Why ‘The Waltons’ Creator Earl Hamner Jr. Had to Have Richard Thomas as John Boy

by Lauren Boisvert

In 2017, the Archive of American Television spoke to “The Waltons” star Richard Thomas. He revealed some of the casting process that got him the role of John-Boy. He also revealed why Earl Hamner Jr. wanted him specifically for the character.

“[Earl Hamner Jr.] had seen [“Red Sky of Morning”] and he wanted me for the part when he saw that picture,” Thomas explained. “He’d seen the movie, he wanted me, they sent the script, and it was never any question about it, that it was a fabulous part and a great script, and that it was really cool to be able to do this.”

Thomas ended his story by saying of “The Homecoming”, “It was great, it was a great experience.”

When he signed on to star in “The Homecoming”, Richard Thomas knew there was one thing he was really interested in; working with Patricia Neal. “All I knew is that it was with Patricia Neal,” he said. He was interested in working with her; he also thought it would be nice to do a television show for a change. Now, John-Boy is his most recognized role, and he’s still proud of it to this day.

“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,” he recently told TribLive.

Richard Thomas Reflects on the Role of Guest Stars on ‘The Waltons’

In his interview with the Archive of American Television, Richard Thomas had some poignant words to say about the guest stars on “The Waltons.”

“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.”

He went on to explain a bit about Earl Hamner Jr.’s vision for the guest roles. 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.”

The guest let the Walton family know that there was more than their mountain community; there were people out there who had different backgrounds and experiences. The guest characters helped educate the Waltons and expand their worldview.