In 1974, Richard Thomas defended The Waltons and their approach to life

Richard Thomas loved to praise The Waltons; he just wanted the critics to do the same.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

The Waltons was a successful family series that lasted for nine seasons from 1972 to 1981. The Waltons portrayed strong family values, positive messaging and the characters quickly became like a second family to many viewers.

Despite the success of the series, there were some critics who thought the wholesome family was simply unrelatable to the time period. 

These critics caused The Waltons a lot of trouble, and more specifically — the critics caused Richard Thomas, who played John-Boy Walton, to take action and defend the series.

Thomas was an Emmy-winning 23-year-old in 1974. His character was considered to be one of the most central and iconic figures on the series. He was the older brother, the problem solver and he decided the critics were his problem to take on.

"When something is successful, we Americans tend to kill it," Thomas said in a 1974 interview with The Jackson Sun. "One of the complaints is that the Waltons don't act like poor sharecroppers. Well, we're not. We are not the poorest in our own community — in fact we are the upper crust. It's a great mistake to assume that the Waltons represent the entire community."

Thomas said he had a theory that those who attacked The Waltons did so because they "found a great deal of hostility in the American mainstream." Many had been likely failed by the system, or their own family and no longer believed that families could be happy and successful at the same time.

"I feel that alienation has been stressed long enough in our society," Thomas said. "And now The Waltons is a show which is concerned with what we need right now — a sense of unity and interdependence. It's a show about a family that lives off the land without ruining it."

As far as his role as John-Boy went, Thomas found himself becoming more and more like the character each day. According to the interview, Thomas said he came from a family that was similar to The Waltons, which had helped him prepare for the role without even knowing it.

Because he was raised in a similar type of household, Thomas believed in having a good moral character. He also believed in marriage, having a lot of family time and good values — proving to the critics that families like The Waltons do exist in real life.

"It's good for me to keep in contact with them because they keep me in contact with myself," Thomas said. "I don't exactly get advice from them — they simply share the wealth of their experience. Very important people in my life."

The series was originally praised for its "post-Watergate morality," but as the series progressed, the critics started increasing their attacks against the family by saying that it was a "nauseatingly saccharin approach to life."

Thomas thought otherwise. He defended the approach to life on The Waltons during his entire time on the series. He believed that television helped heal the country because it brought people together. The Waltons especially had a certain kind of healing power. 

"I think that The Waltons has helped, as much as anything like that can," Thomas said. "It has brought many families together for an hour each week. I've got so many letters from people telling me that 'I can sit down with my kids once a week and talk about something we have in common. We see these values put forth and we discuss them and feel a part of them!'"

So are you on the side of the critics, or John-Boy Walton?

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Familyaffair 6 months ago
They were the upper crust amongst the poor.
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