Then And Now: What Happened To The Waltons Cast?

The Waltons ran from 1972 until 1981, creating a decade worth of memories for families all over the country. Created by Earl Hamner Jr., the show was based on his book Spencer’s Mountain. The show’s protagonist, John-Boy helped the audience learn valuable life lessons that are still relevant today. So now, take a trip down memory lane with these facts about The Waltons, and find out what the actors behind the roles are up to today!

Eric Scott – Ben Walton

ben walton the waltons
CBS
CBS

Ben Walton had one of the more interesting character arcs on The Waltons. He always seemed to get caught up in trouble at the most inconvenient times, seemingly falling for every get-rich-quick scheme that came his way.

Ben always needed his dad and brother to help bail him out. He was played by Eric Scott, who made his acting debut in the show. But would he stick to acting after the show ended?

Scott Stepped Away From Acting Entirely

eric soctt actor
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Eric Scott continued to act sporadically after The Waltons ended. He mostly appeared in made-for-TV movie and reunion specials but also had roles in The Loch Ness Horror and The Fall Guy.

For the most part, Scott left acting altogether. Finding a new passion, he started a parcel service, Chase Messengers, in Encino, California that he continues to own and operate today. He has been married three times and has one daughter.

Kami Cotler – Elizabeth Walton

elizabeth walton actress
CBS
CBS

The character of Elizabeth Walton was six years old during the first season of the show. She was the youngest of the Walton family’s seven children. Kami Cotler portrayed the boisterous young girl as extroverted and oftentimes loud.

As the character got older, she became more adventurous and traveled around Europe. In the final episode of the show, the writers finished her arc of growing up by having her get engaged to her boyfriend.

Cotler Is A Teacher Now

kami cotler actress
Bobby Bank/WireImage
Bobby Bank/WireImage

Unlike other actors on The Waltons, Kami Cotler got out of the entertainment industry as soon as the show ended. She chose to pursue another passion – teaching. She settled down to a normal life, got married, and had two children.

In 2004, Cotler was named the co-director of the Ocean Charter School. She held the position for three years when she left to start an education consulting business. Cotler also dedicates her spare time to help save the environment.

Judy Norton Taylor – Mary Ellen Walton

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CBS
CBS

Judy Norton Taylor played Mary Ellen Walton, the oldest daughter in the family. The character was written as a baseball-loving tomboy and typical whiny teenager. Eventually, Mary Ellen became smarter and wiser and went to nursing school before becoming a doctor.

Taylor made her acting debut in Hole in 1967, then Felony Squad before being cast in The Waltons. She is credited with having appeared in 211 episodes, as well as reunion specials.

Taylor Turned To The Stage

judy norton taylor posing
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

Judy Norton Taylor looked for solace on the stage after The Waltons ended. She took her talents to Canada and become a theater director, leading the charge on over 40 different shows. She also briefly attempted a music career.

In 1985, Taylor wanted to shed her “family” image and decided to pose for an adult publication. The move earned her a lot of negative press and later admitted to regretting the decision.

Ellen Corby Returned After A Health Scare

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CBS
CBS

In The Waltons, Grandma Esther was played by Ellen Corby. Unfortunately, the heralded actress was forced to take a break from the show after suffering a stroke. Many fans thought she would never act again, and were shocked when she returned to the show.

Corby, who won several Emmy’s for her performance on the show, was criticized by fans, who felt that she was disregarding her health by returning. Corby’s cast defended the actress and argued the opposite.

Patricia Neal Was Supposed To Play Olivia Walton

waltons actress
George Napolitano/FilmMagic
George Napolitano/FilmMagic

In The Waltons movie introduction Homecoming: A Christmas Story, Patricia Neal played Olivia Walton. At the time, no one expected the movie to morph into a television series, which turned out to be a problem for the actress.

When CBS greenlit The Waltons, producers became concerned that Neal wasn’t healthy enough to handle the filming schedule of a weekly series. This led them to replace her with Michael Learned, which ended up working out okay.

The Show Was A Surprise Hit

Will Geer As Grandpa Walton
CBS Television/Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images
CBS Television/Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images

CBS may have greenlit The Waltons after the success of the movie, but that didn’t stop the network from feeling like they made a huge mistake. Executives were so confident the show was going to fail, they placed it against the biggest shows on television.

Surprisingly, The Waltons scored higher ratings than the competition, and CBS had a surprise hit on their hands. Sadly, that fact didn’t make the studio any less cheap when it came to finances, as you’ll learn.

Mary Beth McDonough – Erin Walton

erin walton actress
CBS
CBS

Mary Beth McDonough played Erin Walton in The Waltons, the family’s second-oldest daughter. Throughout the run of the series, she looked up to her bigger sister, Mary, even though the two would often get into fights.

As the series progressed, Erin went from being a part-time worker to an executive manager. And when the show aired its final episode, she was school principal. Hers was one of the most complete arcs of the entire series.

McDonough Continued To Prosper On Television

actress from the waltons
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

McDonough continued getting television roles after The Waltons ended. She wound up with prominent roles in ER, Will and Grace, and Boston Legal. She was also featured in The New Adventures of Old Christine.

McDonough’s last credited role is from a 2018 film called Amateur. Another passion of hers is writing and she has even published one novel, Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane. She has been married twice and has three children.

David Harper – Jim-Bob Walton

jim bob actor
CBS
CBS

David Harper played the second youngest child of the Walton family. He was born a twin, but his other half didn’t survive at birth. He was also the only child in the family delivered at a hospital.

When Harper first signed on to play Jim-Bob, he had no idea how big the role would become. The Waltons started out as a television movie before being greenlit for a full-on series, as we previously mentioned.

Harper Now Keeps Life Private

david harper actor
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

Once The Waltons ended, David Harper didn’t make much of an effort to keep acting. He showed up in reunion specials, the mini-series The Bule and The Gray, and the movie Fletch, but that’s about it.

In 2011, Harper revealed that after he stopped acting, he went to business school. And while he prefers to keep his private life private, he also revealed some hobbies of his include reading, writing, music, and history.

Ralph Waite – John Walton Sr.

waltons dad
CBS
CBS

John Walton Sr. was the prototypical “tough guy” as played by Ralph Waite. He worked himself to the bone to make sure he could provide for his kids and eventually send them off to college.

Waite didn’t start acting until he was in his 50s but still had an incredible career. Aside from his magnetic role as John Sr., he also had a featured role in the classic film Cool Hand Luke.

Ralph Waite Lost His Job Due To Budget Concerns

ralph waite as john waltyon
CBS
CBS

The Waltons was expected to end after eight seasons, so it came as a bit of a surprise when CBS ordered a ninth one. Facing budget issues and needing more funds, producers made a tough decision.

To open up room in the budget, one of the show’s highest-paid actors needed to be fired. That actor was Ralph Waite. Despite not being involved in the final season, Waite agreed to appear in several reunion specials.

Ralph Waite Was Married Three Times

ralph waite actor the waltons
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

Sadly, Ralph Waite passed away in 2014. He was 86-years-old and left behind an incredible legacy in Hollywood. He never stopped working and was featured in 98 episodes of Days of our Lives. He was also a recurring character on NCIS.

Waite married three times during his life and had three daughters. He lived a life full of life, and in some ways resembled the character he played on television for a decade.

Jon Walmsley – Jason Walton

jason walton from the waltons
CBS
CBS

Jon Walmsley played Jason Walton in The Waltons, a character who has a special bond with his older brother, John-Boy Walton. Oddly enough, the two characters were complete opposites, with Jason originally written as introverted before discovering music and breaking out of his shell.

Before being cast in The Waltons, Walmsley made his on-screen debut in Combat! He would continue playing small roles in shows like My Three Sons until getting his big break.

Walmsley Followed His Passion For Music

jon walmsley red carpet
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

Since The Waltons ended, Jon Walmsley has kept busy with a variety of projects. He continued acting, while also chasing after his musical dreams. Most notably, he was a member of The Ravers, a band that plays vintage British rock.

Walmsley has also worked with the likes of legendary musicians David Koz and Brian Setzer. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the actor/musician returned to appear in Waltons television specials, showing respect for the show that made him a star.

Michael Learned – Olivia Walton

oliva walton actress
CBS
CBS

Michael Learned played Olivia Walton on The Waltons. She began her career just a few years before landing her career-defining role. In 1968, she made her acting debut in Wojeck and was featured in two episodes. In The Waltons, she was featured in 168 episodes!

Olivia Walton, the mother of seven children, was seen as the perfect foil for Jon Walton. She was soft-spoken while he was the classic “tough guy.”

Lerned Never Stopped Working

michale lerned actress
Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic
Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic

After The Waltons ended, Learned found plenty of ways to keep herself busy. She starred in The Young and the Restless and even wrote a biography about her struggles with substance abuse.

Between working and writing, Learned also found time to get married and raise three children. Now with five grandchildren to love, nothing is slowing for the former soft-spoken caretaker of one of America’s most beloved TV families.

Henry Fonda Nearly Played John Sr.

Henry Fonda actor
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When the show was first being made, CBS and producers had their eyes on a major actor to play John Walton Sr. They thought Henry Fonda would perfect for the role and even went as far as offering it to him.

Fonda watch the pilot and was quoted as saying, “What do you want me for? The whole family is the star! You don’t need me.” It turned out that after nine seasons, Fonda was right.

Some Viewers Expected The Waltons To Be A Comedy

Cast from The Waltons
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In the era that The Waltons was made, most shows that used the family’s last name as the title were comedies. The Waltons was a drama, and the title ended up confusing some viewers.

Of course, once word got out about just how good the show was, no one seemed to care about the confusing name. This also explains why the movie pilot Homecoming: A Christmas Story does not include the family’s last name in the title.

Richard Thomas – John-Boy

john boy jr the waltons
CBS
CBS

John-Boy, aka John Walton Jr., was played by Richard Thomas in The Waltons. He played the most important character in the show, as events were played out through his point of view as the narrator.

Before being cast in The Waltons, Thomas was a stage he actor. He made his debut on Broadway in Sunrise at Campobello when he was just eight-years-old. He was cast as John-Boy Jr. a decade later.

Thomas Was Featured In The Americans

richard thomas actor
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Thomas continued to act after The Waltons ended. He also took an interest in working behind the camera. While still working on the TV show, he directed five episodes. For years he built a career for himself as an actor and director, eventually finding himself cast in another high-profile television series – The Americans.

Thomas played Frank Gaad on The Americans, a show about spies living in the United States. The show ran for six seasons and received multiple accolades.

A Surprising Father And Son Connection

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Pinterest
Pinterest

Before being cast as father and son in The Waltons, Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas had played similar roles together. Three years before the show started, the actors played father and son in Last Summer.

Last Summer was released to critical acclaim in 1969 and followed the exploits of a young man coming of age. The film was based on the novel of the same name and earned one of the actors an Academy Award nomination.

Michael Learned Struggled With Substances

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CBS
CBS

As we previously mentioned, actress Michael Learned struggled with substance abuse during her early years as an actress. During her audition, she was noted as having brought along a stash in her pocket. In her autobiography, she openly discusses her decision to go sober in her 30s.

Interestingly, the character she played on The Waltons would have never approved of her lifestyle. Olivia Walton was always talking about the evils of libations on the show.

Jon Walmsley Was Born In England

jon walmsley waltons actor
Michael Kovac/FilmMagic
Michael Kovac/FilmMagic

If you ever watched The Waltons, you would never guess that actor Jon Walmsley was not born in the United States. He was actually born in Lancashire, England. When playing his character, though, he didn’t have to hide any accent.

Walmsley may have been born in England, but his parents moved to the United States early enough that he never developed an accent. It’s a good thing too because we can’t imagine the show without him!

The Production Studio Pinched Pennies

will greer dancing
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

You would think with a successful show that ran for nine seasons that plenty of money would have been spent to keep everyone happy. With The Waltons that wasn’t the case. The production studio was notoriously cheap, even firing Ralph Waite after season eight just to save money.

Other stories include parties without any kind of refreshments. Michael Learned even recalled how she received an arrangement of flowers once for her work on the show, but her fellow castmates got nothing.

The Show May Have Saved Ralph Waite’s Life

Michael Learned Embracing Ralph Waite
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Before being cast in The Waltons, Ralph Waite was struggling with addiction problems. Thanks to his adoration for his fellow castmates and the love they showed him in return, he was able to turn his life around.

The story of how he made the decision was that he was sitting around the dinner table with his “children” and at that moment he decided he needed to make a change to his life.

Ralph And Michael Briefly Dated

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CBS
CBS

While filming The Waltons, the chemistry between Michael Learned and Ralph Waite was undeniable. Not only were they magnetic on-screen together, but they were also nearly inseparable when cameras weren’t rolling.

At the time, both were single and they decided to give each other a shot in real life. When they met outside of the set the fireworks suddenly weren’t there and the awkward encounter led them to stay single, for the sake of the “family.”

The Waltons House Ended Up In Another Famous Show

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Warner Brothers
Warner Brothers

The house that The Waltons was filmed in was re-purposed several times for other shows and films after the series finale. One of the most famous shows to make use of the house was Gilmore Girls

The show used the Waltons’ home and turned it into the Dragonfly Inn. It was restored for the Warner Brothers produced series, but eagle-eyed fans of the original show should still be able to recognize it.

The Show’s Creator Used His Family As Inspiration

Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
Tibrina Hobson/WireImage

Earl Hamner Jr. used his family as his inspiration for creating The Waltons. He was one of seven siblings and grew up during the same era of time the show takes place in.

Hamner Jr. also wrote the novel that the show was based on, Spencer’s Mountain. The book came out in 1961 and was adapted into a film with the same name two years later. All that said, it is the show that ran for nine years that is still remembered best.

The Show’s Timeline Was Not Accurate

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CBS
CBS

Most television shows use what’s called a Bible to keep track of the timeline. This includes character birthdays and major events. The Waltons must not have used a Bible, because several events were messed up.

One of the more noticeable timeline issues occurred in the episode where John-Boy tried to sign up to join the military. He is turned away for his age, but in the show he was 19, meaning he was old enough to enlist.

Richard Thomas Was Replaced By Another Actor

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CBS
CBS

After the eighth season of The Waltons, Richard Thomas was replaced in the cast by Robert Wightman. The new actor played John-Boy for the show’s final two seasons, which left audiences confused.

Why were audiences so confused, though? Shows replace actors all the time. In the case of The Waltons, Richard Thomas continued to make guest appearances on the show as different characters. The cast replacement likely happened for financial reasons.

Jon Walmsley’s Wedding Was Officiated By Ralph

40th Anniversary Reunion Of ''The Waltons''
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Jon Walmsley and Ralph Waite played father and son in The Waltons, and by all accounts had a similarly close relationship in real life. They were so close that when Jon was getting married, he asked Ralph to officiate the occasion.

Everyone from the cast was at the wedding, showing just how much they all loved each other. Without that kind of connection between everyone, who knows if the show would have been as successful as it was.