‘The Waltons’: Judy Norton Explains Camera Techniques Used in ‘The Gift’ Episode

by John Jamison

Television is a visual medium. Oftentimes we overlook how dramatically camera work can impact the storytelling of a TV show. But when the writing, acting, and visual aspects all come together, shows like “The Waltons” find major success. Mary Ellen Walton actress Judy Norton recalled some of the techniques used during an iconic episode.

“The Gift” is a 1974 episode from Season 2 of “The Waltons.” It was the 18th installment of the season, and it dealt with some heavy subject matter.

In the episode, a friend of John Boy and Jason’s named Seth suffers from leukemia. He wants Jason, played by Jon Walmsley, to learn to play a recorder he’s making for him before he dies. The character of Seth was played by none other than “Happy Days” star Ron Howard. In fact, “The Waltons” episode aired the same year “Happy Days” began.

Guest star aside, “The Gift” sees Jason deal with the grief and emotional trauma that comes along with losing a friend. And in a video she uploaded to her YouTube channel, Judy Norton went into detail about how the show used camera techniques to emphasize the emotions of the episode.

“But with those zoom shots, there is one camera person actually operating the camera,” Norton said. “They have measured what the distance is to each one of those spots they’re going to hit. And they are adjusting focus then with a device so that as the camera moves they are keeping that manually in focus all the time. There was no such thing as auto-focus.”

“The Waltons” star is referring to a zoom shot that shows a crying Jason Walton clutching the recorder given to him by Seth. The camera moves in on the instrument, slowly zooming in on the etched words “Jason Walton.”

The Similarities Between Jon Walmsley and Ron Howard on ‘The Waltons’

It’s impossible to look at pictures of Jason Walton actor Jon Walmsley and “Happy Days” star Ron Howard without noting the resemblance. The two actors look like they could be brothers, and that added to the dynamics of their characters’ friendship on “The Gift” episode of “The Waltons.”

“As many of you might have noted, there are some real similarities between Jon Walmsley and Ron Howard they do share a little bit of red hair, they have some similarity in look,” Norton said in the YouTube video. “Jason and Ron sit next to each other, and they’re both wearing variations of red and blue plaid shirts. And they both have denim. And I found myself wondering if that was an intentional thing on the part of the wardrobe department.”

In the shot Norton refers to, Howard looked like a long-lost Walton child. The similarities are so prevalent, in fact, that two often auditioned for the same roles.