‘The Waltons’: Richard Thomas Spoke Out on ‘Goodnight’ Phrase, How it Made Him ‘Rich’

by Suzanne Halliburton

The nightly routine on The Waltons was about as sweet and heart warming as one can get on network television.

You probably remember the routine, decades after the last fresh episode. The Waltons went to bed at about the same time each evening. The camera showed the house. You could hear the good nights as one by one, the lights turned off. Each of the Waltons would tell each other good night. You’d hear a harmonica and a couple of bells. It always left you with a nostalgic feeling that every dream would be sweet.

Richard Thomas, who played oldest son John Boy and a narrator on The Waltons, said he still has fans ask him about the good nights most every day.

But first, a reminder of how each episode of The Waltons ended:


Richard Thomas did an interview with Studio 10, an Australian TV show, back in 2019. The subject was all things The Waltons.

So of course, that also meant the good nights. Thomas still loved the idea of such a sentimental ending to a show.

“If I had a cent for every time someone said it, that would be a lot of money,” Thomas said. “But I have a feeling for every time someone says it, it makes me a very rich man in a very different way. It’s just wonderful to meet people who remember that show and have fond feelings for it.”

Richard Thomas is pretty consistent when speaking about the closing scene. In an interview with the Archives of American Television, he called it “emblematic of what the show was.”

Thomas said “after the drama of the episode, it was making it whole again. … It’s hideously overused word, but it’s an iconic phrase.”

Earl Hamner Jr. created the show. It all was based on his life growing up in a “little crackerbox” of a house in rural Virginia. His father worked as a coal miner and factory worker. There were eight kids in the family. (The Waltons had only seven living children on the show. One died at birth).

Show Creator Wanted Goodness To Stand Out

Hamner, in a column for the Los Angeles Times in 1972, said he wanted The Waltons to be that wholesome show. It would be something so unusual juxtaposed against the cultural upheaval happening in the country.

“Audiences in all entertainment media have been brutalized by crudities, vulgarity, violence, indifference and ineptitude. We are attempting to make an honest, positive statement on the affirmation of man.”

“That was something that we actually did when I was growing up,” Hamner said of The Waltons good-night routine. “Sometimes we’d get carried away saying so many good nights that my father, who had to get up in the morning, would say, alright, that’s enough.

“And Richard Thomas, after his first trip to Virginia, he said, ‘you know, I always wondered how you people could say good night and be heard. But then I saw the house and it was such a little crackerbox that now I understand.’”

Check below for the entire Richard Thomas interview with Aussie TV.