Actors, directors, writers and crew on a film or a television series will often claim, “We’re a family“.
I expect that such feelings do develop over time in some films. At the height of production folks on a series often spend more time on a sound stage than they do at home. They may see more of each other during a day than they see of their own families. And some actors, not all, inhabit the character they are portraying so completely that sometime the line between play-acting and reality becomes a little blurred.
Those of us involved in the production of “The Waltons” really were a family. In the first place the actors were portraying characters based on members of an actual family. Some of the actors who portrayed the Walton children were as young as six when we began filming. In the following ten or so years they worked together, went to school together, ate together. They also grew up together and even today they are close to each other.
Sometimes it was interesting to see the actor, in real life, taking on the traits of the character he or she was portraying. I have a fond memory of Ellen Corby shouting to one of the young actors, “Watch where you’re going! You want to break your neck?” And certainly everybody, even many viewers, loved Will Geer as if he were truly his or her grandfather.
Now that they are both in Heaven I think I can safely tell this about Will and Ellen: If scene stealing were a crime they both would have landed in jail long ago. Ellen was forever fidgeting on camera to attract the attention of the viewer.
Sometimes Will would hold her by the back of her costume to keep her from moving about. But of course she was forced to such measures because Will knew every trick in the actor’s book to dominate a scene.
Often their “stage children” confided in their stage parents, Michael and Ralph, when they needed a grown up ear. It was especially moving to see, as the series neared its end, the efforts that Ralph and Michael took to assure their “stage children” that the family would remain “family.”
All these years later, we Waltons keep in touch. We are still a family, and in answer to the many inquiries I receive about them, here is what everybody is up to these days:
RICHARD THOMAS – JOHN-BOY WALTON
Richard is back on Broadway. He is performing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, only a few blocks from where he made his stage debut in “Sunrise at Campobello’ at the age of seven!
This time Richard appears along with David Spader, David Alan Greer and Kerry Washington. The play has been described as “the riveting new play by America’s foremost playwright and Tony Award winner, David Mamet.” In the play, three attorneys, two black and one white, are offered a chance to defend a white man charged with a crime against a black women.
In Richard’s words “It’s about things that no one says. It’s strong stuff. Provocative, but not shocking for the sake of being shocking.”
I am always amazed at the range of Richard’s talent. Just a few years ago I was in the audience for his remarkable performance in Richard III. I admired him tremendously in his masterful enactment of an embattled juror in “Twelve Angry Men,” and then to watch him with equal skill able to transform himself into an earnest boy from the backwoods of Virginia who yearned to be a writer.
MICHAEL LEARNED – OLIVIA WALTON
I ran into Michael and her husband, John, not long ago in a restaurant, and I can tell you that Michael is still as gorgeous and as radiant as ever. She still does a lot of theater and occasional guest appearances on television. She told me that she has been filming a guest shot on “GENERAL HOSPITAL.” She was not exactly sure when her performance will air, but your local television schedule will have the information when it is telecast.
Soon after that I sent her a note asking about her immediate plans and here is her reply:
This summer I'm scheduled to be in Sarnia Ontario Canada, doing “DRIVING MISS DAISY.” I'll be at the Starbrite Theater, which is about an hour from the Detroit border. It's on Lake Huron so I'm looking forward to some time back in Canada where I raised my kids. Lake Huron is where we spent many happy days on the beach, when the kids were small and their father and I were performing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. I'll be there in Sarnia in July and August. In the meantime I feed my wilds birds who are soaked through at the moment, but still singing their hearts out in the ivy bushes outside my window.
RALPH WAITE – JOHN WALTON
Ralph and I have been playing telephone tag. I have been missing him at his California home and I am guessing he may be in New York or on the road. I still managed to find a quote.
The current issue of TV Guide lists TV’s TOP FAMILIES OF ALL TIMES! Our series is listed as Number 6. The story reads as follows:
“John and Olivia Walton, Ralph Waite and Michael Learned, raised seven children during the Depression, and the series saw them through World War Two. Bathed in sentimental nostalgia for simpler times and unchallenged values, “The Waltons” was an escape for the social turbulence of the ‘70s.”
And here is Ralph’s comment from that same article: “A lot of people felt they had lost their anchor, and this was a reminder of what people wanted a family to be, with an emphasis on work and honesty and education and basic American values. The show’s iconic sign off, as the family, all under one roof, says goodnight to each other while the lights go out, was recently spoofed in a Geico ad. “It’s a very powerful symbol, said Waite. “It still resonates.”
JON WALMSLY – Jason Walton
The last time I had a chance to visit with Jon was at The Waltons International Fan Club Reunion in Virginia last November. Carolyn Grinnell, President of the Fan Club, had invited Jon, his wife Marion and me to be guests of honor. At one of the events which took place at the Baptist Church in my hometown, I also had the pleasure of introducing three original “Waltons”: my sister, the inspiration for Elizabeth, Nancy Jamerson and her husband, Garnett; my sister, Audrey Hamner, the model for Erin, and my brother, Paul, known on the series as Ben. Another highlight at the church was a recitation by Marion Walmsley of “Silent Night, Holy Night” in her native German.
Jon is one of the busiest actors/writers/musicians I know so I asked him to tell us in his own words where he is up to these days:
”First and foremost,” he wrote, “I am enjoying spending time with the love of my life, my wife Marion. We had a wonderful time at The Walton’s fan club reunion in Charlottesville, VA in November, and then were off to Arizona and New Mexico for some musical gigs (more on this later). We also managed to squeeze in some sightseeing in Sedona, AZ and along the old Route 66. Christmas was spent in California, and then we were off to Germany and Austria for New Year with Marion’s family. We had great weather, and the Tyrolean Alps were spectacular. My latest project is called ABBEY ROAD MEMORIES. It’s a live concert show featuring a great band along with special guest artists, performing the entire Beatles ABBEY ROAD album. Between “side one” and “side two” the band performs a medley of British hits recorded at the Abbey Road Studio, then the special guests play their hits (also recorded at the famous studio!) We just finished our first run of shows in Arizona and New Mexico. The shows were sold out and the audience went wild every night. The headliners this time were Denny Laine (Wings, Moody Blues) and Joey Molland of Badfinger.Soon, it will be time to hit the road again.
In addition, I have been writing and recording music for the “Elf Sparkle” cartoon for Nickelodeon as well as providing voice characterizations.
Of course, I am still working with my own bands “The U.K. Beat” and my latest baby, “The Blues Odyssey”, as well as doing solo gigs around Southern California.
If you’d like to keep up date, please make sure to join the Jon Walmsley fanpage , as well as The U.K. Beat fanpage, on Facebook. Also visit www.theukbeat.com and www.thebluesodyssey.com for complete info on the bands, live videos, photos, and more!
JUDY NORTON TAYLOR – MARY ELLEN WALTON
Over the course of the life of the series Judy Norton Taylor was required to grow from a pugnacious little girl to a sensitive teenager and finally to become a highly capable nurse and mother. Having watched the excellence of Judy’s performances in these various challenging roles it will come as no surprise that following the series she has excelled not only in acting, but also in writing, directing and producing. In these capacities she has worked in theaters in England and Canada as well as here at home.
Her reviews in each of these fields have been most laudatory and I was tempted to reprint some of them, but I found another review for another of her talents I haven’t even mentioned yet, singing. I will let the review speak for itself
A STELLAR EVENING WITH JUDY NORTON AT STERLINGS
“This was my first cabaret review for 2010 and I was not disappointed. An Evening with Judy Norton was a stellar show with a true night club star. Gifted and experienced she is a consummate artist whose selection of songs was guaranteed to entertain her audience. Judy makes you feel right at home. She made her way to the stage with “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” and once there followed through with a series of tunes that highlighted her career.
Highlights of the seventy minute show included a snappy “Le Jazz Hot,” a fabulous rendition of “Stompin’ At the Savoy” and a deeply felt medley of love tunes. Her encore of “There’s No Business like Show Business” kind of sums up Judy Norton’s life as actress singer, director and writer. She is one happy gal who‘s done it all in this biz and has surely ended up the better for it. A balanced and contented woman, Norton’s a dynamic performer with charm, a great instrument and a lot of love to give.
Never one to slow down, when I spoke with Judy she was preparing for a concert style show, “From Judy, WithLove” two shows in Grapevine Texas and two shows in Granbury, Texas as well as a benefit Gala Concert for the Musical Theater of Los Angeles at the Met Theater in Hollywood on April 7th.
ERIC SCOTT – BEN WALTON
In response to my note Eric wrote: One special bit of news. I have just finished our friend, Joe Conley’s book and liked it a lot. It is called IKE GODSEY OF WALTON’S MOUNTAIN” and it can be ordered from Bear Manor Media,PO Box 71426, Albany, Georgia, 31708.
As for as the old Scott homestead, we are all doing great. Ashley is finishing high school this semester and has received two college acceptances. She is waiting on six more and we are planning a road trip in April to visit the campus' that are in the running. Emma is learning so much in second grade and is in the Brownies.
Jeremy is in Kindergarten and has just started on a little league team and really enjoying it. He is riding a two wheel bike now and is constantly in motion. He reminds me so much of myself at that age, I think you can vouch from personal experience that my hands are going to be full with him!
We spend a lot of our weekends at the beach house and we are so lucky to have these special mini trips. Cindy and I will be observing our tenth anniversary in March. We are going to Las Vegas for the celebration.
MARY BETH MCDONOUGH – ERIN WALTON
Mary Beth has a recurring role on the popular CBS drama, “The New Adventures Of Old Christine.” In addition to her acting career she has finished her autobiography, “Lessons From the Mountain, From Walton to Woman.” It should be out this year!
I was especially pleased when Mary asked me to write a forward to her book. It is a valuable work and will shed light on a subject of much concern to women young and old.. In part, in the forward, I wrote:
“Ten years after “The Waltons” had run its course, Mary had become a mature woman, an accomplished actress, and a great beauty. After leaving the series and work was scarce, she took a seemingly innocent step toward a more active career. Going on the notion that a “fuller” figure would be an asset in her work she underwent breast implantation. Mysterious symptoms began. Her health became more and more impaired. Eventually she discovered that as a result of the implants she now suffered lupus, and equally horrifying she found that her daughter had similar symptoms.
It is at this point that her book turns from a story of a child becoming a mature actor into the story of a woman on a quest and a cause.
Part detective work, part medical research, her own health as well as that of her daughter are at stake as she sets out to discover the role of breast implants in the illness they were each now suffering. Resistance was there at every turn, more often than not, from paid consultants of powerful medical supply companies.
Once armed with knowledge Mary has taken steps to inform all women of the potential danger, one such step being the writing of this book. It is a revealing story that took courage and strength to tell. It is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity at its finest.
Check her web site marymcdonough.com to find out more about Mary Beth, her book, life coaching and acting classes. She has a fan page on Face Book, here's the address to contact her there.
DAVID HARPER – JIM BOB WALTON
I last visited with David in November at the memorial service for his father, actor Paul Harper. Paul had been a well-known character actor, a versatile performer who had appeared in many major films including the legendary “Wild Bunch.”
Since that time David has been busy tending to his father’s estate, but when we spoke today he was considering reactivating his acting career. In his words: “I feel like Clark Gable who said he hated acting but it’s a good way to make a living.”
In our conversation I also learned something about David that I had never known. He is a History buff and is especially well informed about the Civil War. His interest grew out of his early interest in books and he expressed special gratitude to his parents and said, “The greatest thing my parents ever did for me, besides to love me, was to give me a library card. He is looking forward to his next trip to Virginia and especially to visiting the battlefields at Manassas, We each admitted that when we drive through those fought-over fields and forests as the sun is setting over the Blue Ridge – we see ghosts! And as David pointed out it is almost a duty of each American to visit such sites that were so defined our country.
KAMI COTLER – ELIZABETH WALTON
Of all the Walton actors the one who has the closest association with the area I come from is Kami. For several years after the series was over she taught school in my home county of Nelson. I spoke with her recently and ask for news of her and the family. She replied:
”My family is well. Daughter Callie is 9 and son, Cotton is 12. They are both at the charter school I used to co-direct and now I am on the board of directors. I am working at a charter in Lawndale, Environmental Charter High School, helping them open a middle school. It is a very cool educational program, so I am enjoying it. www.echsonline.org
I have a page on facebook, so people can get info there. Funnily enough, I just posted the story of how I ended up on The Waltons on my page, so fans might find that interesting.
I guess if you want an "update" you can say that I got my teaching credential at UC Berkeley, taught in an school-within-a-school program for at-risk high school students in Nelson, moved back to LA (so my folks could know my kids), taught at a charter school until my Dad got sick in 2002 and then I left to help him with WITFAWN, his boutique travel company/hobby that takes USC football fans to away football games. When Daddy died, I took over WITFAWN. Cotton was in first grade and kept coming home "sick" before recess, so I started looking for a school that wouldn't make him miserable. I ended up finding a group of parents starting an arts-integrated charter school. I volunteered to help and ended up as one of the co-directors. After 3 years there I did some consulting to other start-up charter schools and now I am at Environmental and enjoy my work quite a lot.”
And I should mention that Kami is still fondly remembered in Nelson County, Virginia.
EARL HAMNER – NARRATOR AND BIG BROTHER. Better know as The Old Bear!
When I spoke with David Harper he reminded me to say: “Be sure to express my affection to all those viewers who have been so faithful all these years!” And speaking for David and for the whole Walton “family” I can echo those sentiments.
- - -