The Waltons: Where Are They Now?

By Andy Argyrakis, contributing writer,
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 6:00pm

album promo image for “The Waltons”: Where Are They Now? Practically every household in America tuned into “The Waltons” throughout its record breaking run that spanned 1972 to 1981. Add in some television movie sequels throughout the 1980s and ’90s, and the uplifting family drama’s certainly touched countless generations. Though the program’s gone into hibernation over the last few years, gmc is giving the series yet another introduction to the world at large, while also serving as a sweet and inspiring reminder for those who caught it the first go around.

For those needing a quick refresher, the series was based off Earl Hamner, Jr.’s book “Spencer’s Mountain,” which later became a movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. The show takes place in Virginia between the Great Depression and World War II, tracing a multi-faceted family’s growing pains in light of a shifting society. Here’s a look back at the most famous family members and how their lives developed, along with an update on what the cast members are up to these days.

Ralph Waite as John Walton, Sr.
Arguably one of the most famous fathers in the entire world, John Walton, Sr. is also one of television’s first workaholics best known for running a sawmill. Nonetheless, he’s committed to providing for his family and also instills morality on his children, despite often vocalizing skepticism towards religious institutions. Though he presumably passes away, it’s never shown on screen, leaving the audience with memories of his stability and an unceasing work ethic. As for actor Ralph Waite, he may be 82 years old these days, but he’s still going strong, turning up in HBO’s “Carnivale” in the mid-2000s and currently sporting recurring roles on “Days of Our Lives,” “NCIS” and “Bones.”

Michael Learned as Olivia Walton
One of television’s most patient mothers, Olivia Walton was vocal about her Baptist faith, determined to keep her children on a straight and narrow path, and showed compassion to the less fortunate (though her giving spirit is eventually limited after contracting tuberculosis). She was the ultimate mother-figure – loving but firm. Like her television husband, actress Michael Learned’s career hasn’t slowed down a shred, popping up in recurring and guest roles too numerous to mention, but most notably “Scrubs,” “Cold Case” and “General Hospital.”

Richard Thomas as John “John-Boy” Walton, Jr.
Perhaps the most familiar character in the cast, “John-Boy” is based on the real life journey of series creator Earl Hamner, Jr., who also serves as the show’s narrator. The studious diary keeper becomes the first from the family to graduate college, while also serving in the military after Pearl Harbor. For the first five seasons, the fan favorite was played by Richard Thomas, who’s since gone on to be a Broadway star throughout the
‘80s and ‘90s, popped up on “Touched By An Angel,” and most recently, Broadway’s “Race” from 2009-2010. Thomas’ replacement, Robert Wightman, finished off the final two seasons of “The Waltons” and was later seen in a slew of ‘90s movies and TV shows like “Matlock.”

Jon Walmsley as Jason Walton
He’s two years younger than “John-Boy” and is definitely the musician of the family, even going so far as to attend the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music, though he later joins the National Guard, gets married and starts a family of his own. Jason even names his children after famous country singers! Besides playing Jason, Jon Walmsley has split his career between acting and singing, including time logged with acts like The U.K. Beat, 7th Heaven and Disneyland’s The Bootstrappers in New Orleans.

Judy Norton as Mary Ellen Walton
The oldest daughter in the family is a tomboy through and through, but grows up to be a nurse who marries, wouldn’t you know it, a doctor. Her husband goes off to Pearl Harbor and the family is notified of his supposed death, though in reality, he’s still alive and living under a different name because he no longer loves Mary Ellen. Undeterred by the quest to find true love, she later remarries and become a doctor herself. After appearing on a variety of game shows throughout the ’80s, actress Judy Norton Taylor also wound up with a multitude of sporadic appearances on “Beggars and Choosers,” “Ed” and “Hollywood Off Ramp.”

Eric Scott as Benjamin “Ben” Walton
As the next in line to Mary Ellen, Ben is a mischievous young man who often tries to accumulate a lot of money quickly, but mostly ends up making bad business decisions. Such is certainly the case during a sour deal when co-managing the mill with his dad, though he nonetheless proves to be a devoted husband and father in adulthood. Eric Scott appeared in notable flicks like 1985’s “The Fall Guy” and 1997’s “Defying Gravity,” though he’s since switched professions all together to operate a messenger service in California.

Mary Elizabeth McDonough as Erin Esther Walton
The middle Walton daughter is nothing short of beautiful, so it’s no wonder to see her become a hit with the guys. After high school, she sticks to a secretarial career, gets married and has three children, proving she’s settled down once and for all. As for Mary Elizabeth McDonough, she’s stayed active in television the entire time, earning recent screen time on “Will & Grace,” “The West Wing,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and even the reality show “Star Dates.”

David W. Harper as James Robert “Jim-Bob” Walton
The youngest Walton boy was also the first in the family to be born at a hospital instead of the house. Though he wants to be a pilot, poor vision leads him to run a mechanic shop instead, all while dating intermittently on his path to manhood. Though not as active in acting as some of his cast mates, a quick scan of David W. Harper’s credits include guest spots in the classic comedy “Fletch,” while he also pops up at various “Waltons” autograph signings from time to time.  

Kami Cotler as Elizabeth Walton
Last but not least is the youngest child of The Walton family, who’s just as outspoken as she is literate and creative. Her formative years are often spent babysitting, but as an adult, she joins the Peace Corps and gets engaged to a longtime beau. Actress Kami Cotler also changed direction in her professional life, becoming a teacher and then a principal in Los Angeles, though she still pops up on occasion at various fan events.

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About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).