Richard Thomas is grateful to be a member of a very special group of veteran actors who have remained in the public eye through every stage of their lives.
“I feel very lucky to have managed to work in this crazy business for almost 62 years now,” the star, who became a household name as John-Boy on The Waltons, tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “There are those of us — the child actor survivors — who have a certain understanding of what it takes: First as a child actor, then an adolescent, a young leading actor, a leading actor and now, at my age, a supporting character actor,” says Richard, 69, who cites Ron Howard and Kurt Russell as other examples of this rare group. “For those of us who have gone through it, there is a wonderful shared experience.”
In the years since he left Walton’s Mountain, Richard has worked steadily in theater, films and on television, most recently with a role in Showtime two-part series, The Comey Rule. This holiday season, he will guest star as the narrator of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir, PBS’ annual Christmas celebration (which was taped pre-pandemic.) It premieres on local PBS stations on Dec. 14 and on BYUtv and the free BYUtv app on Dec. 17.
You live in New York. How have you been faring during the pandemic?
I’ve gotten a little grumpier! [Laughs] During COVID, my wife and I have really rediscovered what a masterpiece Central Park is. Our son, the youngest of our kids, was 8 when we moved here. So we would walk him through the park to school every day. We really loved it and it was a wonderful part of our day. Then, he got older — he’s 24 now — and he didn’t want to be walked to school by his parents. Now my wife and I take long walks in the park again and are seeing parts of it that we’ve never experienced before. It’s been a nice consolation.
Do your children live nearby?
We have two in California, three in Bend, Oregon, and two in New York.
You’re a native New Yorker. When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?
I was raised in a theater family — my parents were in the ballet. So I really grew up backstage. It was sort of the family business, so it felt like a natural thing. I remember being onstage — it was a show called Remember the Wedding, up in the Berkshires. I was maybe 8 or 9. In the middle of the second act, I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. You’re an actor.’ And now, since I have no other skills, I have no options beyond continuing! [Laughs]
Of course, everyone remembers you from The Waltons. What do you remember when you think back to those times?
We were a family, so you develop a deep, deep bond over time. It was extraordinary. This group was so focused on making the show as good as we possibly could. It felt like we were going to work every day to do the best work we possibly could. And we all still stay in touch.
Who do you speak to the most from The Waltons cast?
I’m very close to Michael Learned, who played our mother. She’s close to all the “kids,” but she and I are special friends. But, really, we all stay in touch. Everyone is included and it’s just a wonderful feeling to have that other family out there.
What kind of roles do you look for today?
In terms of television, it’s always what looks interesting. [I like to] keep as much variety as possible in the roles. In theater, hopefully, there will be new plays by living playwrights offering surprising art soon. I love working on plays with living playwrights, but I also love the dead guys. There is still some Shakespeare out there for me to tackle.
What was it like to work on the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert?
I was very excited to do it. I am a Christmas guy. It’s my favorite time of the year. And I really wanted to work with Kelli O’Hara. She is such a spectacularly talented singing actress.
Were you a fan of the Tabernacle’s annual broadcast?
Yes, I’ve seen the broadcast in the past, but nothing prepared me for the scale and magnificence of the actual event itself. You can’t imagine how amazing the whole thing is in person, although the warmth of the music and the joy of the performers comes through. It was such a pleasure to do it. An even better experience than I’d expected.
How do you celebrate the holidays?
I cook Thanksgiving dinner and my wife cooks Christmas dinner. My wife and I are very good together in the kitchen. We have a lot of kids, and we’ve been very big on having dinners at home. Cooking has always given me an enormous amount of pleasure.
Do you have any special family traditions?
Oh, nothing too crazy. The main focus is making the tree as beautiful as possible. Then my wife does a traditional Southwestern Christmas feast. It’s absolutely spectacular. She makes a beautiful table. The kids come, although none of our grandkids live in New York, but they visit.
You’ve been happily married to your second wife, Georgiana, since 1994. What’s your secret?
I’m married to the most honest, straight-forward person, so you always know where you stand. There’s a lot of trust between us and we have a lot of fun together. It wasn’t always easy, blending a family of six kids and then having our own son — that’s a big job. It causes tension and challenges, but we’ve been able to weather every storm and those complicated parts of life. We’re even surviving COVID together!
What have you learned about being a parent of seven, now-adult, children?
Don’t try to make them be like you. Leave them alone. I don’t mean let them go out and play in traffic, but let them be free to grow into who they are. It’s not new wisdom — we all try to do it, and it’s easier said than done. But it’s important.
— Reporting by Lexi Ciccone
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