‘The Waltons’: One Actor Explained Cast Had to Learn Actual Ranch Work for Show

by John Jamison

Fans of “The Waltons” know the Depression-era setting well. Growing up on Walton’s Mountain in the 1930s wasn’t always easy. And the cast who portrayed the Walton family got a real education in living the ranch life.

“The Waltons” ran from 1972-1981. It followed the Walton family as they tried to scrape by with the income from their Virginia sawmill. Life in the Blue Ridge Mountains demanded a certain way of life. Especially during the turmoil of the Great Depression and World War II.

The cast and the characters existed in two very different times, however. And Mary McDonough, who played Erin Walton, talked about the types of things the cast learned because of their show’s setting.

In a 2011 interview, Mary was asked how she handled portraying a girl from the 1930s during the 1970s. Her response?

“What was weird about growing up in both places, is that the Vietnam War was going on when the show started, so that was a whole education in itself,” she said. “And since we were also living in the Depression, we got to learn to milk cows, ride mules and gather eggs from a chicken coop. It was a really diverse way to grow up, and I felt like I didn’t have to reconcile it other than to appreciate how lucky I was to do all this fun stuff.”

So the cast of “The Waltons” picked up some real ranch skills throughout the course of the show. Not that they had to put them to use as successful television actors. But Mary, at least, seemed to appreciate the opportunity to learn a different way of life.

‘The Waltons’ Setting Was Cleverly Shot

There’s a lot of focus on the rural setting of Walton’s Mountain. And it does seem like the cast got some exposure to the way of life in the mountains. But it’s easy to forget the fact that “The Waltons” was actually shot in Los Angeles.

The show got creative, however. And the studio used the Hollywood Hills in the background of the Warner Bros. lot as a stand-in for the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.