‘The Waltons’ Star Judy Norton Says She Was in Awe of Working With Ron Howard

by Caitlin Berard

When the first episode of The Waltons hit the small screen in 1972, Judy Norton, the actress behind the Walton family’s eldest daughter, Mary Ellen Walton, was only 14 years old. Like many child stars, Judy Norton grew into an adult on the classic TV series. And, as her time on The Waltons took up a large portion of her childhood, she has many fond memories of the show, as well as its cast and crew.

The actress now shares these memories with her fans on a YouTube series entitled “Ask Judy,” in which Judy Norton answers questions sent in by fans of the beloved historical drama.

In the most recent episode, a fan asked Norton if she ever felt star-struck by a guest star on the show. And though The Waltons had many famous guest stars over the years, including Jonathan Frakes, Sissy Spacek, and Dick Sargent, one actor, in particular, came to mind – Ron Howard.

Though she admits to being unaware of the identities of some of the older actors at the time, a then-20-year-old Ron Howard instantly caught the 16-year-old actress’ attention. “Yeah, there were definitely… I think there would have been many more if I actually knew more about their Hollywood credentials and their history,” Norton explained.

“But certainly, Ron Howard was one of those people because I was very familiar with who he was,” she said of the Happy Days star. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness! We’re working with Ron Howard!’ So that one I really remember.”

‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Thought the Show Would Be a Flop

Though The Waltons had many beloved characters and actors behind it, it’s hard to top Michael Learned and her character, Olivia Walton. As the matriarch of the Walton household, Olivia is the backbone of the family, providing warmth and compassion to not only her husband and children but everyone she met.

The motherly character was a huge contributor to the series’ overall success. When Michael Learned first read the script, however, she wasn’t convinced it would be. In her mind, The Waltons was an out-of-date, cheesy show that would likely never find popularity with fans.

So, when The Waltons not only took off but became part of television history, Michael was absolutely shocked. “It blew me away, actually, the success of the show,” Learned told Entertainment Tonight. “I thought it was corny and it was going to die.”

The actress confessed that she agreed to the role of Olivia Walton not because she liked the character or the series but because she needed the money. “When I heard it was going to go, I was going through a divorce,” she recalled. “I had three kids, and they were going to pay me $1200 a week. And I thought, ‘I’ve never seen that much money in my life!’ It was like God’s hand was on my shoulder. I really feel that.”