‘The Waltons’ Star Richard Thomas Demanded Top Billing to Join Show: ‘I Don’t Care About the Money’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Before The Waltons, Richard Thomas was a young actor who received a lot of work.

He wasn’t the most well-known child actor in the late 1960s, early 70s, but he had three big movies to his credit. And he was in a position of strength to make a few demands when a director offered a part. So it was with The Waltons. Earl Hamner, the show’s creator, knew Thomas was a perfect John Boy. In fact, he said Thomas was a better John Boy than he ever was in real life — and Hamner based the character on himself.

“He was just perfect,” Hamner said.

So Thomas, who was all of 20 years old and attending school at Columbia, received a phone call offering him a part in The Waltons TV movie, which served as the unofficial pilot. Thomas conceded he had a big request when he was recalling his Waltons experience in a 2016 interview.

“They were trying to do this thing about money, but how much money,” Thomas said. “We were kids, obviously, we weren’t going to get much money, this was years before anybody got a whole lot of money. We’re talking about another period, a whole ‘nother pay grade period of television. But, certainly more than anything I’d made up until then.”

Who Does That? Richard Thomas Demanded Top Billing on The Waltons

So here’s what Richard Thomas asked of The Waltons: “I wanted billing, which had always been important to me from the time I was old enough to even think about what that was. Obviously, with a child actor you don’t have anything to do with it unless you’re a star, which I wasn’t. But at this point, billing was important to me.”

Thomas got a no way to top billing for the new series. However, the show had yet to decide on who the parents would be. Thomas said that the show’s father likely would be the lead of the series. So Thomas gave them a list of 20 actors who could receive top billing. In other words, he’d drop the demand if they picked someone off his list.

“This was ridiculous, right?” Thomas said of his demand. “Doesn’t it make you cringe? And they didn’t cast any of those people, so it fell to me, so it worked out.

“I came to care about it less over time, quite sometime later,” Thomas said. “But I’m glad I held the line with that.

Thomas starred as John Boy for five seasons and for 122 straight episodes. His character defined the show. The 69-year-old father of five has worked steadily since then, although no part brought him as much attention. Who cares about top billing?