‘The Waltons’: How Richard Thomas Chose His Seat For Dinner Scenes and Why It Was a ‘Rookie Mistake’

by Joe Rutland

Those dinner scenes on “The Waltons” provided a time for family members to get together. Richard Thomas recalls picking his spot. Bad idea.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Thomas, who played John-Boy Walton on the CBS family drama, talks about taking his table slot.

“Dinner scenes are wonderful in theory,” he said. “They were at the heart of the show and there were many things about them that were interesting.”

Thomas also talks about how long these scenes would take to shoot and that “The Waltons” cast would be ready to get off the set afterward.

‘The Waltons’ Star Took His Table Spot Between Geer, Cotler

“But we had to choose our seats, you know, at a dinner table people sit at the same place,” Thomas said. “I remember choosing mine because I was so fond of Will (Geer, who played Grandpa Walton). And I made the incredibly naive mistake of placing myself between Will Geer and Kami Cotler (who played the youngest daughter Elizabeth), who was maybe 7-8.”

Thomas said he put himself in a tenuous position during these long-to-shoot scenes for “The Waltons.” “I got between an adorable, beautiful child actress and a scene-stealing machine, right?” he said.

“And it’s a wonder that I managed to survive any of that. That I was even noticed in any of those scenes between Kami and Will. It was just insane that I did that.”

Thomas, whose career spans television and stage for more than five decades, played John-Boy for 124 episodes. He left after the 1977 season. Younger TV viewers, though, may know him from playing Special Agent Frank Gaad on FX’s “The Americans.”

Richard Thomas Recalls Will Geer’s Love of Nature While Part of Show

Geer, who died on April 22, 1978, at 76 years old, apparently had a passion for nature. He was known to carry around a bag of seeds with him on “The Waltons” set. It was quite interesting, especially from Thomas’s perspective.

“Because of Will’s sort of pantheism and his passion for nature, and for plants, in particular, I don’t know if you know all this about him,” Thomas said. “I mean he’d come to the set with a sack, and kind of sometimes dressed in a sack. And he’d sort of just be, you know, we’d be having conversations and he’d be just throwing wildflower seeds out while he was talking.”

Geer also was known to say hello to trees, calling them by their scientific name. Now that’s some kind of passion for nature right there.