Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen Walton on The Waltons, said her fictional big brother was a consummate professional — most of the time. Richard Thomas, who was 20 when the show started, knew he had an important role, and he took that seriously. But he was also a prankster.
He would blow off steam on set by playing jokes on other cast members or even guests visiting the set.
Norton has a YouTube series where she gives behind-the-scenes details on the show. She recalled a time when Thomas and Will Geer, who played Grandfather, mooned a group of tourists who came to visit while they were filming at Druscilla’s pond.
“There was another time when he and John Ritter were working together, and they would do all kinds of silly things,” Norton recalled. “Like they put something in their mouth that would then foam, and then they’d start foaming at the mouth as if they were rabid or something like that.”
In an interview with The Television Academy Foundation, Thomas recalls mooning the tour but. But his story has an added twist. They sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” for some reason, he laughed. “You’ve never seen a tram pull off that fast.”
He also admits that he and Ritter were “another level” of bad behavior. Mostly, they tried to get each other to throw up on camera. Or at least gag.
“John is very very good, you know,” Thomas recalled. “I mean we were a bad influence on each other — everybody enjoyed it — but I think the directors, they were nice about it, but I think they had to think very carefully before they put the two of us on the scene together.”
Rest of ‘The Waltons’ Cast Got in on the Prank War
Norton recalled once the entire cast drew a mole on their face without telling Thomas, who famously has a facial mole.
“And as a prank against Richard, everybody had drawn a mole on their face, various sides,” she said. “They didn’t necessarily match up to the side that Richard’s mole was on. And then we just kind of with straight face, waited till Richard came in and started looking around and realizing everything that was going on.”
Thomas laughed it off, she said.
He even laughed off the time someone stuffed a giant moose into his dressing room. The thing was so large that they couldn’t shut the door, and he couldn’t get past it, she said.
Thomas said he thinks the pranks on shows like The Waltons are worse than on violent dramas. That’s because it’s funnier when someone supposedly wholesome does something less than that, and the actors can feel hemmed in by the character.
“A sexy violent show is not likely to have the funniest outtakes, but a family show. You know, a sort of well-behaved family is going to have the best outtakes right, because when grandma is smoking a joint or when you know John-Boy throws Sissy Spacek on the bed and pulls out a whip … you know it was just the return of the repressed.”