‘The Waltons’: Judy Norton Calls Marie Earle So Fascinating’

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

One star of The Waltons didn’t begin her acting career until she was well into her senior years.

During today’s installment of Behind the Scenes of The Waltons, Judy Norton explored a 1972 episode titled The Chicken Thief.

The story followed a Robin Hood-type villain who started nabbing chickens from the yards of wealthy Walton Mountain families so he could give them to the poorer townspeople.

Jon-Boy later learned that Yancy Tucker was behind the crimes. But following the confession, Charlie was shot. And because the police believed Yancy was also behind that crime, John-Boy set out to see who truly pulled the trigger.

As Norton explains in the video, the investigation leads him to Maude Gormley’s doorstep. Maude was played by the late Marie Earle.

“Marie was so fascinating,” Norton shared. “I don’t think she really started acting professionally until she was nearly 80. She first appeared in season one in The Minstrel. And here she was again, in this episode.”

Marie was actually 78 when she had her TV debut, which happened to be on Petticoat Junction. And following that, she added 45 more acting credits to her resume. Marie’s last appearance was on Likely Stories in 1983. The movie premiered a year before the actress died.

And during her short but lustrous career on film, Maude Gormley became a recurring character on The Waltons. From 1972-1979, the character starred in 15 episodes.

Richard Thomas Was Much Different Than His ‘The Waltons’ Character

The 1970s icon series The Waltons followed an idyllic American family who survived through the Great Depression. Each week, the episodes oozed wholesome family values. And each character had a sturdy moral compass, which fans attached to the actors themselves.

But as Richard Thomas said in an interview with the Archive of American Television, fans put unrealistic expectations on the series.

“People wanted to use the show to illustrate a point about public decency or the way television should be,” said Thomas. “We all were offended and bristled at that kind of stuff. Because we were just about a family of people who was just trying to make it as a family in the society. We didn’t as a family – and Earl didn’t, as a writer – make us a symbol of anything other than what it takes to be a family.”

And furthermore, Thomas didn’t live up to the same standards as John-Boy Walton, though most people thought he did.

So when it came to his character, people assumed he was just like John-Boy. “I was a misbehaving young actor who had been an actor in New York,” he said, “I was the farthest thing from that kid. Inside, no, but my way of talking […] I cuss like a sailor, I was raised backstage. I had a whole other sensibility going.”