Richard Thomas first took on the role of John-Boy Walton on the classic family series “The Waltons” at just 20 years old. Watching him on the show, no one would think twice about English being his first language. But believe it or not, the Emmy Award-winning actor began his life speaking Spanish.
Why? Well, his parents were living in Cuba, dancing with prima ballerina Alicia Alonso. They were dancing folks through and through, owning the New York School of Ballet.
“Spanish was my first language, because my parents were dancing in Havana in Alicia Alonzo’s ballet company when I was a baby,” Thomas told INSP.com
And if you thought “The Waltons” role was impressive, the talented actor started performing on Broadway at a mere seven years old. He was in the 1958 production of “Sunrise at Campobello,” which follows the journey of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Can you imagine having lived in Havana, being fluent in two languages, and performing on Broadway before you even turned 10? “The Waltons” actor is full of surprises. And before the beginning of his stage acting career, Thomas was already playing roles on TV.
In 1956, he played the role of Ben Schulz Jr. in “The Edge of Night.” And that same year, he portrayed Thomas Christopher in “As the World Turns.” He was five years old playing these roles. The kid had a resume longer than most adult working actors by the time he hit his teens. It was only a matter of time before he came into his own in the iconic role of John-Boy on “The Waltons.”
It Wasn’t Just Spanish for ‘The Waltons’ Star
Two languages are impressive enough from an early age. But when Richard Thomas hit college, he looked to expand his linguistic range. This time, he went a little further to the east.
“I was a Chinese major at Columbia College in New York (although my Chinese is now nonexistent) and read extensively in the Asian Classics. Switched from the English department,” “The Waltons” star told INSP.com. Of course, he didn’t retain much of the Chinese. But still, what can’t Richard Thomas do?
Richard Thomas on The Nature of Television Acting
In 1973, Richard Thomas was a young man of 21 years old. He was becoming a sensation for playing the role of John-Boy on “The Waltons.” That same year, he won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
He gave an interview to The New York Times that year, as well. In it, he reflected on the benefits of TV acting as compared to movies.
“That’s the great thing about television acting—the continuity. Also, just the fact that we get to work. In the 30’s and 40’s, actors worked constantly, went from one picture to the next,” Thomas said. “Now, relatively few movies are being made, and here I am, getting up every morning to face camera. That’s very rare for an actor these days.”