From 1972 to 1981, Judy Norton played Mary Ellen Walton on the classic family series “The Waltons.” And despite early departures from central members of the cast, Norton stuck around to see the show all the way through. But did she ever give any thought to leaving early? According to her, it never even entered her mind.
Perhaps the most famous departure from “The Waltons” came in 1978. After only five seasons with the show, John-Boy star Richard Thomas decided to leave. It came as a surprise to fans everywhere. But there wasn’t any falling out with the network or showrunners. Thomas simply wanted to explore his other acting opportunities.
His departure was not without a bigger impact on “The Waltons,” however. Faced with the death of Zeb Walton actor Will Geer and a new face in the role of John-Boy, Michael Learned found herself exhausted from working on the show.
“But frankly, when John-Boy came back with a new face and a new voice, it was like something happened. I just couldn’t do it anymore,” the Olivia Walton actress told Fox News in 2017. “And also, I felt a lot of the times I was sitting around for 14 hours saying, ‘More coffee, John.’ The fact is, I was bored. And I thought I had enough money, which wasn’t true.”
With Michael Learned leaving the show, the studio executives were apparently in a frenzy. According to the show’s creator Earl Hamner in a Washington Post article from 1979, they were like a “bunch of hardened criminals weeping.”
Learned was one of the most popular cast members on “The Waltons.” Not only that, she was central to pretty much everything as the mother of the family. So her decision to leave was no small thing. But apparently, it didn’t change Judy Norton’s mindset.
Judy Norton Resolved to Stay For as Long as ‘The Waltons’ Continued
Despite all of these central cast members being absent from the show, Judy Norton was unfazed. She was committed to finishing out her time on the show and not out of a sense of duty. She did it because she enjoyed working on the show.
In a video she uploaded to her YouTube channel, Norton answered a fan question that asked if she ever thought about leaving.
“No. I decided I was going to stay with it as long as it went. Because I loved doing it,” Norton said.
Her answer was immediate and brief. One got the sense that the thought never even entered her mind.