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‘The Waltons’: Cast Members Share Close Calls About House Fire Escape Episode

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

An episode of “The Waltons” got a little too real for cast members. When the scene called for the actors to escape a house fire, the actors found themselves dealing with a real blaze.

“The Waltons” explored a family in Virginia living through both the Great Depression and World War II. One of the series’ most iconic episodes was when the family home burned down. But it almost took a couple of cast members with them. Some of the actors reflected on the stunt.

They brought in pipes that had flames that would come out, almost like a fireplace,” Eric Scott, who played Ben Walton, said in the Actors Fund reunion. “They put them around all the frames of the doors. I remember they had to take our nightshirts and get fire retardant.”

Fire retardant didn’t help Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton. Her dress caught fire during the scene. Technically, the fire department was on the scene. But the set was dangerous during the episode.

“We had no safety,” Scott said. “The fire department told us stay here, don’t do this, don’t do that but you know what, it was a free for all.”

‘The Waltons’ Cast Felt Traumatized

Kami Cotler, who played Elizabeth Walton, felt traumatized after the episode. Despite being young during the episode, she still remembers the crew’s instructions and the fire in the house as the Walton sisters tried to escape. It was one of the only times she ever cried for real on screen.

“When the fire scene was filmed from the girl’s bedroom, Elizabeth doesn’t get out of bed if I remember this correctly,” Cotler said. “So I was sitting in the bed and I watched Mary and Judy get up and run out. They were told there’ll be fire along this wall so hug that wall. My memory is that you went out the door and there was fire on both sides. I remember your backs arching as you felt the heat coming from the other wall.”

After the episode, the cast experienced headaches and coughs from the smoke. The episode also drew a large crowd of onlookers that watched as the cast acted out the scene.

“I remember standing there in the driveway, all of us watching our home go up in flames,” Richard Thomas, who played John Boy Walton, said. “There was no imaginative leap at all. It was absolutely immediate. There was no gap between what I was looking at and my feelings for the home and for everybody. It was very strong, very, very strong.”