‘The Waltons’: Ralph Waite’s Cross-Country Trip Showed Him That Many Families are Similar to the Waltons

by John Jamison
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Ralph Waite played John Walton on the classic family TV show “The Waltons” from 1972 to 1981. But after health problems and death among members of the cast, it looked like the show might end in the late 1970s. Ralph Waite himself thought this might have been the case and was surprised when CBS wanted to keep it going.

What Waite didn’t count on was the relatability of “The Waltons” to everyday American families. The casualties suffered by the cast were tragic, but those kinds of things happen within real families all the time. And the show’s sympathetic audience was more than happy to continue supporting the show.

In a 1980 interview with Leta Powell Drake, Ralph Waite talked about a cross-country trip he took while on hiatus from “The Waltons.”

“I thought maybe last year was our last year, but the network feels that we still have something to say. We have a strong public out there and I spent, we had a three-month hiatus, I spent three months traveling throughout the country to reacquaint myself with this country. Especially middle America,” Waite said.

‘The Waltons’ Star was Surprised by How Many Families are Like the One on the Show

During his cross-country trip, Ralph Waite gained some perspective. He discovered something that would likely surprise many of his colleagues in the television industry. “The Waltons” star found out that the heart of the Walton-era American family was still alive and well.

“I think there is a lot more of this kind of family than I was aware of. I spend most of my time in Los Angeles, Hollywood, or New York, where people kind of, they don’t look down on the show, they always say ‘nice, but it’s a fairy tale.'” Waite said in the 1980 interview.

It’s easy to lose perspective when surrounded by a community of like-minded people. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely limiting. And Ralph Waite’s hiatus showed him how out of touch people can be with the rest of the country.

“I don’t think it’s a fairy tale,” he continued. “I met a lot of people in Ohio, and North Carolina and Virginia that I felt were a lot like the characters on the show. That were honest people who tried to create a good family life, and instill values in their children. I think they’re trying. I think it’s maybe difficult this day and age, but I think there’s a lot of people doing it.”

Outsider.com