‘The Waltons’: Here’s the Hollywood Icon That Producers Wanted to Play John Walton

by Madison Miller

While it can be hard to imagine a favorite character with a different actor portraying them, the possibility is always there. There was one Hollywood star that was also close to landing the role of John Walton on “The Waltons.” The show first started in September 1972 and lasted until 1981.

Henry Fonda Versus Ralph Waite

The highly popular series also has several film sequels after its cancellation. After nearly 10 years, fans got familiar with the faces behind their favorite characters on “The Waltons.”

The very popular actor, Henry Fonda, was nearly cast as the fatherly figure on the show, John Walton.

However, according to Classic Country Music, the actor turned down the role after reading the pilot episode. He reportedly said that the family was the real star of the show. The show’s creators and the network wanted someone who was already popular in Hollywood on the show to help draw in viewers every week. Fonda had just appeared in his movie “Spencer’s Mountain” that the casting crew found similar to “The Waltons.”

“Spencer’s Mountain” is a 1963 American family drama by Delmer Daves. It came from a novel written by Earl Hamner Jr. Fonda stars in the film alongside Maureen O’Hara. The movie is all about the Spencer family.

They are living in the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming during the 1960s. Henry Fonda plays Clay Spencer, the family-dedicated and independent patriarch of the family. The family goes through a series of struggles throughout the film.

The creators of “The Waltons” found that Clay Spencer had some fatherly similarities to John Walton. The show is also about a family trying to get through life in a small town in a mountain-filled area of Virginia.

Besides “Spencer’s Mountain,” Henry Fonda is known for his roles in movies like “12 Angry Men,” “On Golden Pond,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Wrong Man,” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.” His daughter is also popular actress, activist, and environmentalist, Jane Seymour Fonda.

Ralph Waite and ‘The Waltons’

While Henry Fonda was a highly popular figure in the entertainment world at the time, TV fans grew to love Ralph Waite, who played John Walton.

Waite would sometimes direct some of the episodes of “The Waltons” as well. He had appeared on television in recent years as the father of Leroy Jethro Gibbs on “NCIS” and as the grandfather of Seeley Booth on “Bones.” He also appeared in smaller roles in films like “Cool Hand Luke,” “Five Easy Pieces,” and “The Bodyguard.”

Unfortunately, Ralph Waite passed away in 2014 from natural age-related illnesses at the age of 85.

He is forever recognizable from his largest role in the industry as John Walton. He, alongside the rest of the cast and the show’s creators, helped to redefine a new direction in television history. The show addressed family and other moral dilemmas.