‘The Waltons’ Star Judy Norton Opens Up About Being on Magazine Cover

by Suzanne Halliburton

Judy Norton’s web series on The Waltons offers luscious details about a series that first entranced the country a half-century ago.

And in this week’s behind-the-scenes look at The Waltons, Norton explored the episode called The Theft. It first ran on Oct. 4, 1973. And the episode is all about how a rich family accused John Sr of stealing some silver. He was doing odd jobs for the Claybourne’s and the wife believed John might’ve stolen some silver goblets.

Norton hones in on a scene featuring her TV brother Ben going to the Claybourne’s to sell them magazines. Ben wanted to gather information to clear his dad. And as part of the act, he showed the Claybourne’s a copy of The Saturday Evening Post.

That’s when Norton drops a wonderful factoid. Back in 1973, The Waltons were on the cover of the November/December issue of the magazine, which has been around in some form since 1821. The covers usually are paintings. Norman Rockwell did a chunk of them. Robert Charles Howe painted this cover in homage to Rockwell.

The article talked about the fascination Americans had with the series a year after The Waltons made its TV premiere.

Will And Deni McIntyre/Getty Images

Magazine Article Said The Waltons ‘Cast a Spell’ Over TV Audience

Here’s how the writer introduced The Waltons:

“But now, even the Waltons, the 11 actors who play the parts of this endearing family, have fallen prey to the magic of their roles. This is the magic which has made this very uncomplicated TV series such a phenomenal success. The public, the critics, and even the cast have come under its spell. Come with me and visit the Waltons. Come see how imagination has become reality. And how TV, if its practitioners will ever learn, may well have found it’s finest destiny – as a creative art.”

There are all sorts of cool nuggets in the article. The author calls Norton, who played Mary Ellen, “the plain-pretty-beautiful oldest girl.” Plus, did you know that actress Helen Hays used to call Will Geer, who portrayed Grandpa Walton, the “oldest living hippie.”

Here are some other factoids gleaned from The Waltons article. Saturday Evening Post documented the show’s Thanksgiving episode. It was shot on a hot summer morning in Burbank, Calif. Temperatures reached 107 that day.

The magazine report said that in 1973, the show received more than 1,500 fan letters a week.

Show Creator Started as a Radio Writer in Cincy

Earl Hamner, who created The Waltons, started working in radio at WLW in Cincinnati. He eventually became a writer for NBC Radio in New York before writing two books and moved on to TV.

Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton, wanted to be a ballerina. But she was rejected from a ballet company when she was 12. It seems she had flat feet. Ralph Waite, her TV husband, wore makeup on The Waltons that made him appear older. The article pointed out that Waite was a “mod” dresser in real life.

Waite, the article said: “gives the impression of “acting” his role while most of the others seem to be fitting their own personalities into their parts without conscious effort.”

Richard Thomas, who played John Boy, had this to say about his TV father: “The funny thing is that when I play a scene with Ralph Waite, it’s like being with my father; it’s not pretend, there’s nothing pretend about it. Same with Michael and the brothers and sisters and Will and Ellen.”

If you’d like to check out the entire article on The Waltons, click here. It’s like a time capsule from the early 1970s.

And here’s the rest of Norton’s behind-the-scenes thoughts on the episode.