‘The Waltons’: Mary Ellen Actress Judy Norton Reveals Who Was in the Bear Suit in ‘The Hunt’ Episode

by Suzanne Halliburton

One of the first episodes of The Waltons dealt with John Boy’s soulful heart. He was a creative type, who didn’t look comfortable, at times, in rural Virginia.

But John Boy also wanted to help his family, which is why he went along on a turkey hunt with his dad and his dad’s two friends. The episode, the fourth in season one, was called The Hunt. You probably remember it. It’s when John Boy shot a bear and saved his dad’s life.

Judy Norton, who played the oldest daughter Mary Ellen on The Waltons, provided some additional details about the bear scene. She does a weekly online program to discuss the series, which still is popular on cable channels and streaming services. Since the setting is the Great Depression through World War II, it still holds up as a historical, albeit fictional, family drama.

On Thursday’s online program, Norton took questions from her viewers. The first one was about the bear scene. How’d directors of The Waltons concoct a realistic scene where John Sr., (Ralph Waite) battles a real-live bear?

“It was a combination of there being stock footage of a bear. That was the real bear,” Norton said. “Then they had a bear suit. And there was someone who was meant to be wearing a bear suit. They were trying, and it just wasn’t looking realistic. And Jon Walmsley said ‘let me do it.’ So Jon ended up putting on the bear suit. So the wrestling you see between Ralph and the bear is actually Jon Walmsley.”

Yes, Jason from ‘The Waltons’ Pulled Double Human/Bear Duty

It truly was a wild story of making do. Walmsley played Jason, the second-oldest son on The Waltons. He put on a suit and fought his TV dad. And his TV brother was supposed to shoot him.

The episode was all about John Boy (Richard Thomas) grappling with his conscience about killing an animal. He was conflicted because he knew that hunting a turkey also would help put food on his family’s table. So he took his dad’s old shotgun and tried to make peace with his soul when he pulled the trigger.

Earl Hamner, who created The Waltons, opened the episode with this narration:

“A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit. And I remember a day in the 1930’s when I went to Waltons Mountain in search of manhood.”

Then, as the episode ends, the narrator comes on again: I became not a hunter but a writer and I hope a source of some pride to my father. For to be a good hunter or a good writer one must know why he hunts or why he writes. And the “why-of-it-all” for me lies in that house and in the memory of voices that rise in the night and will sweetly haunt my life forever.”