The first classic TV grandchild born on The Waltons was actually played by a set of twins. And the practice helped continue the trend of hiring identical siblings to play young characters on television.
The child was born to Mary Ellen during a season 6 episode appropriately titled The Grandchild, in what would have been 1937. And after John’s birth, he went on to act in over 50 episodes. But as Judy Norton said in her Youtube series, “acting” wasn’t really what they were doing.
“At that age, they’re not acting,” she said during Behind the Scenes with Judy Norton. “Everything you see from the toddler that age is responding to the actual energy that they are getting off the actors they’re working with.”
However, Norton admitted that the tykes weren’t always easy to work with. As is the case with all children, the Reed twins could be unpredictable and fussy.
Though being able to swap one baby for another made it much easier for the directors to film on schedule. When one kid wasn’t up for camera work, the other often was. And because of that flow, little John always seemed calm and happy in his scenes.
The Actors Behind ‘The Waltons’ First Grandchild Was Called ‘The Perfect Child’
Because of that perceived demeanor, John Curtis won the hearts of The Waltons fans instantly. And one TV critic even dubbed the new addition as “the perfect child.”
Casting twins in child roles had already started to become popular by the time The Waltons aired in the 1970s. Lucille Ball led the way after she showed the first pregnancy storyline on television in the 1950s. And because two kids made her job so much easier, other directors caught on to the genius.
Little House on the Prairie also cast twins in the part of Carrie Ingalls. And a couple of decades later, Full House followed suit when it was time to fill the role of Michelle Tanner.
But by the time the Olsen twins joined the hit TGIF sitcom, working with twins became more of a necessity than a preference. Due to child labor laws, babies and toddlers were—and still are—only allowed to work a few hours a week. So having two stars play a single role makes it much easier to film on a reasonable schedule. And the practice also allows writers to give young characters proper screen time.
As for the tiny actors who played John Curtis on The Waltons, they didn’t go on to be massive celebrities like the Olsens. Marshall Reed never starred in another role again. And Micheal only made one more appearance in the 1986 Alfred Hitchcock film Boyfriend.