‘The Waltons’: How Close Were the Actors to the Age of Their Characters?

by Keeli Parkey
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Judy Norton is becoming a go-to authority on the history of “The Waltons” television show. And, why shouldn’t she be? She played Mary Ellen Walton on the popular family series, after all.

Recently, Norton has been sharing her memories about the show with fans via her YouTube channel. In one of her latest installments, she fields questions from fans about the show. One of these questions led her to discuss the age of the actors who worked on “The Waltons” in comparison to the characters they played.

A fan named Eduardo asked the following of Norton: “Somewhere I read that Michael Learned was 32 when the show started and Richard Thomas 20. … It made me curious about the real age of the actors versus the characters? And what an amazing job you all did portraying such different age on the screen.”

In response to the question, Norton first pointed out that Thomas was 20 years old when “The Homecoming” – a television movie that debuted before “The Waltons” series – was filmed. Thomas was 21 when the series began.

Judy Norton Says Younger Cast Members ‘Were Pretty Close’ to Characters’ Ages on ‘The Waltons’

According to Norton, the more youthful actors on the show were about the same age as the characters they played on “The Waltons.”

“For the younger cast, we were pretty close to the actual ages we were playing because that’s a little harder to fake,” Norton shared.

“So, Kami (Cotler) was the youngest. By the time we started the series she would have been about 7.”

Cotler played Elizabeth Walton on the show. Elizabeth was the youngest of the family’s children.

“David (W. Harper) was about 9 or 10. Mary (Elizabeth McDonough) was about 12. I was 14. Jon Walmsley was 16 and Richard (Thomas) was 21,” Norton added.

Harper played Jim-Bob Walton. McDonough played Erin Walton. Walmsley played Jason Walton. Thomas played John-Boy Walton. Norton, of course, played Mary Ellen Walton. Norton omitted actor Eric Scott during her comments. He played Benjamin Walton in the series. He would have been 12 or 13 when he started on “The Waltons.”

“We mostly just played our own ages, which made it a little easier,” Norton said.

Norton Says Michael Learned ‘Was Lovely’ to Work With

In addition to talking about the ages of the youngest actors on “The Waltons,” Judy Norton also talked about one of its key adult actors. That person was Michael Learned. She played matriarch Olivia Walton.

“For Michael (Learned) being at 32, she was young to have had … John-Boy was supposed to be about 17 at that point,” Norton said. “So, yeah, she could have had that child really young, but she was a little young for that. But, she did have three boys of her own, so she understood the parent mindset.

“And, I think that allowed her to come to that experience of having seven children – just added a few. So, she was always lovely right from the beginning.”

You can watch Judy Norton talk share behind-the-scenes details of “The Waltons” below.

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