Even if you’ve never seen The Waltons, you probably recognize its signature closing. Each episode ended with a nighttime shot of the family home, with the voices of various relatives wishing each other, “Good night.”
Well, the show’s cast has certainly undertaken a range of projects since their last “Good night.” Some have earned even more fame while others have completely retreated from the public eye. In fact, you may have totally forgotten about a few of these one-time stars!
1. Jon Walmsley (Jason Walton): The musical member of the family had real-life chops, too. He went on to work as a composer on a number of TV shows. In addition, he provided the voice for Christopher Robin in the Winnie The Pooh cartoons.
2. Kami Cotler (Elizabeth Walton): The youngest Walton kid didn’t do much other acting, instead becoming a teacher. Coincidentally, she did work at a school in the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Virginia where The Waltons took place.
4. Eric Scott (Ben Walton): After landing just a couple roles in indie films, the third Walton son left showbiz for good. He since founded Chase Messengers, a parcel delivery company based in Los Angeles.
5. David W. Harper (Jim-Bob Walton): This child actor followed up The Waltons with small roles in Fletch and The Blue and the Gray. He then worked as a driver for Eric Scott’s company before settling into art dealing.
6. Mary Elizabeth McDonough (Erin Walton): Complications from lupus have tamped down Mary’s recent acting availability. Even so, she made recent appearances in Boston Legal and The New Adventures of Old Christine.
3. Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton): Though he said goodnight to the role of John-Boy after season six, Richard has enjoyed a prolific acting career. Highlights include Bill Denborough in the 1990 IT miniseries and Special Agent Frank Gaad in The Americans.
7. Ralph Waite (John Walton Sr.): Already an established actor before this classic series, Ralph’s star power shined on. He appeared in The Bodyguard as well as TV shows like NCIS and Bones before passing away in 2014.
8. Michael Learned (Olivia Walton): No lead actress has won more Emmys than Michael, who raked in four over her career. She appeared in a ton of TV projects after playing the Walton matriarch, most notably as the lead in Nurse.
9. Patricia Neal (Olivia Walton): The Waltons was based on the TV film Homecoming: A Christmas Story. Patricia, famous for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and marrying Roald Dahl, played Olivia in this movie before being recast. Poor health limited her subsequent acting roles.
10. Will Geer (Grandpa Walton): This veteran actor had quite an interesting life before The Waltons, as a prominent labor activist and friend of folk singer Woody Guthrie. Will passed away after the sixth season and was written out of the show.
11. Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton): Establishing herself with small parts in It’s A Wonderful Life and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ellen built up quite the resume before signing on as Will Geer’s better half. That role defined the entire second half of her career.
12. Earl Hamner Jr. (Creator and Narrator): Providing the voiceovers of the older John-Boy each episode, Earl based the series on his own childhood. He later created the popular series Falcon’s Crest before dying of cancer in 2016.
Los Angeles Times
13. Joe Conley (Ike Godsey): Though never a main cast member, the kind-hearted shopkeeper appeared in 172 episodes of the series. One of the character actor’s most prominent later roles came in the Tom Hanks hit Castaway.
14. Ronnie Claire Edwards (Corabeth Godsey): The onscreen wife of Ike Godsey went on to appear in The Dead Pool and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She also appeared in the Lily Tomlin series 12 Miles of Bad Road, which was never televised.
15. Rachel Longaker (Aimee Godsey): The six-year-old actress reached her career peak as the adopted daughter of the Godseys. Her other roles were limited to bit parts, TV movies, and after-school specials.
16. Mary Jackson (Emily Baldwin): Memorable as one of the moonshine-making spinster sisters in town, Mary continued to get quite a bit of TV work. She appeared in Magnum P.I., The Jeffersons, and Parenthood.
17. Helen Kleeb (Mamie Baldwin): The other Baldwin sister only had one screen role following The Waltons, with a minor part in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Helen enjoyed her retirement until passing in 2003.
18. Judy Norton Taylor (Mary Ellen Walton): After making a name for herself as the eldest Walton daughter, Judy (left) tried out different sides of entertainment. She posed for Playboy in the 1980s and later opened a chain of dinner theaters.
19. Leslie Winston (Cindy Brunson Walton): The love interest of Ben Walton left acting behind shortly after the series wrapped to focus on post-production. In real life, Leslie became close friends with Judy Norton Taylor and Mary Elizabeth McDonough.
20. John Ritter (Reverend Matthew Fordwick): He left behind his recurring role as a Baptist pastor to achieve stardom in the sitcom Three’s Company. John remained all over film and TV until his untimely death in 2003.
During most of its nine-year run, The Waltons faced one similar competitor: Little House on the Prairie. This drama also became a huge hit, though it was filled with behind-the-scenes controversy that hadn’t come to light until recently.
1. Actress Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls, was initially too shy to kiss her love interest, Almanzo “Manly” Wilder. So as not to make her too uncomfortable, producers settled for a peck on the cheek.
2. As a matter of fact, the producers were concerned that Gilbert didn’t have enough chemistry with actor Dean Butler, who played Almanzo—the man whom Laura would eventually marry on the show.
catchingraindrops24 / YouTube
3. Actor Michael Landon’s hair was naturally gray by the time he was on the show. His iconic dark locks on set were actually a wig! Clearly, fans of the show had no idea that was the case.
4. At 5-feet-9-inches, Michael Landon wasn’t as tall as he seemed on the show, either. He didn’t want audiences to think he was shorter than his fellow cast members, so his boots had four-inch lifts. It’s also part of the reason why he would frequently be positioned on elevated platforms like ladders and staircases.
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5. Besides starring as “Pa,” Michael Landon also directed 89 episodes of the 204-episode series (not including the four specials). That’s why Melissa Gilbert complained to him directly when she grew uncomfortable with intimate scenes with Dean Butler.
6. During scenes in which the Ingalls family was chowing down on food, what they were really eating was plain old Dinty Moore beef stew or KFC. So much for all that rustic, old-fashioned charm, huh?
7. See that boy with the blond hair in the middle of this shot? That’s actually a very young Sean Penn in his acting debut. Who would have thought that he’d be a future Academy Award winner?
8. The series finale concluded with the town of Walnut Grove exploding. The crew actually destroyed the set with dynamite to get the shot, which is one way to ensure that the series goes out with a bang!
9. When she began to hit puberty, actress Melissa Gilbert was forced to bind her chest in order to hide her curves. The producers wanted the character to maintain a childlike innocence, but it seems like an odd choice, since puberty existed in the 19th century, too…
10. Nellie Oleson’s curly blonde hair? Another wig! The process by which actress Alison Arngrim originally had to developed those curls was quite painful, as the early curling iron that was used literally had to be heated in an oven. Thankfully, the decision was made to use a wig instead.
11. Alison Arngrim’s father, Thor, did a lot more than just support the budding career of his daughter. He also served as manager to Liberace, the legendary pianist and singer who, at one point, was the highest-paid entertainer on the planet!
Allan Warren / Wikimedia Commons
12. Alison Arngrim’s mother, Norma MacMillan, was herself a successful voice actress. She was perhaps best known the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost in The New Casper Cartoon Show, as well as the titular role in The Gumby Show.
13. Not only is the town of Walnut Grove a real place in Minnesota, but you can still visit it today! As of the 2010 census, it’s home to under 900 people, but they must be proud to live in such a historic place!
14. Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson, who played sisters on the show, actually didn’t get along at all. In all the years since the show aired, they have reportedly never reconciled.
15. On the other hand, Melissa Gilbert was real-life best friends with Alison Arngrim, despite the fact that Arngrim’s character, Nellie Oleson, was Melissa’s rival on the show. The actors even had sleepovers at each other’s houses growing up!
Little House on the Prairie / YouTube
16. Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls on the show, had a bit of reputation for being cold on set to everyone, not just Gilbert. According to rumors, this may have been because she had an overbearing mother.
NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons
17. Although Mary married and had a child with the character Adam Kendall on the television series, the real Mary Ingalls not only never had children, but never actually married. Adam was simply created for the show.
Biedronka / Wikimedia Commons
18. Melissa Gilbert’s real-life brother, Jonathan, was also featured on the show, in the role of Willie Oleson, Nellie’s brother. That must have been fitting for a show that focused so heavily on the relationships between families!
19. At the suggestion of co-star Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, who played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, started working under her real name after she’d auditioned with the stage name “Gabriel Tree.” Probably a good move…
20. Even today, Melissa Gilbert clearly has never forgotten where she came from. In 2009, she joined the touring company of a musical stage adaptation of Little House on the Prairie, only this time she played her mother, Caroline “Ma” Ingalls…
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