HomeEntertainment‘The Waltons’: John-Boy Actor Richard Thomas Had Many Differences With His Character

‘The Waltons’: John-Boy Actor Richard Thomas Had Many Differences With His Character

by Josh Lanier
(Photo: Bettmann / ContributorVia Getty Images)

Richard Thomas was very different than his character John-Boy on The Waltons. Judy Norton, who played his young sister Mary Ellen Walton explained how in a tell-all video.

Norton has a YouTube channel where she remembers her time in Jefferson County and gives behind-the-scenes information on the production.

In a video from last year, she explained how Richard Thomas had little in common with John-Boy. For one, Richard Thomas grew up in New York to parents who ran a ballet school. He knew nothing about farm life or anything about rural living. In fact, he couldn’t drive when he arrived on set, so the Teamsters, the union that handled transportation for the show, had to teach him, Norton said.

He was also a prankster.

For instance, he and Will Geer, who played the grandfather, mooned a group of tourists who came to visit the set one day.

“There was another time when he and John Ritter were working together, and they would do all kinds of silly things,” she recalled. “Like they put something in their mouth that would then foam, and then they’d start foaming at the mouth as if they were rabid or something like that. They would try and crack each other up, but they were both such pros that it never affected the work.”

Richard Thomas also said there was a chasm between him and John-Boy.

“I was a misbehaving young actor who had been an actor in New York. I was the farthest thing from that kid.” Thomas said in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation. For instance, he loved to “cuss like a sailor.”

‘The Waltons’ Wasn’t Meant to Be Political

Richard Thomas said the cast didn’t like when politicians or people would use The Waltons as a moral guidepost for television. It was a show examined a family, he said. It wasn’t trying to make a political point, he told the Television Academy Foundation

“People wanted to use the show to illustrate a point about public decency or the way television should be … we all were offended and bristled at that kind of stuff,” he said. 

“We were just about a family of people,” the actor added.

The show, set in the Depression Era South, was about struggle and how that changes the interplay between family members. It wasn’t more than just an entertaining bit of TV that just happened to be wholesome. But to boil it down to only its most moralistic parts missed the point, he said.

The Waltons wasn’t meant to be “a symbol of anything other than what it takes to be a family during difficult times,” he said.