The Waltons was one of the best shows of its time back in the ’70s. The series was created by Earl Hamner Jr., who based the show on his book Spencer’s Mountain. The Waltons first invaded our living rooms on December 19, 1971, and was seen through the eyes of John-Boy who was the oldest son.
The Waltons was a favorite thanks to its family values and engaging episodes. Although the series ended in 1981, the decades-worth of episodes remain a nostalgic favorite amongst many viewers. Join us as we take a look at some of the most interesting behind-the-scenes facts about The Waltons, including where the cast is today!
Michael Learned – Then
The patient and loving wife, Olivia, complemented John Walton’s tough guy persona. The soft-spoken wife had seven children: John Walton Jr., Jason Walton, Mary Ellen Walton, Erin Esther Walton, Benjamin Walton II, James Robert Walton, and Elizabeth Tyler Walton.
Olivia was played by actress Michael Learned. Born in Washington D.C., Learned made her acting debut in two episodes of Wojeck in 1968. Four years later she would land her role on The Waltons, which solidified her space in Hollywood. She appeared in the dramatic show for a whopping 168 episodes.
Michael Learned – Now
These days, the Emmy winner has tons to keep her busy. Between her three kids, a husband, five grandchildren and sporadic appearances on TV shows, Learned is an active woman. She has often been seen on the popular and beloved soap opera The Young and the Restless.
In 2002, Learned penned a moving publication about her struggle with alcoholism when she was 32 and in the middle of filming The Waltons. She decided to get sober and spent time on the California coast to go on what she calls a spiritual journey.
Ralph Waite – Then
John Walton Sr. had many opinions and was your regular ol’ tough guy. He cared for his children very much and worked diligently to ensure that all of his kids would one day go off to college and make a life for themselves. He ran a saw mill on Walton’s Mountain to support his family.
The patriarch of the Walton family was played by actor Ralph Waite. Waite was born in White Plains, New York and 1928 and made his acting debut in the ’50s, eventually scoring roles in the likes of Cool Hand Luke and Five Easy Pieces.
Ralph Waite – Now
Sadly, Ralph Waite passed away in February 2014 of natural causes. He had a steady career up until his death. He was a recurring character on NCIS as Jackson Gibbs and snagged a role for 98 episodes of Days of our Lives. A fun fact: he ran for Congress back in the ’90s but did not get elected.
Waite was married three times throughout his life and had three daughters from his first marriage. His daughter Sharon died from leukemia in 1964.
Richard Thomas – Then
He was known as John-Boy in the series but his real name was John Walton Jr. John-Boy was the oldest of the children and he also narrated the show.
John-Boy was played by actor Richard Thomas. Thomas was born in Manhattan and made his Broadway debut in Sunrise at Campobello when he was just eight years old. His TV debut was in A Doll’s House, and he scored his role in The Waltons a decade later.
Richard Thomas – Now
Richard Thomas is talented not only in front of the camera but behind it as well. He directed five episodes of The Waltons as well produced four TV movies. Since his time on the series, he has been in more than a dozen TV shows and movies.
His most recent starring role was in The Americans in which he played the Frank Gaad. On top on acting and directing, Thomas is heavily involved in theater and in 2017 appeared in the Broadway revival of The Little Foxes. He won a Tony for his performance. Thomas married in 1975 and he and his wife welcomed triplet daughters in 1981.
Jon Walmsley – Then
Jason Walton was close with his family but had a special bond with John-Boy. That is strange because they had two completely personalities and interests. He was first written as introverted but slowly blossomed into a social person once he started playing instruments. By season 7 he had settled down with a woman and had a few children with her.
Jason was played by actor Jon Walmsley. Walmsley was born in Lancashire, England and made his acting debut in Combat! in 1966. He would star in a handful of other series prior to joining the cast of The Waltons, including Daniel Boone, My Three Sons, and The Bill Cosby Show.
Jon Walmsley – Now
He did love music in the show so it makes sense that he loves it in real life. Walmsley is a guitarist for the band The Ravers who play vintage British rock music. He has worked with high profile names like David Koz and Brian Setzer. When he made a return for The Waltons specials, he concentrated more on his music than acting.
Walmsley also lent his voice to the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, voicing the character of Christopher Robin.
Judy Norton Taylor – Then
The oldest daughter of the family is Mary Ellen. She was a tomboy that loved playing baseball. She also started off as a whiny teenager. As the series came along, Mary Ellen became a wise woman who worked toward obtaining her nursing degree and eventually became a doctor. From tomboy to doctor, Mary Ellen’s character was an inspiration.
Mary Ellen was played by actress Judy Norton Taylor. Born in Santa Monica, California she made her acting debut in Hole in 1967 and then starred in Felony Squad and The Homecoming: A Christmas Story before joining The Waltons.
Judy Norton Taylor – Now
After The Waltons ended, Judy Norton Taylor turned to the stage. She went north of the border and directed more than 40 different shows for two theater companies in Canada. Like another of her siblings on the show, she had a love for music so she rekindled it and made a demo at one point.
In 1985, she posed for Playboy, in an attempt to shed her wholesome “family” image. Today, she is married to her husband Robert Graves and has one son, Devin.
Eric Scott – Then
Ben was the child who would get into trouble at very inconvenient moments. The entrepreneur would always get caught up in get rich quick schemes and his dad or brother would have to come to the rescue. His entire journey through the show is indeed a wild one, but one of the more interesting storylines to follow.
Eric Scott – Now
Once the show ended, Eric Scott said goodbye to acting and chased after a career in business. Working hard, he soon saw became the vice president of a messenger service in Los Angeles. The hard worker is also a father of three kids, two girls and one boy.
Mary Beth McDonough – Then
Who doesn’t get into fights with their siblings from time to time? Erin was the second daughter and looked up to her bigger sister Mary but the two would get into fights sometimes. She started as a part-time worker before eventually becoming an executive manager. She ultimately became a school principal in the end.
Mary Beth McDonough – Now
She continued to act after the show on such series like ER, Boston Legal and Will and Grace. Another occupation she does is serve as a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. Mary McDonough also had a role in the funny show The New Adventures of Old Christine before it was taken off the air.
David Harper – Then
The second-youngest child of the family, James Robert “Jim-Bob” Walton was born a twin. Unfortunately, his brother Joseph Zebulon died at birth although the two were the only children in the family to be delivered at a hospital.
Actor David Harper initially played the role of Jim-Bob in the 1971 television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. The following year, the film became the basis for The Waltons TV series. Harper signed on for the job and continued acting as Jim-Bob for the entire nine-season run.
David Harper – Now
Following his time on The Waltons, David Harper briefly pursued an acting career. He appeared in several Waltons reunion specials, a miniseries called The Blue and The Gray, and the film Fletch. He then went to business school and hasn’t been active in the film industry since.
In a 2011 interview, Harper said that his hobbies include music, history (especially the Civil War and ancient Sumer), reading and writing. He also enjoys jigsaw puzzles and watching films.
Kami Cotler – Then
When the show first came on the air, Elizabeth Walton was six years old playing the youngest child. Some kids are reserved and keep to themselves but this little one was quite the opposite and portrayed as loud. In the show, she traveled around Europe when she got older and in the last episode she got engaged to her boyfriend.
Kami Cotler – She’s A Teacher Now…And An Environmentalist!
The acting life wasn’t for Kami Cotler. Once the show was cut, she became a teacher in the same area that creator Earl Hamner based the show on. She has two kids now and lives in Los Angeles running an elementary charter school.
On the next page, you will find out why John Walton disappeared from the show.
Ralph Waite Was Fired Because the Network Was Cheap
The show was not supposed to have a ninth season but they went on with one anyways for the small price of having a lower budget. The producers needed more money so the logical thing to do was to remove the highest paid actor who happened to be Ralph Waite. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Ellen Corby Returned After a Stroke
This was a mess and sad at the same time. After a stroke, Grandma Esther had to leave the show to take care of her health. Afraid that her acting skills were going to decrease after the stroke, she found that the opposite happened. The problem was, her fans were worried when she came back to the show, so her cast members spoke up for her and said that acting was good for her health.
Ellen Corby Was a Chain-Smoking Lesbian
This was a curveball. Corby and Stella Luchetta were lovers, and secret lovers at that. Corby had married the director Francis Corby, but that was just a cover up to the fact that she was a lesbian. Those two got married in 1934 while Corby and Luchetta got together in 1953 remaining together until Corby’s death in 1999.
Patricia Neal Was in the Original Cast
Patricia Neal was Olivia Walton in the pilot of the show, but couldn’t stay for an unfortunate reason. Due to her past health problems, she unable to maintain the role and Michael Learned was the fortunate one to occupy the role. It turned out to be a good thing for the series.
Henry Fonda Talked Himself Out Of A Role
Henry Fonda had a foot in the door to be the father of the Waltons but said some things that did not help his case. CBS executives thought he would have been the perfect fit but once Fonda watched the pilot his mind was made up. He was quoted saying, “What do you want me for? The whole family is the star! You don’t need me.”
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Back then, sitcoms were labeled by the last name of the family and whenever that name was used, that is how you knew what you were about to watch. The Waltons surely wasn’t a sitcom so that perplexed early viewers. Despite that, the show still was a hit with millions of viewers.
The Father And Son Connection
Before the show, Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas played together on Last Summer. Sure enough, three years later they teamed up again as a father-son duo. You know the old saying if it isn’t broke don’t fix it so clearly their chemistry was on point and audiences liked them together.
Olivia Walton Was a Massive Alcoholic
In the show, Learned would call alcohol evil and rant about it. In real life, that was not the case because she was indeed an alcoholic. She even came to her audition with a bottle of bourbon in her pocket. Talk about dedicated. She somehow persuaded the casting crew that she was the right woman for the job.
Jon Walmsley Was Born in England
Walmsley was born out of the states in Lancashire, England. You might be wondering why he didn’t have an English accent; before he could develop one, his family moved back to the states. There are, of course, many actors today who have to mask their true accents to play a role.
The Studio Took Advantage of the Cast
The studio may have taken being cheap to a new level with what they did. A sad joke often made about this show was that their idea of a party was having a single beer and 13 straws! Michael Learned also said one time she got an arrangement of flowers but the children on the show did not get anything. Ever.
Ralph Waite Fell in Love with the Cast
Thanks to the cast of The Waltons, Ralph Waite was able to turn his life around. It goes to show that love can be a strong force in one’s life. At the beginning of the show, Waite was struggling with addiction. But the love he had for his TV family helped him turn over a new leaf. The story goes taht one time at the dinner table with the children around he chose to sign up for AA and become sober.
Michael and Ralph Attempted To Date… It Was Too Awkward
Like it happened to Cory and Topanga in Boy Meets World, a chemistry that led to a romance outside of the show. The two were both single at the time so one day Ralph drove to Malibu but when they came face to face it was just an awkward staring contest. They both agreed it wouldn’t work.
Grandpa Was Gay
Ellen Corby was not the only one with a sexual orientation that wasn’t straight. Grandpa Zeb was gay even though he was married with kids. While he was married he was also seeing other men. At one point he met Harry Hay and the both of them were political activists. Hay became a figure in the gay rights movement.
AND… He Was a Communist
Being gay wasn’t his only secret. Zeb was also a communist! He would campaign on behalf of striking workers. Soon he found out that the Communist party was homophobic so he had to come to terms with marrying a woman. In 1950s Geer was blacklisted for not testifying before the House Committee.
Mary Ellen’s Playboy Spread Ended up Ruining Her Career
For Kim K., it ended up helping her career, but the same didn’t happen for Mary Ellen when she appeared in Playboy. She did reveal later that the decision to pose for them was not a great idea. In most of her interviews, they focused on her being Playboy and not really her acting.
Mary McDonough Tried Breast Augmentation but It Made Her Sick
It wasn’t easy for McDonough to transition from her role on The Waltons. She tried implants but that plan didn’t turn out too well because according to her it made her sick. She had health problems from the implants that led to her contracting Lupus. So scary!
Ralph Waite Attempted To Become a Politician after the Show Ended
Ralph Waite thought the third time was a charm when it came to running for office. As a Democrat, he ran three times for Congress in California but failed each time. He did not fully utilize his celebrity power to help win over voters and that could have been a large reason for his losses.
The Show’s Success Was a Huge Surprise To CBS
Why would a show even get a chance if the network thought it was going to be a failure? Maybe they had the faith the size of a mustard seed. They pitted it against other popular shows from NBC and ABC but surprisingly, The Waltons beat those shows in ratings.
The Waltons’ House Would Eventually Become the Gilmore Inn
The house The Waltons lived in was tossed around to other shows and movies after the show ended but one show, in particular, claimed it as their own. It was called the Dragonfly Inn on the hit show The Gilmore Girls. And even though it was renovated it still kept much of its storied TV history.
Show Creator Earl Hamner Jr. Drew Familiar Inspiration for the Show
People who create things for a living need constant inspiration. In this case, the creator of the show was inspired by his own family He had seven siblings and said that he was John-Boy in real life. Creator of Seinfeld, Larry David, also based George off himself so this practice isn’t out of the ordinary.
The Show’s Timeline Was Constantly Messed Up
Messing up is a part of life and the producers of the show messed up with several things regarding the timeline. These things included anniversaries and overall the cast members’ ages. One prime instance is when John-Boy was not able to sign up for the army even though he was 19.
The Original John-Boy Made Regular Appearances As Different Characters
The original John-Boy was supposed to play him for five seasons but he was replaced by a different actor, Robert Wightman. You would think that he wouldn’t come back on the show but he did as a different character. That must have been weird for him changing roles on the same TV show.
The Youngest Walton Quit Acting and Found a New Career
Referenced earlier, Kami Cotler did not continue acting after the show’s end. She was featured in the reunion movies but chose to keep teaching and become the founding principal of a charter school in Gardena, California. It was impressive of her to follow her heart and do what she loved.
John Officiated Jason’s Wedding
If you didn’t know, Ralph Waite was a minister in real life and completed the marriage for Jon Walmsley and his wife. The marriage took place in front of the whole cast which must have been a special event to be married in front of the people you’ve come to grow with and work with over ten years.