The Waltons was one of the best shows of its time back in the ’70s. The series was created by Earl Hamner Jr., who based the show on his book Spencer’s Mountain. The Waltons first invaded our living rooms on December 19, 1971, and was seen through the eyes of John-Boy who was the oldest son.
The Waltons was a favorite thanks to its family values and engaging episodes. Although the series ended in 1981, the decades-worth of episodes remain a nostalgic favorite amongst many viewers. Join us as we take a look at some of the most interesting behind-the-scenes facts about The Waltons, including where the cast is today!
Michael Learned – Then
The patient and loving wife, Olivia, complemented John Walton’s tough-guy persona. The soft-spoken wife had seven children: John Walton Jr., Jason Walton, Mary Ellen Walton, Erin Esther Walton, Benjamin Walton II, James Robert Walton, and Elizabeth Tyler Walton.
Olivia was played by actress Michael Learned. Born in Washington D.C., Learned made her acting debut in two episodes of Wojeck in 1968. Four years later she would land her role on The Waltons, which solidified her space in Hollywood. She appeared in the dramatic show for a whopping 168 episodes.
Michael Learned – Now
These days, the Emmy winner has tons to keep her busy. Between her three kids, a husband, five grandchildren and sporadic appearances on TV shows, Learned is an active woman. She has often been seen on the popular and beloved soap opera The Young and the Restless.
In 2002, Learned penned a moving publication about her struggle with alcoholism when she was 32 and in the middle of filming The Waltons. She decided to get sober and spent time on the California coast to go on what she calls a spiritual journey.
Ralph Waite – Then
John Walton Sr. had many opinions and was your regular ol’ tough guy. He cared for his children very much and worked diligently to ensure that all of his kids would one day go off to college and make a life for themselves. He ran a saw mill on Walton’s Mountain to support his family.
The patriarch of the Walton family was played by actor Ralph Waite. Waite was born in White Plains, New York and 1928 and made his acting debut in the ’50s, eventually scoring roles in the likes of Cool Hand Luke and Five Easy Pieces.
Ralph Waite – Now
Sadly, Ralph Waite passed away in February 2014 of natural causes. He had a steady career up until his death. He was a recurring character on NCIS as Jackson Gibbs and snagged a role for 98 episodes of Days of our Lives. A fun fact: he ran for Congress back in the ’90s but did not get elected.
Waite was married three times throughout his life and had three daughters from his first marriage. His daughter Sharon died from leukemia in 1964.
Richard Thomas – Then
He was known as John-Boy in the series but his real name was John Walton Jr. John-Boy was the oldest of the children and he also narrated the show. He had goals of being a writer and followed those dreams after he graduated college by moving to New York and becoming an author. Shortly after, he enlisted in the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor and became a military writer, too.
John-Boy was played by actor Richard Thomas. Thomas was born in Manhattan and made his TV debut in A Doll’s House at just eight years old. He scored his role in The Waltons a decade later.
Richard Thomas – Now
Richard Thomas is talented not only in front of the camera but behind it as well. He directed five episodes of The Waltons as well produced four TV movies. Since his time on the series, he has been in more than a dozen TV shows and movies.
His most recent starring role was in The Americans in which he played the Frank Gaad. On top on acting and directing, Thomas is heavily involved in theater and in 2017 appeared in the Broadway revival of The Little Foxes. He won a Tony for his performance. Thomas married in 1975 and he and his wife welcomed triplet daughters in 1981.
Jon Walmsley – Then
Jason Walton was close with his family but had a special bond with John-Boy. That is strange because they had two completely personalities and interests. He was first written as introverted but slowly blossomed into a social person once he started playing instruments. By season 7 he had settled down with a woman and had a few children with her.
Jason was played by actor Jon Walmsley. Walmsley was born in Lancashire, England and made his acting debut in Combat! in 1966. He would star in a handful of other series prior to joining the cast of The Waltons, including Daniel Boone, My Three Sons, and The Bill Cosby Show.
Jon Walmsley – Now
He did love music in the show so it makes sense that he loves it in real life. Walmsley is a guitarist for the band The Ravers who play vintage British rock music. He has worked with high profile names like David Koz and Brian Setzer. When he made a return for The Waltons specials, he concentrated more on his music than acting.
Walmsley also lent his voice to the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, voicing the character of Christopher Robin.
Judy Norton Taylor – Then
The oldest daughter of the family is Mary Ellen. She was a tomboy that loved playing baseball. She also started off as a whiny teenager. As the series came along, Mary Ellen became a wise woman who worked toward obtaining her nursing degree and eventually became a doctor. From tomboy to doctor, Mary Ellen’s character was an inspiration.
Mary Ellen was played by actress Judy Norton Taylor. Born in Santa Monica, California she made her acting debut in Hole in 1967 and then starred in Felony Squad and The Homecoming: A Christmas Story before joining The Waltons.
Judy Norton Taylor – Now
After The Waltons ended, Judy Norton Taylor turned to the stage. She went north of the border and directed more than 40 different shows for two theater companies in Canada. Like another of her siblings on the show, she had a love for music so she rekindled it and made a demo at one point.
In 1985, she posed for Playboy, in an attempt to shed her wholesome “family” image. Today, she is married to her husband Robert Graves and has one son, Devin.
Eric Scott – Then
Ben was the child who would get into trouble at very inconvenient moments. The entrepreneur would always get caught up in get rich quick schemes and his dad or brother would have to come to the rescue. His entire journey through the show is indeed a wild one, but one of the more interesting storylines to follow.
Eric Scott – Now
Once the show ended, Eric Scott said goodbye to acting and chased after a career in business. Working hard, he soon saw became the vice president of a messenger service in Los Angeles. The hard worker is also a father of three kids, two girls and one boy.
Mary Beth McDonough – Then
Who doesn’t get into fights with their siblings from time to time? Erin was the second daughter and looked up to her bigger sister Mary but the two would get into fights sometimes. She started as a part-time worker before eventually becoming an executive manager. She ultimately became a school principal in the end.
Mary Beth McDonough – Now
She continued to act after the show on such series like ER, Boston Legal and Will and Grace. Another occupation she does is serve as a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. Mary McDonough also had a role in the funny show The New Adventures of Old Christine before it was taken off the air.
David Harper – Then
The second-youngest child of the family, James Robert “Jim-Bob” Walton was born a twin. Unfortunately, his brother Joseph Zebulon died at birth although the two were the only children in the family to be delivered at a hospital.
Actor David Harper initially played the role of Jim-Bob in the 1971 television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. The following year, the film became the basis for The Waltons TV series. Harper signed on for the job and continued acting as Jim-Bob for the entire nine-season run.
David Harper – Now
Following his time on The Waltons, David Harper briefly pursued an acting career. He appeared in several Waltons reunion specials, a miniseries called The Blue and The Gray, and the film Fletch. He then went to business school and hasn’t been active in the film industry since.
In a 2011 interview, Harper said that his hobbies include music, history (especially the Civil War and ancient Sumer), reading and writing. He also enjoys jigsaw puzzles and watching films.
Judy Norton Taylor’s Playboy Spread Ended up Ruining Her Career
For Kim K., it ended up helping her career, but the same didn’t happen for Judy Norton Taylor when she appeared in Playboy. She did reveal later that the decision to pose for them was not a great idea. In most of her interviews, they focused on her being Playboy and not really her acting.
Kami Cotler – Then
When the show first came on the air, Elizabeth Walton was six years old playing the youngest child. Some kids are reserved and keep to themselves but this little one was quite the opposite and portrayed as loud. In the show, she traveled around Europe when she got older and in the last episode she got engaged to her boyfriend.
The Youngest Walton Quit Acting and Found a New Career
Referenced earlier, Kami Cotler did not continue acting after the show’s end. She was featured in the reunion movies but chose to keep teaching and become the founding principal of a charter school in Gardena, California. It was impressive of her to follow her heart and do what she loved.
Kami Cotler – She’s A Teacher Now…And An Environmentalist!
The acting life wasn’t for Kami Cotler. Once the show was cut, she became a teacher in the same area that creator Earl Hamner based the show on. She has two kids now and lives in Los Angeles running an elementary charter school.
On the next page, you will find out why John Walton disappeared from the show.
Ralph Waite Was Fired Because the Network Was Cheap
The show was not supposed to have a ninth season but they went on with one anyways for the small price of having a lower budget. The producers needed more money so the logical thing to do was to remove the highest paid actor who happened to be Ralph Waite. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Ellen Corby Returned After a Stroke
This was a mess and sad at the same time. After a stroke, Grandma Esther had to leave the show to take care of her health. Afraid that her acting skills were going to decrease after the stroke, she found that the opposite happened. The problem was, her fans were worried when she came back to the show, so her cast members spoke up for her and said that acting was good for her health.
Ellen Corby Was a Chain-Smoking Lesbian
This was a curveball. Corby and Stella Luchetta were lovers, and secret lovers at that. Corby had married the director Francis Corby, but that was just a cover up to the fact that she was a lesbian. Those two got married in 1934 while Corby and Luchetta got together in 1953 remaining together until Corby’s death in 1999.
Patricia Neal Was in the Original Cast
Patricia Neal was Olivia Walton in the pilot of the show, but couldn’t stay for an unfortunate reason. Due to her past health problems, she unable to maintain the role and Michael Learned was the fortunate one to occupy the role. It turned out to be a good thing for the series.
Henry Fonda Talked Himself Out Of A Role
Henry Fonda had a foot in the door to be the father of the Waltons but said some things that did not help his case. CBS executives thought he would have been the perfect fit but once Fonda watched the pilot his mind was made up. He was quoted saying, “What do you want me for? The whole family is the star! You don’t need me.”
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Back then, sitcoms were labeled by the last name of the family and whenever that name was used, that is how you knew what you were about to watch. The Waltons surely wasn’t a sitcom so that perplexed early viewers. Despite that, the show still was a hit with millions of viewers.
The Father And Son Connection
Before the show, Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas played together on Last Summer. Sure enough, three years later they teamed up again as a father-son duo. You know the old saying if it isn’t broke don’t fix it so clearly their chemistry was on point and audiences liked them together.
Olivia Walton Was a Massive Alcoholic
In the show, Learned would call alcohol evil and rant about it. In real life, that was not the case because she was indeed an alcoholic. She even came to her audition with a bottle of bourbon in her pocket. Talk about dedicated. She somehow persuaded the casting crew that she was the right woman for the job.
Jon Walmsley Was Born in England
Walmsley was born out of the states in Lancashire, England. You might be wondering why he didn’t have an English accent; before he could develop one, his family moved back to the states. There are, of course, many actors today who have to mask their true accents to play a role.
The Studio Took Advantage of the Cast
The studio may have taken being cheap to a new level with what they did. A sad joke often made about this show was that their idea of a party was having a single beer and 13 straws! Michael Learned also said one time she got an arrangement of flowers but the children on the show did not get anything. Ever.
Ralph Waite Fell in Love with the Cast
Thanks to the cast of The Waltons, Ralph Waite was able to turn his life around. It goes to show that love can be a strong force in one’s life. At the beginning of the show, Waite was struggling with addiction. But the love he had for his TV family helped him turn over a new leaf. The story goes taht one time at the dinner table with the children around he chose to sign up for AA and become sober.
Michael and Ralph Attempted To Date… It Was Too Awkward
Like it happened to Cory and Topanga in Boy Meets World, a chemistry that led to a romance outside of the show. The two were both single at the time so one day Ralph drove to Malibu but when they came face to face it was just an awkward staring contest. They both agreed it wouldn’t work.
Grandpa Was Gay
Ellen Corby was not the only one with a sexual orientation that wasn’t straight. Grandpa Zeb was gay even though he was married with kids. While he was married he was also seeing other men. At one point he met Harry Hay and the both of them were political activists. Hay became a figure in the gay rights movement.
AND… He Was a Communist
Being gay wasn’t his only secret. Zeb was also a communist! He would campaign on behalf of striking workers. Soon he found out that the Communist party was homophobic so he had to come to terms with marrying a woman. In 1950s Geer was blacklisted for not testifying before the House Committee.
Mary McDonough Tried Breast Augmentation but It Made Her Sick
It wasn’t easy for McDonough to transition from her role on The Waltons. She tried implants but that plan didn’t turn out too well because according to her it made her sick. She had health problems from the implants that led to her contracting Lupus. So scary!
Ralph Waite Attempted To Become a Politician after the Show Ended
Ralph Waite thought the third time was a charm when it came to running for office. As a Democrat, he ran three times for Congress in California but failed each time. He did not fully utilize his celebrity power to help win over voters and that could have been a large reason for his losses.
The Show’s Success Was a Huge Surprise To CBS
Why would a show even get a chance if the network thought it was going to be a failure? Maybe they had the faith the size of a mustard seed. They pitted it against other popular shows from NBC and ABC but surprisingly, The Waltons beat those shows in ratings.
The Waltons’ House Would Eventually Become the Gilmore Inn
The house The Waltons lived in was tossed around to other shows and movies after the show ended but one show, in particular, claimed it as their own. It was called the Dragonfly Inn on the hit show The Gilmore Girls. And even though it was renovated it still kept much of its storied TV history.
Show Creator Earl Hamner Jr. Drew Familiar Inspiration for the Show
People who create things for a living need constant inspiration. In this case, the creator of the show was inspired by his own family He had seven siblings and said that he was John-Boy in real life. Creator of Seinfeld, Larry David, also based George off himself so this practice isn’t out of the ordinary.
The Show’s Timeline Was Constantly Messed Up
Messing up is a part of life and the producers of the show messed up with several things regarding the timeline. These things included anniversaries and overall the cast members’ ages. One prime instance is when John-Boy was not able to sign up for the army even though he was 19.
The Original John-Boy Made Regular Appearances As Different Characters
The original John-Boy was supposed to play him for five seasons but he was replaced by a different actor, Robert Wightman. You would think that he wouldn’t come back on the show but he did as a different character. That must have been weird for him changing roles on the same TV show.
John Officated Jason’s Wedding
If you didn’t know, Ralph Waite was a minister in real life and completed the marriage for Jon Walmsley and his wife. The marriage took place in front of the whole cast which must have been a special event to be married in front of the people you’ve come to grow with and work with over ten years.
Ron Howard Then
If you’ve seen even just one episode of Happy Days, you caught a glimpse of Ron Howard’s character Richie Cunningham. He was the red-haired, freckled teen who was always trying to find a date.
Cunningham was an incredibly likable guy who always tried to do right by his family and friends — a common theme on the show. Before Happy Days, Howard was already pretty famous for his role on The Andy Griffith Show where he played the equally adorable Opie Taylor.
Ron Howard Now
There are very few Hollywood directors who have reached the iconic status of Ron Howard. Among some of his biggest films are Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, and The DaVinci Code, among many others.
Ron Howard has been married to his wife, Cheryl Alley since 1975. The couple has four children together — two of who have gone on to act as well! His daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, has followed in her dad’s footsteps, appearing in a ton of big films herself, including Jurassic World, The Help, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. His other daughter, Paige Howard, has appeared in movies like Adventureland with Kristen Stewart.
The Voice on the Jukebox at Arnold’s
The jukebox became one of the most memorable things about Happy Days. We couldn’t wait to see the characters hang out after school at Arnold’s, where Fonzie was guaranteed to bang on the jukebox at least once.
But popular ’50s tunes were very expensive and hard to get clearance on for TV shows. For that reason, Potsie actor Anson Williams would often provide the voice for music coming through the jukebox at Arnold’s! It was a fitting option considering his part on the show… he played a hopeful musician. We all loved Fonzi…let’s see where is today.
Henry Winkler Then
By far the biggest and most iconic star of Happy Days was “The Fonz,” who was played by the endearing Henry Winkler. He was the biker-looking dude with a heart of gold. He always tried to make sure his friends and family got the best out of life.
As previously mentioned, he also jumped a shark on a pair of waterskis. The ladies loved The Fonz, and America completely fell in love with him. Winkler played Fonzie throughout the entire series from 1974 to 1984. Interestingly enough, he and Howard Cunnigham are the only two characters to appear in all 255 episodes!
Henry Winkler Now
We didn’t see a lot of Henry Winkler on the acting side for years after Happy Days ended. That’s because he started the production company that created MacGyver, Mr. Sunshine, and other TV shows.
Years later he would resurface in a bunch of films with comedian Adam Sandler. His roles included characters in Little Nicky, Click, and The Waterboy. More recently he appeared in popular TV shows that include Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Royal Pains. He has written an amazing 26 books.
Tom Bosley Then
He was the head of the household in the Cunningham family and the owner of Cunningham Hardware. Lovingly known as Mr. C, he was a middle-class guy who put his family first and kept with traditional family values. Nobody has thrown down such a good lecture to their kids since he did it on the show.
Mr. C. was played by Tom Bosley, a Chicago native who got his start in the long-running Broadway musical Fiorello! while Bosley held numerous roles on stage, he was most well-known for being Mr. C.
Tom Bosley In Later Years
Tom Bosley has since passed away, but not before an amazing career on screen and stage. Bosley won a Tony for the Broadway musical Fiorello! and then turned his attention to guest starring roles on shows like That ’70s Show, Walker Texas Ranger, ER, and even the cartoon Rugrats.
In later years, you may have recognized him on various commercials for Glad Sandwich and Garbage Bags or for the then-new Saturn Car Company. Sadly, we lost this amazing actor in 2010, after a long battle with lung cancer.
Marion Ross Then
Marion Ross was the matriarch of the Cunningham family and it is impossible to imagine the show without her. She was the mother of Richie and Joanie, and one of the sweetest and most good-natured characters in TV history. We loved watching her rebel, like the time she gave up her housewife role to try her hand as a waitress. Such a modern day woman!
Ross was born in Carver County, Minnesota and made her film debut in Forever Female. From then on, she had a steady stream of work, appearing in The Glenn Miller Story, Sabrina, Lizzie, Teacher’s Pet, and more.
Marion Ross Now
When the lights went down on the set of Happy Days, this lovable actress continued to appear on TV shows, mostly as a guest star. Among her work were roles on The Love Boat, MacGyver, and Night Court. She then turned her attention to Brooklyn Bridge, which provided her with two Emmy nominations. Most recently she has appeared in such amazing modern day shows as That ’70s Show, The Drew Carey Show, Two and a Half Men, Gilmore Girls, Hot in Cleveland and others.
Her cult character status has led to huge rounds of applause during every live sitcom appearance she has made. Today, she lives in Southern California and has two adult children who also work in entertainment.
Born in Mount Vernon, New York, Roz Kelly worked as a photographer for New York Magazine where she worked with huge celebrity names before she landed her role on Happy Days. Roz played Pinky, Fonzie’s girlfriend for several episodes, and was in place to become his long-term girlfriend on the show. However, those plans dissolved when Roz rubbed the cast and producers the wrong way. Her character was cut.
After Happy Days, she starred in a handful of other movies, including New Year’s Evil, The Love Boat, and The Dukes of Hazzard.
The Fonz Originally Wore A Windbreaker
The leather jacket worn by The Fonz is nearly as iconic as the character himself. During his first appearance on the show, he actually wore a windbreaker, because the executives at ABC thought the leather jacket made him look like a hoodlum.
Director Garry Marshall finally convinced them the leather jacket was a smarter piece of clothing because it was safer for motorcycle riding. Of course, The Fonz had a heart of gold and was no hoodlum in any sense of the word, no matter what he wore.
Scott Baio Then
Charles “Chachi” Arcola was the younger cousin of Fonzie and a regular on the show. He was an aspiring musician who fell in love with Joanie and eventually married her in the season finale.
When the show was on the air he received up to 5,000 fan letters every single week. He was a teen heartthrob during his Happy Days stint and remained one in adulthood. Following Joanie Loves Chachi, Baio went on to star in the hugely popular TV series “Charles in Charge.”
Scott Baio Now
Scott Baio would later appear on the shows Stoned and All the Kids Do It, for which he was nominated for two Emmys. His guest starring roles included bits in Full House, Arrested Development and The Nanny, among others.
In more recent years he has given reality TV a shot with two different shows: Scott Baio is 45… and Single and the follow-up — Scott Baio is 46… and Pregnant.
Ron Howard Joined The Cast To Avoid Vietnam
Ron Howard wanted to become a director, and while he has achieved that goal with much acclaim, he took a detour to avoid Vietnam. He originally enrolled in film school at USC but soon realized that his low draft number could have become a problem.
He realized that finding a job with a big company like Paramount would help him avoid the war. He quickly joined onto the pilot of Love, American Style, which would eventually morph into Happy Days.
The Show Was Supposed To Take Place In The 1920s or ’30s
Garry Marshall was approached about writing and directing a show that took place in the 1920s or 1930s. He quickly told the network that he knew nothing about flappers or anyone else from that generation. Instead, he offered to write a pilot for a show about the era he grew up in — The 1950s.
That pilot failed and instead the show known as Happy Days was born.
Anson Williams Then
Anson Williams is best known for his Happy Days character Potsie. He played a dimwitted but lovable character but he nearly missed his chance.
Williams was hours late to his audition after his car stalled, and yet he still managed to get the job. It was not a bad gig for a 22-year-old who almost couldn’t make it to his audition.
Anson Williams Now
You won’t see Anson Williams in front of the camera much these days. That’s because like Ron Howard, he has focused his exceptional skills to be a director.
He is known for directing episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Charmed, Star Trek: Voyager, 90210, and various other shows. He also worked on The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, where he served as the show’s director for five years.
The Show Was Going To Be Called “Cool”
Happy Days was going to be called “COOL,” but test audiences said it made them think about cigarettes. Not exactly what the show’s producers were going for.
Producer Carl Kleinschmitt threw an off-the-cuff comment to his colleagues: “How about calling it Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.”
A Monkee Was The First Choice For The Fonz
It’s hard to imagine Henry Winkler’s role being filled by anyone else, but it was almost a reality. Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz read for the role but was ultimately turned down. It turns out that Winkler’s shorter stature made him a better pick for playing Arthur Fonzarelli.
Henry Winkler Couldn’t Read His Casting Script
Henry Winkler is dyslexic and when it came time to read six lines for his audition, he wasn’t prepared for the reading. Instead, he decided to make up his own words. He managed to convince the show’s casting directors that he was giving them a real feel for the character.
His plan obviously worked and he played The Fonz for 11 very successful seasons.