‘The Waltons’: Richard Thomas Spoke on Being Seen as ‘John-Boy’ While Pursuing Stage Acting Career

by Mark Long

During his time on “The Waltons” as John-Boy, Richard Thomas impressed the character of the dreamy budding writer onto the psyche of American audiences. Success at this level is a blessing, but it can also be a curse.

Once the credits roll for the last time, audiences — and casting directors! — often have a hard time seeing actors as being anything more than their most famous roles.

Thomas knows this all too well as he returned to the stage after “The Waltons” and tried to escape John-Boy’s shadow.

Escaping John-Boy

Thomas was always a child of the stage. His parents owned the New York School of Ballet and danced for the New York City Ballet. He made his own Broadway debut in 1958 in “Sunrise at Campobello” when he was just seven years old.

Of course, he later found international fame on “The Waltons” for 122 episodes before leaving the show. Despite periodic television and film work, he’s concentrated primarily on his stage career since then.

In a 2012 interview with Slant, he talked about the theatre audiences who forever see him as John-Boy and why it doesn’t bother him like it used to.

“What are you going to do about it? Ultimately, it’s about making a connection with your audience. And if some bond has been forged, that’s a lot,” Thomas said. “Everybody has a feeling about every actor for something they’ve seen them in; that’s what they identify them with. Nothing is quite as powerful as a television series to create that sense of identification.”

A similar problem occurs when casting directors have a singular perception of an actor. In the 2016 interview below with producer Adrienne Faillace, he discusses the problem of typecasting and how to avoid it.

As Thomas sees it, being typecast means you were successful with an earlier role. At the same time, nobody can force an actor to take a part, so the best way to avoid typecasting is just to say, “No thank you.”

Life After ‘The Waltons’

Over the last decade, Thomas’ television roles were mostly guest appearances on shows such as “NCIS: New Orleans” and “The Blacklist.” His stage career, however, is another story with steady work in plays by David Mamet, Lanford Wilson, and Henrik Ibsen.

Thomas spent two years, for example, with a touring production of “12 Angry Men.” And in 2017, he was nominated for a best actor Tony Award for his work in a Broadway revival of “The Little Foxes.”

So, while John-Boy has long since said “goodnight” for the last time to the Waltons family, Thomas is still entertaining new audiences.