‘The Waltons’ Directors Rarely Used Real Animals in Various Scenes: Here’s Why

by Katie Maloney

The Waltons family lived in a fictional mountain-area community in Virginia. Naturally, the family also had a farm.

But why didn’t fans see animals on The Waltons farm very often? In fact, it was pretty rare to see any animals on the show. Actress Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen, revealed why the show rarely had animals on set. During a behind-the-scenes video about the show, Norton talked specifically about the episode titled “The Song.” Her co-star Richard Thomas, who played John-Boy on the show, directed the episode.

“Sometimes in scenes in the barn, you don’t see the animals. It was obviously easier and more budget-friendly to not have the animals appear,” said Norton. “Because any day the animals appeared they would have had to pay the owners and the wranglers for the use of those animals. But, in this case, Richard chose to have these animals to substantiate that sense that we were actually in The Waltons barn where these animals would actually live.”

Norton also pointed out that, during the episode, fans also see Grandpa riding the family horse named Blue. Norton added that it was rare to see Grandpa riding the horse so the scene was kind of special.

“Speaking of blue, later in the episode, we actually see grandpa riding Blue. I don’t think we saw him riding blue very often, but in this episode, Grandpa wore his nice suit and rode Blue…”

Judy Norton talks about animals on The Waltons

Richard Thomas Directed Five Episodes of The Waltons

To most people, “The Song” was just another episode of The Waltons. However, if pay closer attention, you may notice cinematic choices that differ from other episodes. According to actress Judy Norton, there are several “signature” Richard Thomas camera movements throughout the episode. He directed “The Song” as well as four other episodes in the series. During the same video, Norton pointed out a few of Thomas’s directorial choices.

“I watched it and was looking for the various different directing choices that Richard made. And there were some things that just, to me, had his stamp on them,” said Norton.

Norton specifically pointed out the scenes during The Waltons episode where the siblings interacted. She said that Thomas directed the scenes so that they seemed more authentic and less staged.

“There were several times where he created an interaction between the brothers and sisters. Between him and Ben earlier and then later with him and Jason. And the kids teasing each other,” said Norton. “And that, to me very much spoke of Richard’s sensibilities regarding having action and interaction and a sense of ad-lib that things didn’t look staged or scripted. Despite the fact that pretty much everything would have been scripted. But it seems to me that here we had a little bit of freedom with some ad-libs here in the scenes.”

And like a true onscreen sister, Norton said she enjoyed watching Thomas’s directorial accomplishments.

“So, I loved watching Richard bring the dynamics of the family to life from his viewpoint as a director,” said Norton. “And also from his viewpoint as a member of the family of The Waltons.”