‘The Waltons’ Star Judy Norton Was ‘Honored’ To Work With Sissy Spacek on the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton

Sissy Spacek is one of the top actresses of her generation. And The Waltons helped launch her career.

Judy Norton, who played big sister Mary Ellen Walton, brought up Spacek, Monday, in her weekly web series that takes a look at the behind-the-scenes world of The Waltons.

“It was such an honor to get to work with her early on in her career,” Norton said of Spacek.

Let’s set the scene. Spacek grew up in Quitman, a tiny dot of a town in northeast Texas. Her cousin was the late Rip Torn, who won an Emmy and earned an Academy Award nomination. And in the late 1960s, when both still were so young, Torn talked his young cousin into coming to New York. With his help, Spacek enrolled at the Actors Studio. This was after she tried to be a singer using the stage name Rainbo. She recorded a song in 1968 called “John You Went Too Far This Time.” It was about John Lennon and wife, Yoko Ono.

Spacek’s first role was an uncredited part in the movie, Trash. Then came The Waltons. She played Sarah Jane, a teenager aching to leave her widowed mother and everyone on Waltons Mountain. Norton described Sarah Jane’s mother as “very strict.”

Spacek’s first episode was called The Townie and it ran March 8, 1973. Her next episode was The Odyssey, which CBS broadcast Sept. 20, 1973. It was in The Odyssey that Sarah Jane had this famous line to Richard Thomas’ John Boy:

“When are you going to stop being John-Boy, and start being John-Man?”

Other Actors On Show Enjoyed Working with Spacek

Thomas, like Norton, loved working with Spacek on The Waltons. In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Thomas described Spacek as one of his favorite guest stars on the series.

Mary McDonough, who played middle sister Erin, wrote about Spacek’s appearances on The Waltons in her memoir, Lessons from the Mountain.

“She and Richard cut up and are in more than a few gag reel shots together,” McDonough wrote. “Sissy even looked like us with her red hair and freckles.”

Soon after The Waltons, Spacek watched her career take off like a rocket. She played Holly opposite Martin Sheen in Badlands. The movie was loosely based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

Then came Carrie. Spacek portrayed a high school girl with telekinetic powers. The movie was based on Stephen King’s first novel. The other kids bullied Carrie. Plus, her mother was a religious fanatic. The role earned Spacek her first of six Oscar nominations.

In 1980, Spacek played country singing icon Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. That won her the Academy Award. In hindsight, maybe she should’ve thanked The Waltons in her acceptance speech.

Meanwhile, the ratings are in for The Waltons reboot. Did you watch it Sunday night? The Waltons Homecoming, which was based on the series pilot, averaged 960,000 total viewers on the CW. That’s the biggest audience for a CW show since the spring.

You can check out Judy Norton’s entire behind-the-scenes take on Spacek and The Waltons in the video below: