‘The Waltons’: Earl Hamner Jr. Praised How John Ritter Took on Show’s Challenging Role in Early Acting Days

by Katie Maloney

John Ritter’s first big Hollywood role was playing Reverend Matthew Fordwick on The Waltons.

And the show’s creator, Earl Hamner Jr., was proud to give Ritter his start. Hamner had grown up listening to Ritter’s father, Tex Ritter, on the radio. Tex Ritter was a famous country singer. Regardless of his father’s talents, Ritter was a force onscreen and Hamner recognized it from the first time Ritter auditioned for the role on The Waltons. During an interview, Hamner shared his memories of Ritter.

“He played a young minister who was so sanctimonious and so straight-laced and just such an upstanding person,” said Hamner. “…John took that role and he ran with it.”

However, it wasn’t just onscreen that ritter made an impression on his fellow castmates. Hamner said that he remembers Ritter entertaining the entire set offscreen as well. There were plenty of antics from Ritter and his co-start Richard Thomas who played John-Boy. 

“Not only was he a marvelous actor on the show, but sometimes in movie studios, the set seems to get tense, and he and Richard would crack everybody up,” said Hamner.

John Ritter (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images).

John Ritter Helped The Waltons Co-Star Get Through Awkward Teen Years

Ritter appeared in 18 episodes of The Waltons before he left the show to star in Three’s Company. During his time with the show, he made an impact on his co-stars both on and off the set. During an interview, Mary McDonough who played Erin Walton on the show talked about how Ritter helped her through the pressure of fame during her teenage years. McDonough said that she was struggling while on the show but didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it.

“John Ritter noticed … and he said, ‘What’s going on with you?'” McDonough said. “I said, ‘Nothing, I’m fine!’ And he said, ‘No, no. Why don’t you start doing a journal?’ And that night, I started journaling.”

By journaling, McDonough was able to get all of her thoughts onto paper where they didn’t seem so overwhelming. So, in conclusion, long before he starred as America’s favorite dad on 8 Simple Rules, John Ritter was helping his co-stars navigate the awkward stages of life on The Waltons.