‘The Waltons’: Ralph Waite Didn’t Like That Tom Bower Became ‘Better Groomed’ in Season 2

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Recently, “The Waltons” star Judy Norton had a special guest on her YouTube channel; her former TV husband, Tom Bower. Bower played Curtis Willard, the doctor who came to Walton’s Mountain in season 5 of the show. The episode “The Wedding” introduced him, and he and Mary Ellen married that same episode.

Curt was a bit of a rough doctor; he didn’t care for his bedside manner, and gave it to people straight. He didn’t sugarcoat anything to make people feel better. It was tough to talk to Curt. When he hired Mary Ellen as his nurse, she made sure to soften his edges a bit. The two balanced each other out.

Tom Bower spoke about their dynamic on ‘The Waltons” in conversation with Judy Norton. Norton started, “People seem to really like the relationship between Curt and Mary Ellen and felt that the way you played the character […] that he was someone who could handle her. It needed someone as strong as Curt’s character to match up with her, and not just be walked over.”

“I think he forwardness with all the people in town,” Bower continued, “He had that effect. It was written that way […] It really went against type, and it went against cliché.”

Matching Curt’s rough interior was a rough exterior; Bower then shared a memory of Ralph Waite’s preference for the more unkempt doctor.

“Ralph was a little upset with me,” said Bower, “that I had become a little better groomed […] I had gotten a haircut, whereas in ‘The Wedding’ it was a little bit tousled, and a little rugged in appearance. I think he was right,” Bower laughed. “I think if I had to do it over again, I would’ve followed his advice.”

‘The Waltons’: Killing Off Curt at Pearl Harbor ‘Brought the War Home’

Judy Norton also touched on the fact that “The Waltons” killed off Curt; he was sent to Pearl Harbor and supposedly died there, but later washed up on the shore, alive. This was, of course, when another actor was cast as Curt. But, Judy Norton mentions that sending Curt to Pearl Harbor really “brought the war home” for the Walton family.

“It was a strong episode, I thought,” said Norton, “I thought it was a beautiful episode. And I thought that, in terms of the show, it really brought the war home. Because I said, they’re not going to kill off one of the sons who were going to war. So this was a way of really bringing it home […] these were things that would impact and show the effect in the community and on the family of the war.”

Killing off Curt didn’t directly affect the Waltons like losing John-Boy would, but it still caused them grief because Mary Ellen was suffering. They suffered because their daughter and sister lost her husband, and it made the war very real for them.