John Ritter was the opposite of his Waltons character on set

Judy Norton liked the actor playing Matthew Fordwick so much pretending to be scared of the stern reverend took a lot of acting.

Many actors, especially early in their careers, do their best work when playing characters with personalities similar to their own. When a performer can put huge parts of themselves into a character, it always makes things more believable and fun for the audience.

Will Geer, for example, essentially was Grandpa Walton. His playful personality, his affection for the cast and even his love of plants were all ways actor and character blended together.

But sometimes, particularly when it comes to characters who aren’t very nice, the person behind the scenes is very different from the one on camera. And speaking of The Waltons, the show’s first preacher, Matthew Fordwick, was one of those characters played by an actor with a totally opposite personality.

A young actor named John Ritter was cast as Reverend Fordwick. Of course, he went on to TV stardom in Three’s Company and other favorites, but The Waltons gave Ritter his first major recurring role on television, something Earl Hamner Jr. was very proud of.

Reverend Fordwick is introduced in the episode "The Sinner" as a devout student of God fresh out of school. He comes to Walton’s Mountain ready to whip the congregation into shape and cast out any sin, but a taste of the Baldwin sisters’ family recipe puts his plans in jeopardy.

In one scene, before the good preacher samples some authentic Appalachian moonshine, Reverend Fordwick scolds Mary Ellen for cursing. Judy Norton, who played the oldest Walton daughter for all nine seasons, remembers really having to act intimidated by Fordwick because she liked John Ritter so much off camera.

In a YouTube video as part of her series revealing behind-the-scenes memories from the show, Norton recalled John Ritter as a "fun-loving" and "lovely person." She continued, "He is incredibly believable as this intense and earnest young reverend in training and when he goes off on us, we’re supposed to be a little intimidated by it." She noted that it was important to be in character during this scene so her personal feelings about John wouldn’t show.

"To me, that was personally definitely acting because knowing John, I was not intimidated or scared by him as a person." She had to say to herself, "Okay, as a character, I’m intimidated."

Norton also remembered that John Ritter and John-Boy actor Richard Thomas were "two peas in a pod" joking together and pulling pranks on set. Ritter got to bring more of his delightful nature and comedic abilities toward the end of his first episode (after his visit to the Baldwin sisters) and Reverend Fordwick had a more relaxed approach in future episodes.

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Nala92129 5 days ago
John Ritter is an acquired taste. I felt he came across as a tad smarmy, obsequious, a little like a combo Uriah Heap and a funeral director.
MaryAnn 5 days ago
I watched that episode of The Waltons for the first time today and I thought it was great! I remember seeing John Ritter in a silly movie called Problem Child maybe 20 years ago. I watched it with my son and we laughed like crazy! 🤣
MrsPhilHarris 5 days ago
I’m probably in the minority but I can’t stand Jack Tripper nor Three’s Company for that matter. I always cringe when METV is announcing new shows that it will be included and I will accidentally hear that insipid theme song. 😆 Just my honest opinion. I know lots of you love the show.
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Yes I liked Tooey and Chester too.
Hogan's Heroes NEVER GOES AWAY either !??!
EDDIE AND LUMPY spin off for Leave It To Beaver
The BELVIN BROTHERS
With Eugene Belvin Denis Mandel and Melvin Belvin Scott Bernstein might have
A good spin off show for Happy Days.
CoreyC 6 days ago
John Ritter and Richard Thomas later co starred in the Stephen King TV movie It.
Andybandit 6 days ago
I loved him in The Waltons, Threes company, and 8 simple rules. He was a really good actor. Those 3 shows are the only shows I know from.
Runeshaper 6 days ago
John Ritter was an AMAZING actor! Nice to hear that he was a good guy too.
Michael 6 days ago
It's been 19 years since hedied. Hard to believe.

He had quite a few rolkes, single shot, before the Waltons. Even a MASH appearance.

But in 1971, he played a hippie on Hawaii Five-O, and he kills someone. Quite a change from Rev Fordwick.

The first episode with Rev Fordwick is much different from lanter. It's like they introduce the character, and then decide he shoukd be tamed down. Actually three months elapsed between The Sinner and his next appearance. So was it a single appearance, but they brought him back?
LoveMETV22 Michael 6 days ago
Considering he appeared in 18 episodes over the course of the series, he probably wasn't an afterthought. JMO.
Michael LoveMETV22 6 days ago
I can't remember the episode enough. They tone him down enough that I wonder if it was a one-shot, but they brought him back as a regular.

Some guests reappear, but long enough later that it seems like they decided to bring them back, rather than planned from the beginning. Sometimes they even have to use another actor.

MarkSpeck Michael 3 days ago
He didn't kill anyone on Five-O. He knocked Vic Morrow out and stole his money. The only person that died in that episode O.D'ed accidentally. Morrow found that person, who obviously wasn't the guy that robbed him, and threw a gas lamp across the room, which set it on fire.

Ritter appeared on a number of crime shows. He was one of the bad guys in the final episode of Mannix. He went on trial for killing the hard-ass boss who fired him on Petrocelli. He was an armored car guard forced into helping a gang of robbers on Starsky & Hutch. He returned to Hawaii Five-O in 1977, shortly before Three's Company, as the witness to a cop killing who tries to blackmail the killer. Aside from those, all of his appearances on crime shows, he played pretty normal characters (his debut was on Dan August, and yes, he did have a scene with Norman Fell!)...but he never killed anyone.
MarkSpeck MarkSpeck 3 days ago
He wasn't the guilty party in that Petrocelli episode. Just thought I'd clarify.
LoveMETV22 6 days ago
I think John Ritter did a good job playing the character Reverend Fordwick on The Walton's.
From looking at his bio it appears a number of his roles leading up to the time he appeared on
The Walton's were serious roles. JMO: If Threes Company had aired before then, there might have been a believability aspect, but still their just characcter roles.
TangoOversway 6 days ago
I always wanted to see John Ritter do an ad libbed scene of Rev. Fordwick meeting Jack Tripper and being shocked by Jack's living situation.
Well Jack Tripper wasn't his best role because he had so much more to offer. As MeTV's article explains. Except that actors will take roles giving them visibility and thus more future choices. As LoveMeTV22 noted, his wiki credits (Resume) lists all his work. Theater trained as well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ritter

Also in Mannix, MASH and Bob Newhart, I'll have to look for him.
Re: I always wanted to see John Ritter do an ad libbed scene of Rev. Fordwick meeting Jack Tripper and being shocked by Jack's living situation.
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MarkSpeck Pacificsun 3 days ago
His Bob Newhart appearance was hilarious! I'd LOVE to visit an ice cream parlor like the one Ritter worked at in that episode (it wasn't so much fun for Bob, though!).
Pacificsun MarkSpeck 1 day ago
Thank you for the tip! I'll definitely look for that episode. I wish MeTV was running the original BN show. Would be such a good Sunday light humor addition. Do you remember the drunken turkey episode??
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