‘The Waltons’ Star Richard Thomas Reflects on Show’s Many Guest Stars

by Lauren Boisvert

In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Richard Thomas spoke about the guest stars “The Waltons” had on the show over the years.

“There were so many wonderful people who came through,” he said. “We had terrific, terrific people, and they all had good parts to play. They were happy to come because they had been given roles that were human, interesting […] the scenes were all very plangent, character scenes. They were wonderful.”

Thomas continued, sharing how the guest stars enhanced “The Waltons.” He said, “They made the show, because they were a way for the audience to have variety. But they were also a way for the characters in this very isolated world on this mountain to have a window into the rest of the world. And the guest stars were the window through which Earl [Hamner Jr.] was able to observe themes and events […] a whole way of looking at outside themes and broadening [the] thematic scope of the show. That was the job and the purpose of the guest stars.”

Through the guest stars, the Waltons related to other people besides themselves and those who lived in their community. With other people coming through and interacting with them, the Waltons got to experience life away from the mountain. It was a way to humanize them, and make them more sensitive and understanding to other people who may have been different or experienced different things.

Why Richard Thomas Joined ‘The Waltons’ as John-Boy

In 1971, “The Homecoming” was initially a stand-alone film. No one knew it was going to launch an entire series. Richard Thomas was a successful actor before “The Waltons”, so when he signed on to star as John-Boy, there was a very specific reason.

“All I knew is that it was with Patricia Neal,” he told the Archive of American Television in 2017. He was most excited to see that Patricia Neal was involved in the project. Then, he read the script; John-Boy was “fabulous,” he said. He also said that Earl Hamner Jr. initially saw him in “Red Sky at Morning”. Hamner wanted him for John-Boy immediately.

“He saw the movie, he wanted me, they sent the script,” Thomas said. “There was never any question about it that it was a fabulous part and a great script. It was really cool to be able to do this.”

Richard Thomas doesn’t mind that his most memorable role is John-Boy on “The Waltons,” despite his long career. He’s proud of his role on the show. He told TribLive recently, “If I didn’t love that show and I wasn’t deeply proud of it, that would be a real problem. But because I do love it and because it still means so much to people, I’m proud to be associated with it. So the older I get, the happier it makes me.”