‘The Waltons’ Star Judy Norton Talks How Characters Evolved Over 9 Seasons

by John Jamison
(Photo by Brian Putnam/FilmMagic)

America followed along from 1972 to 1981 as the Waltons lived, loved, and grew on their Virginia mountain through the Great Depression and WWII. Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen Walton for that entire nine-season span, talked about changes the show’s characters underwent from beginning to end.

Judy Norton has been spoiling The Waltons fans in recent years. The Mary Ellen actor regularly shares videos on her YouTube channel documenting her experiences on the show, answering questions, and giving fans all sorts of behind-the-scenes tidbits. In her most recent video, she discussed the evolution of her character.

“You probably watched all the characters evolve. Mary Ellen was really a rebel in the beginning, and then she kind of toned down a bit. She was very strongminded all throughout, but I think once I got married, then had John-Curtis, and then went into nursing and being a doctor, some of the younger characteristics maybe softened up a bit,” said Norton.

Judy Norton’s character was the eldest Walton daughter. As such, she was already a teenager when The Waltons first began. Still, the difference between 13 and 23 is a drastic one. When we first meet Mary Ellen, she’s a bit of a tomboy, a little dramatic, and has a desire to leave the mountain behind.

However, by the end of the show, she is arguably the most mature of the Walton kids. She followed her nursing dreams to their furthest extent, eventually becoming a doctor and settling down with her own family.

“Frankly, I had more fun when she was young. I liked the whole rebellious ‘I’m not going to conform. I’m going to go be an explorer,'” Norton continued in the video. “Once I got married, then I wasn’t at the house all the time, which I missed.”

The Growth of ‘The Waltons’ Characters Simply Reflected the Passage of Time

The Waltons didn’t need to condense the growth of its characters into a few short years. For the most part, the show used its actors, who were aging along the same lines as their characters, to demonstrate the gradual process of maturity.

“You saw a lot the characters change and grow into their maturity, whether it was with relationships, their choices in terms of what direction they went in their professional lives, who got married, who had kids. All those things were the ways in which we changed,” Norton continued in the video.

Mary Ellen is the perfect example of the process. With each passing year, her youthful aspirations of becoming a globetrotter or actress gradually faded into her true, grounded passion for healthcare. Her career pursuits led her directly to the person she would marry. And so life goes.