‘The Waltons’: Why Richard Thomas Said Show Wasn’t Symbol of Idealism

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)

Scroll through Facebook or Twitter for more than a few minutes, and you’ll likely come across a meme saying that TV needs more shows like The Waltons. To them, television has lost its way and needs some down-home decency to get it back on track. But the reality is that people were making this argument when The Waltons was still on television. Richard Thomas believes people co-opt the message and themes of the show for their own political ends, and he wishes they would stop.

The John-Boy actor said those arguments project things onto the show that aren’t there. The show isn’t political and isn’t making a statement about the way things “ought” to be, he said. It’s about a family going through struggles.

“To a man of us and woman of us, we all were offended and bristled at that kind of stuff because we were just about a family of people who were, you know, just trying to make it as a family, and make it, you know, in the society,” Thomas said. “And we didn’t as a family — and Earl (Hamner, The Walton‘s creator) didn’t as a writer — make us a symbol of anything other than what it takes to be a family, you know, during difficult times.”

Families exist in many forms and there is no ideal version, Thomas notes in his 2016 Television Academy Foundation interview. “Whenever any of us felt that we had to behave in a certain way, or that we were a role model of anything other than a human being … it was always a conflict, he said. “We never wanted to be.”

Richard Thomas: I Was ‘The Farthest’ Thing from My Character

Richard Thomas said playing a wholesome kid on The Waltons gave people a misconception about him. He wasn’t John Boy. He was a 20-year-old actor who was “the farthest thing” from that character.

“I was a misbehaving young actor who had been an actor in New York,” he said. “So, the farthest thing from that kid inside. But my way of talking, I mean, I’d swear. I just I cuss like a sailor. I was raised backstage, and I have a whole other sensibility going.”

Thomas believes audiences aren’t as “naive” today. But he makes a point to try and break those misconceptions some people have of him and The Waltons when he can. Not to strip away their enjoyment, but to free them from trying to live up to or copy something that never existed.

“I mean I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘You know my husband has modeled his life on your character and who you are,'” Thomas said. “I’m sure you’re this way, you’re a good this, you’re a good that, you believe in this, and you believe in that. It’s amazing the things that people imbue to you based on a character you play. It’s crazy.”