‘The Waltons’ Star Mary McDonough Speaks on Unique Sense of Family Between Cast Members

by Taylor Cunningham

The cast of The Waltons was just as much of a family off-screen as they were on-screen, according to star Mary McDonough. And as her classic TV castmates say, that bond still remains intact to this day.

The series followed a large family living in the mountains of Virginia during the great depression. And despite the economic downfall affecting the entire country, they and their community managed to stay happy and healthy by relying on each other.

As McDonough, who played Erin, shared with Closer, that wholesome togetherness that fans watched play out each week on television wasn’t just great acting. All of the people starring in the series truly loved each other. And they made it a habit to spend their free time together just the same.

“We actually had lunch together almost every single day,” she shared. “I remember doing another show. And when they called for lunch, all the cast members scattered. I thought, ‘That is so strange! I wonder why they don’t have lunch together?’”

Mary Ellen actress Judy Norton also spoke about her The Waltons friends warmly. And some of her favorite memories included the ongoing practical jokes that went on between Richard Thomas (John-Boy) and the late John Ritter (Rev. Matthew).

“They were always trying to get one-up on the other and crack each other up,” she said.

‘The Waltons’ Inspired Ralph Waite to ‘Get Sober’ After Battling Years of Alcoholism

But, of course, just like a real family, The Waltons cast had their struggles as well, which they all helped each other navigate during their nine years on the air.

During the course of the series, both Michael Learned (Olivia) and Ralph Waite went through heartbreaking divorces. Waite ended his four-year marriage with Kerry Shear Waite right as the show was ending in 1981. And Learned actually went through two divorces. During season 1, she left her husband of 16 years, Peter Donat. And in 1977, her four-year marriage to Glen Chadwick ended.

Meanwhile, Waite was also battling severe alcoholism. After losing his daughter to leukemia in 1964, he developed the addiction as a means of coping. And it was the series and the stars that eventually inspired him to seek help. When he did, he managed to stay clean for the remainder of his life.

Waite passed away at the age of 85 in 2014. But co-star Judy Norton told Closer that she remembered the experience well.

“He credited the show with being the reason why he got sober and stayed sober,” she shared. “He said, ‘I sat there one day at the kitchen table, and I felt like such a fake.’ And he took himself to AA.”