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Walton's in the Media.
TV Time '74

A Real Family
By Peggy Herz

We drove into the Warner Brothers lot on a hot afternoon. "The Waltons are working way out in the back," the guard at the gate told us. "Just keep going around to the right."


We did just that and suddenly we were in a completely different town. The heat of California's summer sun was forgotten as we drove from one old movie set to another, shifting quickly in time and place, as though we were in a time machine. But then we began to see the same sets again... and then again., We were traveling in circles! The heat again became suffocating as we searched vainly for the Waltons. Then, along the hot dusty street came a little, redheaded girl. We recognized her immediately as eight-year-old Kami Cotler - better known to TV viewers as Elizabeth Walton. "Hurrah!" we said, as we offered Kami and her companion a ride. "All you have to do is show us the way, and then we'll all get there." They readily agreed.


Kami turned out to be a good backseat driver. "Watch out for that car!" she ordered as we made one sharp turn. "That's the head cameraman. He's very important!" We wound through trees and finally found the spot we were looking for. "That was good," Kami pointed out with great logic. "If we hadn't met, you'd be lost and we'd be broiling."


We walked a short distance and there stood the Walton's house and Ike Godsey's store. They looked so familiar and natural - just as they do on television.


"Hey," cried Kami, "how would you like to see inside Ike's store?" She ran gleefully ahead to the general store where news is exchanged and where credit is not accepted by the Waltons, thank you anyway. Kami threw open the door and we peered in. Surprise! The front of the store had looked real enough - but there wasn't anything inside, just a small empty room behind the shell of the exterior.


"Now would you like to see the house? The barn? The garden?" Kami inquired. She was beginning to enjoy her role of tour guide. She carefully explained that the interiors of all the buildings were on a stage inside. All the filming today would take place outdoors.


A real garden had been planted beside the house, but nature had been helped along a little bit. Kami picked up an eggplant and squeezed it. It was made of rubber.


By this time, the other Waltons were coming back from lunch. Richard Thomas, who plays John-Boy, took a minute out of his busy schedule to say hello. He beamed when we congratulated him on winning the Emmy last spring. "Thanks so much!" he said, and went on enthusiastically, "It was a great year. We're really working hard!" Then he dashed away to study lines for a difficult scene. We felt almost like part of the family as we sat down in rocking chairs on the porch of the Walton's house. Eric Scott, who plays Ben Walton, came up and sat in the swing, and put his arm around Kami. "Say, Kami" he said teasingly, "do you know what your name would be backwards?"


"No, WHAT?" she said wonderingly.


"Well, it would be Reltoc imak," he said matter-of-factly, and then laughed.

"Really?" she asked. "Say it again!"


But he never repeated his brainstorm. For just then, bells went off, there was loud honking, and a whistle blew. The cameras were ready to start rolling. Kami and Eric hurried to their spots. "We'll be back," Kami called.

"Okay! Here we go! Rolling! Action!" the director called. The family gathered around to do the scene.


Richard Thomas, we knew, was an "old pro." He was only six years old when he first appeared on the stage, and he'd made his TV debut when he was seven. His parents were professional ballet dancers, dancing with the National Ballet of Cuba and the New York City Ballet. They now run a ballet school in New York City.


Richard has appeared in a number of Broadway and TV shows and in six films, including, Red Sky at Morning and Last Summer. More than anything else, Richard loves his work, and his work is acting. He's settled into the role of John-Boy Walton with the ease of a farm boy donning his coveralls.

Mary Ellen, his oldest sister on the show, is played by Judy Norton. We hadn't met Judy before. After the scene was completed, Judy walked over to the porch and sat down on the swing between Eric and Mary Elizabeth McDonough, who plays Erin. Somehow, as the three settled down, it was hard to believe that they really weren't brothers and sisters!


Judy is 15, she told us, and she loves being in The Waltons. "It isn't hard," she said. "I haven't had any trouble with the role. I started performing when I was seven."


Judy was born in Santa Monica, California. When she was seven, her parents took her to the Screen Extras Guild. "I did background work," Judy told us. "I was in the crowd scenes, and so on. I always liked it." I went to regular school, but I didn't get involved in drama there and I didn't take any acting classes. I felt I was already a professional, and I was afraid I'd disagree with the drama teachers. Then there'd be trouble!"


Judy is a junior in high school this year. "I got straight-A's last year," she said. "I'm pretty average in my interests, I think. I like all sports." Judy lives with her mother, her sister Ricki, who's 17, and her brother Dave, 12. "I've worked very rarely," she said. "This is the first time I've worked for any length of time. I've heard that people either like The Waltons very much or they don't like it at all. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground."


"What TV programs do you like?" we asked Judy. "Flip Wilson!" Eric interrupted kiddingly. The Waltons, we knew, had been shown opposite Flip and the kids were well aware of the competition. "I like M*A*S*H and Kung Fu," Judy replied, ignoring Eric. "I'm not at home long enough to watch too much TV." "Take your places, everybody!" came the call and the three young Waltons took off. It was getting hotter by the minute. In the distance, we saw Ellen Corby, who plays Grandma, getting a drink of water from a portable refreshment stand.


Minutes before the scene was to begin, Kami rushed up and handed us her script. "See," she said breathlessly, "this is what we're doing. You can read it." She was gone before we could say thank you.

We watched while the Waltons went through the scene again. In the midst of rubber eggplants and phony store fronts we saw something very genuine. On camera and off, the people gathered together as the Waltons looked and acted like a real family.

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