In an exclusive interview with Closer Weekly, surviving actors from the cast of The Waltons share surprising secrets from the set and tell Closer that despite a strong family bond, many members of the cast were taken advantage of and exploited while filming the seminal drama.
Behind the scenes, the children were treated poorly, one actor struggled with alcoholism and, despite the popularity of the show, nobody was paid what they were worth. “We did not get rich from that show,” Eric Scott, who played devil-may-care middle child Ben, tells Closer.
Richard Thomas, who played eldest child John-Boy and was the show’s focal point along with the actors who played his parents, Michael Learned and Ralph Waite, was treated better by the studio, Lorimar.
The Waltons cast in 1972.
Eric recalls “intense pressure” to “be on your spot, say your lines” and “don’t make it difficult,” but never received encouragement from the studio. “It was disappointing that no one even called to say, ‘By the way, thank you.’ We were loved by the public, but we never felt the studio appreciated us.”
One time, Michael was gifted with a large arrangement of flowers from the producers, but she was aghast that nothing was sent to the young stars. “She went to the producers and said, ‘These kids have given you years of their lives and you can’t even get them something?’” remembers Judy Norton, who played eldest daughter Mary Ellen. “We ended up getting a little muffin basket with, like, three muffins in it.”
“The running joke was that Lorimar was so cheap that their idea of a party was one can of beer and 13 straws!” Michael tells Closer with a laugh.
Despite their feelings for the studio, there was genuine love among all the actors. Particularly to Michael and Ralph, whose chemistry as Olivia and John was real enough for them to try dating each other. “We were both single,” Michael says. “So I drove out to Malibu, but we just looked at each other and said, ‘Nah, I don’t think so.’ So all of our lovemaking was on-screen!”
The Waltons cast in August 2015.
Ralph, who had a reputation as a serious stage actor with no great love for children when the series debuted, probably experienced the biggest life change after falling in love with the rest of the Waltons cast. “He credited the show for being the reason he got sober,” recalls Judy. “He said, ‘I sat there one day at the kitchen table with all you kids and I felt like such a fake.’ He took himself to AA and got sober.”
That enduring familial affection, along with the pride of belonging to a show that resonated with viewers all around the world, makes everyone who was part of The Waltons feel privileged to have played a part in the show.
“They will say ‘John-Boy dies’ in the news when I’m gone,” says Richard. “And that is fine with me. The Waltons stands out as not only an important part of my life and career, but also a wonderful part.”
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