars of 'We Three Kings...'). And I was the one with the Murrh. And then I moved to California when I was 17 and I attended Loyolla University. They had an acting group there called The Del Rey players and I appeared in several productions while I was in college.

JT-And that's when you realized that's what you wanted to do?

JC- Yeah, well I never majored in motion pictures or things like that. I majored in History and Political Science. I intended to go to Law School. I always had a flare for show business and, doing shows and participating but I don't suppose I was really serious about it because I thought it was too much of a long shot and I tried to prepare to go out and become a lawyer and support my family. When I got drafted and went into the service, I began to do some Army shows and once again. I couldn't do any big ones because I wasn't in Special Services I was in Infantry. I had to do things that our Infantry organization was doing, amateur night because I wasn't in Special Services. Then when I got out I went back to college and got my degree and then I think I was leaning towards it and Korea broke out and I got called back into the service for two more years. I got wounded in Korea and when I was in the hospital I began doing shows with Special Service. I was in the hospital 2-3 months and a lot of the times I was quite ambulatory so I was able to participate in shows, like I was not a patient but I was. Then I would do shows for the returning vets out of Korea.

JT-That's Great.

JC-Then when I got discharged I decided that I was gonna give it 3 years. I was gonna try to make a living in show business and if I could make it in 3 years I was gonna stay in it and if I didn't I was gonna quit and persue Law School. And I was making a living in 2 years...


JC-So I stayed in it.

JT-That's Great, that's really interesting. It reminds of goals I set for myself.

JC-There you go.

JT-Was your first movie Crime of Passion? I have that video.

JC-That's correct...


JC-Oh no, no no! It had a similar title, the first picture was.. I did it when I was in college at Arizona State...that was between the 2 times I was in the service. I transfered and graduated from there. That picture was called The Sound Of Fury. I didn't do that until 1957 or 58. I don't remember...

JT-That's ok

JC-It may have been the first picture I did after I got out of the service the second time. Was that with Barbara Stanwyck?

JT-Yes it was..

JC-No, no then that was not the first picture I did. I did several before that...In Crime of Passion I played a delivery boy. And I did that in 1957, 1958. A friend of mine by the name of Gert Oswald directed that film and he was the one who wanted me in it.

JT-That was a pretty interesting scene, you couldn't figure out who got the sandwich with mustard...

JC-That's right. You've seen it?

JT-Oh yeah I own it.

JC-Oh you do, that's good. I don't think I've ever seen it. Well maybe I did, if I did it was a long time ago.

JT-Right. Now...

JC-42 years ago? Jeez.

JT-Of course everyone knows you as Ike Godsey but in the other characters you've played were there any life experperiences that you put into your characters and in particular Ike Godsey?


JT-You kind of created them on your own...

JC-Well you don't create a role, the script creates a role you just interpret it as best you can. I played myself pretty much in the Waltons. You do a show so long, you know and it becomes you. And I asked Earl Hamner in the beginning did he want an accent of any sorts and he said absolutely not talk the way you talk...

JT-Really? Wow... I noticed maybe in the beginning John Boy had an accent, but yeah no one on the show...yeah that brings up a good point. I never noticed anyone had a kind of Southern accent...

JC-Well you know who used to do it just a little bit was Michael Learned. She grew up in Canada. She lived all around the world. She was the daughter of a State Department employee.

JT-Right. It was certainly, probably one of America's favorite shows. I know I grew up on it when I was 6 years old, that was towards the end of the show's run and my parents watched it from the beginning. What was it like, the atmosphere on and off the set, was it an enjoyable experience working with these actors?

JC-If you're doing a one shot on one show it's pretty exciting because you've been delivered the scripts, you've memorized your lines and you're introduced to the director and then it comes time to shoot, you're brought to the set and introduced to the other actors and it's an exciting and brand new experience. Sometimes there's a lot of rehersal, sometimes it's needed, sometimes you shoot the first thing that comes along and everyone's happy. But when you're doing a long-term series it becomes old home week. You received the script the previous week and receive changes all the time,after a while you don't even memorize. You read. If it's a tough scene you might even read it several times to become familiar with it and the reason you don't memorize it is because they give you changes at the last minute and if you learn something you have to unlearn it. Suppose you memorize a poem and just before you're going to perform in front of the audience they say 'oh by the way we've changed and we're taking out that whole center part, we're moving the end to the front and your changing the name from Raymond to Tom'(Joe laughs) and that's what they do to you and you get used to it. And so you walk on the set with just a nice, familiar feeling with the scene. You should have that. And you acutally memorize it during rehersal. It becomes and everyday job, you're told to get there at noon, you're shooting at 2, at 4 you're finished and you're on your way home. I never socialized with the cast for 2 reasons: first of all I was perhaps the only family man on the show, I had a wife and children at home. The rest of the Waltons were all either single, or kids or older and not married anymore. I went home to my fmaily. Not that we didn't have lunch together and joke and kid and have fun on the set. That was an awful long answer(laughs).

JT-People watched the show and saw this close family, was it like that off the set. A friendly atmosphere? I understand that...

JC-Yeah, they were all nice people. I got along with all of them. I never had a fight. Not that we didn't disagree on how a scene should be played. Primarily our directors were in charge and we had very good directors. Most would say, 'if you have an idea you'd like to bring up please don't hesitate, talk to me and if I like we'll use it.' Sometimes they'd say, 'let's try it' and after they would try your idea they would say, 'Joe it just doesn't work, let's go back to our original concept.' It was always pleasant, they were very nice people. Very talented people.

JT-Right. You could see that in the show. A question, if you can recall this, they brought in Ronnie Claire Edwards around 1974...

JC-I remember it very well.

JT-What was your response when they said, now we're going to present Ike with a wife? You're not gonna be the single man any more.

JC-Well I had been urging for that. I had talked with Earl Hamner and told him that I felt that to complete my character I would need a wife. I don't know how hard I layed on it but I had spoken to him about it and he said, 'I've got some ideas in that direction.' Suddenly, along around the middle of the third season he said 'Joe we've got you getting married in a show we're gonna be shooting around Thanksgiving.' I hadn't seen the script and he said 'we'll be casting for the role.' I said do you want my help in casting and he said 'we'll take care of that ourselves'( Joe laughs). So when Ronnie Claire walked on the set I had never seen her before and she was an immediate success, she was great.

JT-I noticed from that first episode (when you and she get married), she was different I think then when the show went on. I thought she was shy and later on she had that atmosphere...

JC-Remember that was the way it was written.

JT-But then they expanded it to have her as having this atmosphere of bieng schooled in the classics and that contrast between you and the whole Doe Hill thing.

JC-Well, some of the complaints about he show was that we were too syrupy sweet and everyone was kind and marveous(etc.) and one of the reasons they made her as the character she was is because they wanted to bring a little acid to the show. Which was great for her character because it gave her marvelous opportunities to display her fantastcic talents. They made her a tough indiviudal, that's they way they wrote it.

JT-It was an interesting mixture to say the least. There were the two different characters. But I think that people could still see that there was that love for each other, even though...

JC-You could see that huh?(Joe laughs)

JT-Well I could see, there were...

JC-Again, that's the way it was written. We had wonderful writers. Remember Earl Hamner who created the Waltons as you know, I presume you know...


JC-He's a great writer so when he got the opportunity to have his own series and be editor so-to-speak he had brought all his friends in and writers he appreciated and writers that he didn't even know but knew by reputation. So he would call them on the phone and say, 'would you like to do one of our shows' and they would say, 'well what do you want to do' and he would say, 'do anything you want.' He would provide them with the bible (giving out all the characters and the shows we had done in the past) and they would write marvelous scripts which he then would help re-write and bring it right down so that it fit perfectly. We had marvelous scripts always, it was a delight to recive one. The doorbell would ring and I'd go to the front door and there'd be a new script for me. And I would immediately go into the den, close the door and read it. Very often I'd have tears in my eyes, reading something that I was invovled in. We we're extremely fortunate that we had great writers.

JT-There were a couple of episodes, I know that are my favorites, that focus on Ike and Corabeth's relationship. I was impressed, I think they expanded upon your character a lot. They were really great. Were there any particular episodes that you thought were just marvelous or really...

JC-The heart attack of course was a wonderful script, when I had the heaart attack. Do you remember that one?


JC-That was a good sctipt

JT-That was, that was one of the favorites...

JC-Ernie Wallengren(?) wrote that, he's a fine writer.

JT-That was interesting, that was a great moment. Like I said it's that Corabeth and Ike and that there's a situation and it's serious. It looked like her character wasn't as rigid. She was there and concerned about you and when you decided to sell the store. I have that one on tape. You know what's interesting, I was on the internet a couple of months ago and there's a Walton's web site and someone else came up with a web site that specifically explained the episodes where Corabeth and Ike were prominent feautres in the episodes and lists those episodes by season.

JC-Oh really?

JT-Yes and a little synopsis. I have a listing of those episodes here. Another episode, and I'm not saying that you're going to remember them all, I think it was one that Ralph Waite directed and it was where Corabeth developed a drinking problem.

JC-I remember she was going to open the ballet school. My little girl played one of the ballet dancers...

JT-Oh right one of the 3 grirls


JT-Which daughter?

JC-Erin, she's my older daughter. She was just an extra. It was shot during the summer so they always asked me to bring the kids over when they needed kids for extras so she did a few of them. In that one she played one of the 3 girls on the bars.

JT-That was interesting because it kind of showed a little kink in Corabeth's armor. You know she always tried to present herself as so pefect and she developed this problem and then how you responded to it. I thought it was interesting. We see Ike yell in that episode probably for the first time, I remember the scene where she locks herself in the bedroom and she said she couldn't take it anymore and you were getting agitated and confused and flustered. The end was terrific when John left the store and just had the two of you together to work things out,that was a great scene that was one of my favorites.

JC-I had forgotten that Ralph directed that.

JT-Yeah, I remember that and I thought it was very interesting. I liked that scene where she's talking to John he gives an example of someone who had an alcohol problem and she said was that soldier, because he told a WWI story...

JC-Yes, actually talking about himself, I remember that now.

JT-That was definitely a great episode. Another episode that I liked, was the sub-plot dealt with Corabeth meeting an old beau. He had asked her several times to meet with him and read poetry and I think she felt guilty about it and she was trying to give Ike the message and he didn't' really see it and at the end she goes and meets the soldier but decides to come back and she's telling Ike, I relly love you and she walks away and you had found a letter from the soldier to meet him at the hotel but you never let her know about finding it.

JT-Then it switched over a little bit and there was the episode where Corabeth found the love letter writen to you.

JC-(laughs) That's when they begin to run out of storylines.

JT-The whole point, even in the beggining, it was that Ike had skeletons hidden in the closet. They kind of pegged you as the quiet man, family man but even Ike had skeletons(laugh)... I watchhed an episode the other day wiht the Baldwin sistesr and I think Miss Emily said 'don't ya know' like 5 times. I count how many times she tacks it on to the end of a sentence.

JC-Yeah,' don't ya know, don't ya know'. Yeah

JT-Yeah, five times. I think there was that episode where they get locked into where the still is...


JT-Yeah, I always wondered in that episode where they found Ike cheating, it blew everyone minds! Blew everyone out of the water.

JC-Oh you mean the episode where we got drunk and fell into Drucilla's Pond?

JT-I remember..that one i don't have on tape but I remember it a little, yeah. You and John get drunk. That must have been difficult to do.

JC-Yeah, we shot that on a Dec. 9th and it was cold.

JT-Did you have to do it once?

JC-We could only do it once. The actual fall we only did once but we did a lot of other things. The acutal fall we just did once and they had 3 cameras rolling so then they could cut from one to the other.

JT-That must have been tough in December!

JC-Yeah, it was cold that night

JT-Gets me chilly just thinking about it. That waa a really funny one. I had a list of some of my favorites. What I noticed and even in some other tv shows, and I'm not familiar in how they edit tv, I use my own observations but in shows where they give previews of what's coming there's always one or two scenes that aren't the same as what's in the episode. Maybe they're shot from a different angle or it's shot differently.(I proceed to tell him that in the Discretion episode, where Ike cheated, in the previews we see Ike and Corabeth in the Dew Drop and she has just confronted Ike with Nina Sue the woman Ike brought to get Carbeth jealous. As Corabeth makes him look like a fool Nina Sue asks who she was and Ike said 'It's my wife' but in such a way that it grabbed the audience and even confused me. I mean, you see Ike and wonder why is he dressed up like that , who's the woman, why the moustache and why react to Corabeth like she just came back form the dead? In the episode he says the same line but in more of a heartborken manner)

JC-I see, so they may have used a differnet take that wasn't used in the shooting of the film

JT-Yeah, that's what I'm assuming

JC-I suppose that's conceivable

JT-Uhm, there were two episodes, one was on the other night, Ike got to sing a little bit. That was intersting because we never really got to see Ike anywhere but the store or at the Walton's home. It was a two part episode(The Empty Nest) and you had to sing. Corabeth made some deragatory comment so you were at the dew drop and Jason was playing You Always Hurt The One You Love. You have a great voice too. I don't know if you remember them telling you that you were gonna have to sing a little but, do you like to sing?

JC-I started in the business as a singer. And I still perform to some extent. I just did a tape the other day in which I had to sing a song.

JT-Very nice voice, I wish I had one.

JC-(Laughs) Anybody can sing if they want to.


JC-Oh sure.

JT-I try.

JC-You don't have to have the greatest voice in the world. Well, when i say anybody, 99 out of a hunderd(laughs). But 99 out of a hundred, I think could sing decently well if they rehearse and they chose the right songs and they get some direction as to how to sing.


JC-But you've got to choose the right songs and you've got to choose the things that are within your range and that feature the best notes that you have.


JC-Which is what professionals do.

JT-Yeah, I just sing whatever's on the radio at the time, alone in my car. So I'm the only judge. I got to school really early in the morning so I go to the library before classes and I was looking at some microfilms of some TV Guides and I came across a TV Guide from 1956 and it had your picture because it was a Fall Preview for the shows coming up. It had an intersting picture of you in a head lock, it was for The Adventures OF Jim Bowie.

JC-Oh yeah, yeah!

JT-There's this small picture and he's got you in this headlock...

JC-I remember that was in TV Guide. Scott Forbes played Jim Bowie. What ever happened to Scott Forbes(jokes)?

JT-Yes, where is he now(jokes)?

JC-I don't know, I'm still there(jokes)?

JT-That's right.

JC-Yes, that was about 44, 45 years ago(laughs) A long time ago...

JT-Yeah I guess so, I wasn't around but(jokes)...I was surprsed to see that.

JC-It was a phony-looking picture if I remember correctly. (laughs)

JT-Yeah, I had seen it. You were just kind of struggling and you had this grimace.

JC-If I remember correctly you could also see in the picture where the makeup ended.

JT-Really? I have to look at, see it was on microfilm...

JC-Yeah, I one else would probably notice it. It seems to me I could because they had me as a Cajun...

JT-Oh really.

JC-They had dark makeup on me.

JT-(laughs) That was interesting, I didn't know that. I wish I could see that. On microfilm it's not very clear, a lot of the areas are shaded black unfortunately. Anothe TV Guide I came across was around '74 or so and it was about the general store on The Waltons...

JC-They did a nice story on that.


Jc-That was in the first year.

JT-Was it?

JC-Was it '74 you said?

JT-Yeah, I can't remember the date. I thought it was '73 or '74.

JC-We stared shooting the fall of '72, maybe it was the second season. It was early

JT-It had a nice picture of you chopping meat and giving John Boy a haircut...


JT-It was a really nice story. And, uh, the other things you've done. I'll never forget a couple of years ago when I was in college I would set the VCR to tape certain shows. I was taping Knight Rider at the time and I come home and I turn it on and I see you on Knight Rider. I was shocked.

JC-You saw me on what?


JC-Oh Knight Rider, that was just a little thing wasn't it?

JT-Uh, yeah but I was shocked because you come out and you had a shotgun pointed at David Hasselhoff but you had a moustache on so, I kind of did a double take because I heard the voice and then I looked.

JC-Yeah, when they hired me to do that, I had several scenes. And by the time I got to actually show up and do it, I think there was only one scene left, they had cut the others out. I don't know why, for whatever reason they wanted to. So I was a little disappointed that it wound up so small but those are things you can't control. But I never even shot them. Sometimes they'll shoot scenes, you do all the work and then you go see it and your not in it, it's on the floor some place. They cut them before I got to do it(laughs).

JT-I'll never forget that one seen, thers Mr. Godsey with a shotgun and a moustache!(laughs)

JC-Oh yeah, I'm standing in the road.

JT-Oh yeah, aiming at David Hasslhoff. I know you were on Richard Diamond.

JC-I was a regular on that for a year.

JT-Mary Tyler Moore, we got to see her from the legs down but...

JC-That's right that was the first thing she did on film.

JT-Right. And I know that she was Happy Hotpoint for the stoves. On the Ozzie and Harriet commercials.

Jc-Oh was she?

JT-Yeah, I know all this trivia junk. It's amazing(laughs). That's why I'm trying to get into broadcast journalism in the entertainment area.

JC-Talking about Richard Diamond, was played by David...


JC-Yeah, he died at 49 years of age...

JT-Right. I remember The Fugitive.

JC-He was a good guy too, a real nice guy.

JT-Yeah, one of the roles...because you only see him in The Fugitive or O'Hara US Treasury, he did a movie with Debbie Reynolds and he was completely comical, the funny guy with the wise cracks. It was intersting to see...

JC-Very talented guy, very talented. Very nice person.

JT-It's sad. You know these poeple that have teriffic talent and it goes like that. It blows your mind away I guess. Were there any other roles that come to mind that were you're favorite?

JC-Way back in the beginning the show called The People's Choice. I was a regular on that with Jackie Cooper. I had marvelous scenes in that, that goes back to 1955.

JT-Now what was that about?

JC-The title was The People's Choice and starring Jackie Cooper. And his girlfriend was named Mandy Peoples so he was the People's Choice. He also was a councilman in a small town so that was the play-on words. The trick in the show was they had a Basset hound and the Basset hound would talk. Now only the audience heard the Basset hound talk. He would be sitting there watching a scene and the camera would go on the Basset hound and he'd say something. Everybody would laugh like hell and they would go back to the scene so the dog was always in all these scenes. The dog never said anything and the actors never heard him but the audience did. They were off-hadn remarks made by this silly-looking, sad-looking Basset hound and the show was a success. It ran for 3 years, which was a long time in those days. I was on it the first year and they married me off, similar to what they did on The Waltons. They married me to an actress named Tam R. Cooper(?). Then they were gonna hire us to do the second season and she wanted a career in motion pictures and didn't want to work in television anymore so that was the end of my job on the show(laughs).


JC-Also What Happened To Tam R. Cooper(jokes)?

JT-There you go.

JC-I don't know where she is. (laughs)

JT-There you go. If I get into this business I'll try and find all these people and do a weekly 'Where Are They Now.'


JT-It would be interesting.

JT-You've done stage, tv, movies is there any particular medium you prefer?

JC-I like live. I like doing plays and performing and singing, doing comedy in front of an audience. It's a lot more work, you have to travel so it's got those shortcomings. I have a beautiful home heer in So. California so I don't want to be running all over the country unless I want to do it as a vacation but.. to be running all over the country doing plays and live shows is uh, that's the drawback but it's more enjoyable. Film work is tough, it's hard. There is very little appreciation. You finish a scene and all they're thinking about is going to the next scene. Cut, goodbye. You move on. When you do a show you get live reaction and you get laughs, you get applause. You take a bow and you feel like you've done something.

JT-Getting back to The Waltons, I'm sure a lot of people see you, they see you as Ike Godsey. Do you ever regret that typecasting? Is it good or bad?

JC-There's no dobut the role had typecast me and I have had difficulty getting work since then. As far as regreting it, no I don't. It was the crowning point of my career, I had many, many marvelous scripts. I had 10 years of well-paid employment. It's hard to do, to make a living as an actor so when you get something that runs 10 years and you make good money at it you don't knock it, it's wonderful... So I don't regret it, but it has caused some problems. I go for a role and somebody will say well you know this is not for a country storekeeper and I' I don't get the opportunity to say this to anybody but I'm from NY. I'm college educated and I can do all sorts of things(laughs) and for someone to relegate you to a country storekeeper is not too pleasant.