‘The Waltons’: Why Mary Ellen Actress Judy Norton Was Excited to See John Boy Actor Richard Thomas in ‘The Return’

by Suzanne Halliburton

Fans cheered an episode of The Waltons when John Boy returned home to Virginia. His TV family was so welcoming on screen as they embraced their brother, son and grandson.

And the emotion of that return wasn’t just acting. The Waltons cast members really were delighted to see Richard Thomas, who played John Boy, come back for a handful of episodes.

Judy Norton, who played John Boy’s oldest sister on the show, said the feelings you saw were genuine. Richard Thomas was family, albeit work family. John Boy’s homecoming was a two-parter, which aired the night of March 16, 1978. Norton talked about the episode in this week’s online, behind-the-scenes examination of The Waltons.

“John Boy comes back and for the cast, it was rather like a real reunion because Richard had left at the end of season five,” Norton said. “And, I missed him. I think we all did. So when he returns, and we each walk up and we see him. And then he’s telling us to be quiet because he wants to surprise Mama. That felt like real life, when a relative comes back and you haven’t seen them in some time. So, it was pretty special.”

Thomas wanted to move on with his career when he left the show. But The Waltons were very good to him. Because of the show’s popularity, Thomas became a household name and John Boy was a character everyone knew. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Actor. So there was no painful divorce between Thomas and The Waltons, which was why he came back to revive his character.

On the show, John Boy is living in New York. The economy in rural Virginia was sagging and John Sr was having a difficult time earning money. Olivia Walton worried so much she wrote John Boy about it. And John Boy pitched an idea to his editor about writing a very human, business story about the economic struggles in rural Virginia.

John Boy Talked About Separation in Intro to The Waltons Episode

As per tradition, the episode started with a few words of context from John Boy to introduce the episode.

“In the early times of separation from my family, I kept in mind a clear picture of the scenes of my boyhood. But the times were changing, and my memories were far removed from the realities. The turbulent state of the country in the year before we entered the war was especially felt in our remote little community, and particularly by my father.

John Boy also convinced the owner of the mine to open up and allow the men of the community more jobs. Also in this episode of The Waltons, Elizabeth, the youngest, fell into an old mine shaft and needed to be rescued. This was a harbinger of another plot twist. The mine collapsed. And John Boy had the idea to rescue the men, including his father, by going through the old shaft.

Richard Thomas stuck around for another meaningful Waltons episode in season six. He asked his girlfriend, Daisy, to marry him, in The Revelation.

By the end of season six, the Waltons also had another emotional reunion. That was for the return of Ellen Corby, who plays Grandma. Corby suffered a stroke months before and took a leave of absence from the Waltons. She returned for the season six finale.