The role of the kindly village store owner Ike Godsey in The Waltons, familiar in his braces, bow tie and full-length grocer's apron, brought worldwide fame to Joe Conley after he had spent years subsidising the precarious business of acting by running his own real-estate agency.
In fact, acting had almost come to a halt in 1972 when Conley received the call from his former agent informing him about the new television drama featuring a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression and Second World War.
The actor owned three thriving real-estate offices in the San Fernando Valley and had appeared only twice on screen in the previous two years – credited simply as "delivery man" and "salesman". Now, he was being asked to take over the part played by Woodrow Parfrey in the 1971 pilot based on Earl Hamner Jr's book Spencer's Mountain, inspired by the author's own childhood.
Hamner, who was also a producer, was in the process of turning his book into the long-running series The Waltons (1972-81), and Conley found himself as the character running Godsey's General Merchantile Store, at the centre of the community in a wholesome, heart-warming series that became a children's favourite.
In 1975, Ike married Olivia Walton's pretentious cousin Corabeth (Ronnie Claire Edwards) and the couple later adopted a girl, Aimee. For a decade, Ike Godsey was the best-known American general-store owner in the world. "To millions of people, I am Godsey," Conley once said. "People walk up and just call me Ike and carry on a conversation like we're old friends. I have to remember that for 10 years I did visit their home every week. To them, I am an old friend or a member of the family."
Halfway through The Waltons run, Conley moved into a Spanish ranch-style house with a swimming pool and tennis court. This might have seemed unlikely for a supporting actor on TV, but he continued to make a fortune by running his real-estate business, which he had established in 1961.
Conley was born in Buffalo, New York, and performed on radio as a child. The smell of the greasepaint was in his blood – his maternal grandfather was a performer known as Snake Oil Johnny MacMahon and Conley's mother sang and played the piano in his show before developing her own vaudeville act. At Loyola University Conley continued to act and later, while at Arizona State University, he was cast as an extra in the film noir The Sound of Fury (1950).
During US Army service as a second lieutenant in the Korean War he was wounded and received both a Silver Star and Purple Heart. On being discharged, he turned professional as an actor and singer, appearing in revues and stage plays.
Conley broke into television with bit parts in series such as Big Town (1955), Casey Jones (1957) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958). He was soon a prolific character actor on screen but never found fame until being cast in The Waltons. After appearing in 172 of the 212 episodes, he reprised the role of Ike in all six Waltons television film reunions (1982-1997). His few other screen-acting performances included a small part in the film Cast Away (2000), alongside Tom Hanks.
Joseph Conley, actor and real estate agent: born Buffalo, New York 3 March 1928; married (one son, one daughter), 1969 Louise Teechen (two daughters); died Newbury Park, California 7 July 2013.Reuse content