‘The Waltons’: Judy Norton Revealed the Star Who’s Funniness Was Never Seen by Fans

by Joe Rutland

Richard Thomas of “The Waltons” has a sense of humor. It isn’t shown a lot through his character, but his costar fessed up to it.

Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen on the classic CBS TV show, said Thomas is “very funny” in an interview with Moviehole.net.

“Richard is very funny and you didn’t get to see it, but he has a subtle humor,” Norton said. “The same thing with Michael (Learned, who played Olivia Walton), I’d see her be very funny on stage.

“It’s a nice surprise to see actors do something different,” Norton said. “Like Robin Williams did something like ‘Dead Poets Society’ or Meryl Streep do comedy.”

Thomas Tackles Roles Beyond ‘The Waltons’

Thomas played John-Boy Walton for five seasons in show creator Earl Hamner’s recreation of his youth. Before and after his time on the show, Thomas took on roles in movies and Broadway that show his range of acting abilities.

Some of them called for Thomas to have a sense of humor in character. Yet his ability to have a subtle sense of humor, as Norton calls it, provided moments of relief on the set.

Thomas, 69, was born in Manhattan. He’s gone on to play roles like Secret Agent Frank Gaad on FX’s “The Americans.” His life on stage has taken Thomas from Broadway to Hartford, Conn., to London’s West End. He’s appeared in Shakespeare plays, too.

Thomas was nominated for a Tony Award in 2017 for “Best Featured Actor in a Play” for a revival of “The Little Foxes.” Oh, he did win two Emmy Awards for his work on “The Waltons.”

Learned Forges Sense Of Humor Out Of Setbacks

Learned discovered her sense of humor after going through a number of life setbacks. She played the matriarch of the Walton family on the show. Yet her off-screen life began to get precipitously better once she gained sobriety in her life, thanks to “The Waltons” costar Ralph Waite.

Before getting the role of Olivia on “The Waltons,” Learned was going through a tough time. She found herself recently divorced and trying to raise three teenagers on her own.

Learned recalls being full of fear and not knowing where her next role, or even meal, might come from in her life. She got a phone call from her agent, who encouraged her to go and try out for the Olivia Walton role. Turns out that she did it and earned the role.

While she was on set, she and Waite became good friends. Learned admits that she might have had a hangover from drinking too much during her tryout. Waite, though, could see his costar’s troubles. He also knew about dealing with alcoholism in his own life, finding help through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Once he told Learned about going to a meeting. She said that she’d go to support him. When Waite suggested she go for herself, Learned responded, “Me?” Since that time, Learned freely gives thanks to Waite, who died in 2014, in getting her sober. It probably played a role in her finding a sense of humor once again.