‘The Waltons’: Why it Was Like ‘Herding Cats’ On the Set of the Series

by Jon D. B.
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Watch as Mary Ellen Walton herself, actress Judy Norton, recalls how challenging it was to gather the entire The Waltons cast for family scenes.

Oh, to be a fly on The Waltons‘ Wall. Some of the most memorable scenes from the series took place around the familial dinner table. Fans of the classic show know, though, the Waltons were a big bunch when gathered. As it turns out, these scenes became quite a challenge to film for several reasons.

“As we got further into the seasons, there became sort of a little bit of a ‘gamesmanship’ about arriving on the set,” Judy Norton broaches the subject with a smile. “Particularly with the kitchen scenes!”

The Waltons star says that each family table scene required gathering “at least 11 characters most of the time”. This would prove quite the task for crewmembers every time, she recalls. Actors are a squirrely bunch, after all, but one thing in particular complicated these large gathering scenes even further.

“The kids were in school,” Norton points out, speaking of herself and her fellow child-star cast members. “So I think that’s part of what started the issue was that they wanted to give us as much time in school as possible.”

At the time of The Waltons, child actors working in Hollywood were “required to get three hours” of school a day. Definitely a plus for those actors who would go on to use their education over acting, like Norton.

Schooling Regulations Made Filming Big ‘The Waltons’ Scenes like ‘Herding Cats’

As a result, the directors would “try not to pull us out [of school] until they had to,” she continues. “So a lot of times, they would get all of the adult actors in, and then go get the kids. “And I think sometimes, then, the adults were like ‘why are we sitting around here when everybody isn’t here? So, then I think they started saying ‘well, we’ll bring the kids in… And then we’ll bring the adults in,” she grins.

Sound like herding cats yet? Absolutely does!

“Then [the kids] would arrive and go, ‘why are we here?” Norton laughs of her young Waltons co-stars. “We could’ve been in school!”

“So there got to be this little game that went on.”

To make matters far more hair-brained, Norton laughs that the older actors would start to wander off if the kids weren’t present. Neither method seemed to ever be fully effective. Those poor assistant directors!

Actors would then “go grab a cup of coffee” she recalls, detailing how others often “wandered off the dining set out of frustration.

“I can only imagine the challenge for the assistant directors who had to gather us up. Because it truly was like herding cats sometimes,” The Waltons vet laughs.

For plenty more from Judy Norton a.k.a. Mary Ellen Walton herself, watch the extensive interview for yourself below:

Judy Norton (Mary Ellen Walton) answers questions from fans of The Waltons in the first of these behind the scenes video – Ask Judy. In this segment Judy sheds light on ‘the missing children in the Walton specials” – ‘challenges of filming out of sequence’ and other ‘secrets from the set’.

Judy Norton
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