It’s been nearly 40 years after The Waltons ended, and many still consider this television series about a family living in Depression and World War II-era America to be one of the most heartwarming shows of all time. It’s high time to take a gander at what became of the cast members of one of America’s most beloved shows.
A main member of the cast, Jon Walmsley played the role of Jason Walton — younger brother to John-Boy, the brother he was constantly competing against. Walmsley’s career took a unique and unforgettable twist after The Waltons, one you may not have realized: his name is often associated with Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons, for which he provided the voice for Christopher Robin.
Walmsley had moved to the United States from his birth country of England as a young child, and in 2018, after long years of Hollywood success, he and his wife returned across The Pond. The former Waltons star left the screen for the music studio, and his band, The U.K. Beat, is known for playing 1960s-flavored British rock and pop.
Though the character of Erin Walton was known for being extremely friendly and outgoing, fans of The Waltons will remember her biggest character flaw — that unfortunate tendency to tell on others. As the character grew up though, this little tattletale got a job at J.D. Pickett’s metal products factory, and ended up becoming an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in the workplace.
Much like her character, actress Mary Beth McDonough also grew up to be an activist for women’s issues. After removing silicone breast implants following a medical diagnosis, McDonough became an inspirational speaker. Additionally, the former Waltons star is an accomplished writer. One of her books, Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane, was even adapted into a Hallmark Christmas special.
Ben Walton was that one family member who was always trying to make money through some strange or outlandish scheme, the results of which would, more often than not, land him in hot water. It seems as though the actor who played him, Eric Scott, may have been inspired by his on-screen character — only his scheme was far from ridiculous.
Post-Waltons success, Scott became a successful businessman, and today owns his own company, Chase Messengers. The company, located in Sherman Oaks, California, was something that Scott helped to build from the bottom up to become what it is today, a thriving parcel delivery service.
The eldest daughter, drama queen, and later nurse going through some serious marital drama, Mary Ellen Walton was played by career actress Judy Norton. Norton has been open about just how thankful she is that she got her start on The Waltons, saying, “How many people have as part of their career a series that ran successfully for nine years, especially a reputable one that won Emmys and People’s Choice Awards?”
Since then, Norton has continued to live in Los Angeles, although she travels frequently in order to meet the demands of her busy performing schedule. When not entertaining folks by singing, the former Waltons star is frequently in front of the camera, and already has three upcoming movies in line for 2020.
He’s the boy with the name that’s unforgettably country. As Jim-Bob, the second-youngest of the seven Walton children, David Harper’s acting career revolved primarily around his time on The Waltons, although he did have roles in the movies Fletch and 3:15. Following the 1997 Waltons Easter reunion special, however, Harper decided to leave the entertainment industry for good.
Since then, Harper has worked mostly as an artist, and has even bought and sold art himself in Los Angeles. He still looks back on his time on The Waltons fondly though, saying, “Multigenerations living together in the same house. We just don’t have that anymore in America. I think people watched the show and said, ‘I wish we could be like that, as a people and a nation.’”
NEXT: Read on to see which of the cast members from The Waltons continued on to greater Hollywood success!
Originally from Long Beach, California, not far from the Hollywood epicenter of fame and cinema, Kami Cotler began acting on The Waltons at just six years old. After The Waltons ended, Cotler began studying at the University of California, Berkeley, where she got her teaching credentials.
Her first job as a teacher actually brought her to a place similar to where The Waltons had been filmed: a small rural school near Schuyler, Virginia, adjacent to the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. Cotler eventually made her way back to Los Angeles, becoming Principal of Environmental Charter Middle School, and has since gotten married and had two children.
Wife of John Walton and fictional mother of seven children, Olivia Walton was known for being usually gentle. But get on her bad side and get ready to duck! This well-juxtaposed personality was so masterfully performed by actress Michael Learned that she was awarded three Emmy Awards for her role.
Learned continued to forge forward after her time on The Waltons. Her career was met with additional successes, and the actress earned her fourth Emmy Award for her performance in the 1982 medical drama series, Nurse. Learned is a mother in real life as well — to three children though, not seven — and has continued to remain active in entertainment.
Best remembered for her role of Grandma Esther Walton, Ellen Corby didn’t start in Hollywood as an actress. Rather, she worked for 12 years as a script assistant before debuting in the 1946 film Dark Corner. But Dark Corner was only the beginning, and by the end of her lengthy career, Corby had appeared in more than 100 movies and numerous television series.
All that experience made her quite the formidable actress. Corby won three Emmy Awards for her work as Esther Walton on the series, and two years into her acting career she had already been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her role as Aunt Trina in the 1948 drama I Remember Mama. She passed away in 1999 at the age of 87.
Richard Thomas played the eldest of the seven Walton children, John Walton, known throughout the series simply as “John-Boy.” While Robert Wightman would later come to portray the character, Richard Thomas played the role from its earliest episodes all the way through season five, and again in the three 1990s reunion movies.
After his departure from the show, Richard Thomas’ acting career was far from over. He managed to act in several films and TV movies even while he was busy as John-Boy in The Waltons. Today, Thomas is a grandfather, but he’s still got an admirable work ethic, having been in four television series in 2019, with another one planned for 2020.
Leslie Winston’s interest in acting began as a young girl when she appeared in school plays and summer theater productions. In fact, Winston’s passion for getting on screen was so powerful that she left college just one semester shy of graduation in order to appear in a movie.
Shortly after her first role she went on to act in Peyton Place and finally, landed the role of Cindy Brunson Walton in The Waltons. After an injury put her out of work for a year, followed by marriage and two children, Winston decided to step away from on-screen acting. Lately she has been working as a looper, doing voice-overs for films, which she describes as being less demanding and less time consuming.
NEXT: See if you’d be able to recognize the characters from The Waltons from how they look today!
By the time he was 17, Tom Bower was ready to take the acting world by storm. He moved to New York City and later enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he was classmates with none other than legendary Hollywood leading man Robert Redford.
Bower’s film and television credits encompass much more than just The Waltons. After 166 films and 87 theater productions, Bower became a Lifelong Achievement Honoree and was awarded “The Sophia” by the 2011 Syracuse International Film Festival. Some of his most notable films include Die Hard 2, Light of My Life, and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
First appearing on television as early as the age of two, Keith Coogan is a lifelong actor who played the role of Jeffrey Burton, son of Walton family cousin Rose Burton Perkins. Not only did he play the nine-year-old Jeffrey, but as a child he appeared on episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Laverne & Shirley, and 21 Jump Street. He even earned the Young Artist Award for his work.
Since then, Coogan’s career has lasted more than four decades and includes over 80 acting credits. Most recently, the former Waltons child actor played himself in the 2019 Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. When not appearing on screen, Coogan keeps himself busy by hosting The Call Sheet, an online podcast-news program.
After playing Reverend Henry Hank Buchanan on The Waltons, Peter Fox appeared in several television series, movies, and full-blown features including Delta House, The Young and the Restless television series, and Las Vegas. He has a television movie in post-production as of early 2020.
Fox is also a member of the Alliance Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles, and has served more than 16 years as Artistic Director while also teaching a course in directing at UCLA. This actor/teacher is also an accomplished writer, earning the CINE Golden Eagle Award for his work as writer and director of the short film, The Sorrowful Mysteries of Boomer Pastor.
Lynn Hamilton played the role of Verdie Grant Foster, briefly appearing in an episode of season one where John-Boy teaches her to read and then coming back in season two and season six. But it’s not necessarily her role on The Waltons she’s known for; rather, she will always be remembered for her performance as Donna Harris in the sitcom Sanford and Son.
Hamilton made a number of appearances on additional sitcoms, soap operas, and miniseries including The Gold Girls, Roots: The Next Generations, and Dangerous Women. She is currently a mother of one, and has been ranked by celebstrendingnow.com as one of the most well-known television actresses over the age of 89.
Playing the role of Jenny Pendleton, the second girlfriend of John-Boy, Sian Barbara Allen had a recurring role on Gunsmoke before landing her second recurring role on The Waltons. From there, Allen’s career was mostly encompassed by work on television, both in series and TV movies. One of them, You’ll Like My Mother, earned Allen a Golden Globe nomination.
Allen’s last role was in an episode of L.A. Law in 1990, after which she decided to bow out of the spotlight and retire from acting. The move was spurred by her marriage and the birth of her daughter. Since then, Allen has been channeling her creativity into her writing, much like her younger sister Meg Pokrass.
NEXT: Some of these characters from The Waltons went on to accomplish some impressive career feats!
Known to his friends as “Black Jack Crawford,” John Crawford appeared in over 200 movies and television shows throughout a 40-year career. One of his most notable parts was in The Waltons as Sheriff Ep Bridges, a role which featured him in 40 episodes.
Crawford initially began his career playing the lead role in several films in the United Kingdom during the late 1950s and early 1960s. After returning to the United States, he appeared in numerous popular shows including Star Trek and The Dukes of Hazzard. An accomplished actor, Crawford passed away in 2010 at the age of 90.
After finishing his service in the United States Navy, Robert Donner moved to Los Angeles eager to become an actor. He landed his first role (although it was uncredited) in the 1959 John Wayne Western film Rio Bravo and continued to act in subsequent Westerns including El Dorado, Cool Hand Luke, and Rio Lobo.
When asked about his work in Western films, Donner simply commented, “I keep my guns loaded and go where the action is.” But this former cast member of The Waltons didn’t pigeonhole himself in just Westerns. He was also the founding member of the comedy-improv group, the Crazy Quilt Comedy Company. In 2006, Donner passed away at the age of 75.
John Ritter played the recurring role of Reverend Matthew Fordwick, who first appears in season one episode seven, “The Sinner.” Ritter, who is credited with over 100 film and television appearances, is far better known for his comedy. Even the legendary Don Knotts once called Ritter, his former co-star, “the greatest physical comedian on the planet.”
While Ritter did appear in 18 episodes of The Waltons, the actor is of course known the world over for his work playing Jack Tripper on Three’s Company, an iconic role that earned him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. Sadly, this funnyman actor passed away in September 2003, six days before his 55th birthday.
The hardworking and encouraging father of the seven Walton children, Ralph Waite was beloved both on and off set. After the actor’s passing in 2014, his on-screen wife, Michael Learned, remembered him only in the fondest of ways, “Ralph was a good honest actor and a good honest man.”
Waite remained an actor his whole life, having had roles in numerous television shows, including his recurring role of Jackson Gibbs on NCIS,played Seeley Booth’s grandfather on Bones, and appeared as Father Matt on Days of Our Lives several times. He also played supporting roles in the movies Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, The Grissom Gang, The Bodyguard, and Cliffhanger.
After returning from fighting for his country overseas during the Korean War, Joe Conley opted to become an actor. The hardworking veteran also ran a real-estate company while he went from audition to audition, eventually landing the role of shopkeeper Ike Godsey on The Waltons.
While remembered primarily for the role he played on the popular television series, Joe Conley also had parts in films like 80 Steps to Jonah, Impure Thoughts, and even as Joe Wally in Cast Away. In 2009, Conley published his autobiography, Ike Godsey of Walton’s Mountain. Sadly, Conley passed away four years later in 2013.
Often called as “American as apple pie,” Will Geer played the gentle, rural Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton. Geer’s long white mustache likely reminded many viewers of writers Walt Whitman or Mark Twain, and Geer even played these famous American humanists on stage. Blacklisted as a Communist in the ’50s, he and his wife used his success on The Waltons to found the Shakespearean theater Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, California.
Geer passed away in 1978 while the show was still in production, but not before he’d left a lasting impression on The Waltons, even earning an Emmy for his work on the series. Geer’s death was written into the show as well, allowing the characters and audiences to mourn the passing of this good-natured actor and character.
Ronnie Claire Edwards played Corabeth Godsey, the busybody wife of shopkeeper Ike. Edwards didn’t start acting until she was 30 years old. Beyond her work on The Waltons, she was also in a 1994 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, additionally appearing in films like Nobody’s Fool and The Dead Pool.
The Oklahoma native was also a published author who wrote two memoirs, The Knife Thrower’s Assistant and Mr. Godsey Asked Me to Marry Him and I Said “Yes!”: (Exit Sobbing). Edwards retired in Dallas, Texas, renovating a 1911 Catholic church and selling her former mansion in Los Angeles to Flea, the bassist from Red Hot Chili Peppers. She passed away in 2016.
Emily Baldwin, often referred to as simply ‘Miss Emily,’ was the slightly more eccentric of the two Baldwin sisters, and once nearly gives away the family’s “tonic recipe” (which was actually illicit moonshine). Actress Mary Jackson was the talent responsible for bringing this affable woman to life, whose own early years reflected the lives portrayed on the series.
Born in Depression-era rural Michigan, Jackson started off as a school teacher before moving away to New York City and finding work in television. She had roles in three Oscar-nominated films including Persuasion, Airport, and Coming Home. With a lengthy career behind her, the actress passed away in 2005 at the age of 95.
Although it is Miss Mamie Baldwin who is responsible for making the bootleg whiskey passed down in the Baldwin family, she is unaware of what it really is. After all, she was told by her father that it is actually a very special tonic. It was arguably actress Helen Kleeb’s most recognizable role in her nearly 50 years of stage and screen performances.
During her time in the spotlight, Kleeb appeared on various classic shows including Dennis the Menace, I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and even Golden Girls. Kleeb spent most of her time in Los Angeles, and in 2003 the woman who gave us the memorable performance of Mamie Baldwin died at age 96.
The cousin of Olivia Walton, Rose Burton was played by actress Peggy Rea, who passed in 2011 at the age of 89. Rea got her start on another seminal television series, I Love Lucy, playing the role of a nurse in a 1953 episode. Not only known for playing Rose Burton, the late actress was also beloved for playing Boss Hogg’s wife in The Dukes of Hazzard.
Her most recent role had been as Jean Kelly in the comedy-romance series, Grace Under Fire. During its five seasons lasting from 1993 to 1998, the Los Angeles native appeared in over fifty episodes. Afterwards, Rea left acting and moved out of the hustle and bustle of central Los Angeles to the more serene neighborhood of Toluca Lake.
So, Ron Howard. If you’re even the smallest family of movie and television history, there’s a good chance you’ve probably heard of this guy. That’s because he’s one of the most famous directors in the world, and is coming off a long and illustrious career of acting as well.
His most famous acting role is perhaps that of Richie Cunningham from the hit ‘70s sitcom Happy Days – so let’s just say he wasn’t crying that his brief appearance on The Waltons was so short. Speaking of his character on the show, he played Seth Turner, a country singer who we see playing a handful of instruments, including the guitar and the flute.
It’s amazing to think that there are some megastars out there who started so small. We see it all the time, and it’s exactly what happened with Deborah Richter. She plays the tiny role of Darlene Jarvis, the daughter of the owner of Jarvis Used Car Lot – and her on-screen time was certainly limited. Some actresses might choose to give up after something like that, but not Deborah.
She would later go on to star in some major TV series, like when she portrayed Daryl Ann on the popular ‘80s drama show Hill Street Blues. Deborah also appeared in some big movies, like 1989’s Cyborg and 1987’s Square Dance.
A big part of the show is about watching John-Boy go through college, and seeing him navigate the kind of intricate social relationships we all go through on a daily basis. While he’s in college, we see him meet a fellow female student named Sis Bradford, portrayed by the then-rising actress Darleen Carr.
Sis is with John-Boy in chemistry class, and right away it becomes clear that this is one girl who won’t be easy to avoid. First, she causes John-Boy to hit a curb after she runs a red light – and then she also steals his chemistry notes. Darleen Carr plays the role convincingly, but her film career would cease to extend past the ‘70s.
Ahh, Flossie Brimmer, the woman who owned the boarding house in which Miss Hunter stays at throughout her time on the show. She too is a minor character, but she finds herself in a handful of crucial moments in the main characters’ lives. For instance, it was an intense period when Zeb and Esther have nowhere to go after the Walton house had suffered from a fire.
When this happens, Flossie graciously invites the pair of them into her home. These are the type of kind acts she would do on the show, and it’s one of the reasons she’s a fan favorite. Played by Nora Marlowe, she ended up passing in 1977.
What’s a good TV show without a healthy dose of tension? This is the kind of feeling that Martha Rose Coverdale provides when she appears on the show as a classmate nemesis of Mary Ellen. Played by the talented Cindy Eilbacher, she doesn’t just rub Mary Ellen the wrong way – she also tattle-tales on John-Boy when he wrongly gets involved in a scheme to sell antique furniture which is actually fake.
But although she’s an adversary, Cindy plays the role outstandingly well. This talent of hers was put on display in films like 1974’s Bad Ronald and 1979’s A Last Cry For Help, but ultimately she receded out of the spotlight.
Derek Pembroke is seen as a handsome stranger in the eyes of Erin, who has been feeling a bit restless and down on her luck. But when she meets Derek, a war veteran who’s now working as a painter, she’s intrigued by him. Their relationship gets even more interesting when he asks Erin if he can paint her, and by this point Erin understands that this isn’t your run of the mill guy.
Eventually, she realizes that Derek is holding a lot of dark memories from the war he’s just returned from. Although Derek is not a recurring character, his momentary presence certainly makes a profound impact – and his actor, Jared Martin, later appeared on the popular sci-fi ‘80s TV series War of the Worlds.
Elayne Heilveil, who was mainly known for her roles in ‘70s films such as Payday, Birds of Prey, and Family, did everything she could with her limited screen time on The Waltons. She played the role of Ruth Thomas, a blind woman who certainly gave the viewers at home something to think about.
She originally became blind after getting scarlet fever, and once she had it, she attended a school for the blind that helped her learn how to live a normal life in her new condition. We eventually learn that she managed to graduate from college, and even work for social welfare – but seeing her do all that despite her obstacles was inspiring.
Portrayed by the young talented Rachel Longaker, Aimee first appears on screen as Cora Beth and Ika Godsey’s adopted daughter. When we first meet Aimee, we understand that she’s clearly very shy, and unsure about how willing she is to get involved with a new family. Eventually, however, we see her warming up to everyone, and even becomes best friends with Elizabeth.
Rachel Longaker, the actress who plays her, eventually went on to appear in a handful of other films including Night of the Demons 2 and Mathnet – but all in all, it’s fair to say she retreated into the spotlight as time went on.
Kathleen Quinlan was no stranger to the idea of taking a backseat behind other actors. She played the role of Selina Linville, a minor character who didn’t have much screen time – but Kathleen certainly made a profound impact with the time she had. Like many other minor characters on the show, Selina was a girlfriend of John-Boy’s – but their relationship fluctuated dramatically from time to time.
When she appears on the show, she’s seen as an “old flame” – and Kathleen does a great job playing her. Indeed, her impact was felt so strongly that she went on to star in countless future box office hits including The Hills Have Eyes!
Sissy Spacek plays the role of John-Boy’s girlfriend, not long after his past loves of Marcia and Jenny were last week’s news. He spends a good deal of time with her, but ultimately their relationship isn’t to last (doesn’t that sound familiar?). Indeed, Sarah has a mere minor role on the show, but amazingly enough, Sissy Spacek didn’t let it hinder her future.
In fact, she utilized every bit of screen time she could to her advantage – to the point where she became a bonafide Hollywood star. Nowadays she’s in her 70s, with a handful of impressive accolades that even include an Academy Award!
Sources: Los Angeles Times, IMDb, New York Times