Tom Bower played a stunt pilot on The Waltons before marrying Mary Ellen

Daredevil Rex Barker was a far cry from Dr. Curtis Willard.

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The Waltons presented many aspects of life during the 1930s and '40s. It portrayed both the trials and the triumphs that the titular family faced and gave a glimpse into what life was like in rural Virginia during those years.

The classic series also cast a nostalgic light on different forms of entertainment from that time, whether it was going to a carnival or gathering around the radio. An immensely popular attraction that sprang up after World War I was barnstorming. These "flying circuses" involved stunt pilots traveling across America performing aerial tricks to small-town crowds. Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, started out in barnstorm shows.

In The Waltons episode "The Wingwalker," one such pilot puts on a show not far from Walton's mountain. The pilot's name is Rex Barker, and he brags to John-Boy that the scar on his left cheek came after he "kissed" the ground a little too much. The episode's title refers to a stunt woman who actually walks along the wing of Barker's biplane. She and John-Boy have a brief romance but, in the end, decide to go their separate ways.

Though John-Boy is surprised to learn that the wingwalker he saw in the sky is a woman, it was not uncommon at the time to see women like Bessie Coleman, Katherine Stinson and Lillian Boyer perform harrowing feats high above the ground.

Even with his leather pilot helmet on, Waltons fans will immediately recognize the man who plays Rex Barker, actor Tom Bower. The daredevil was Bower's first role on the series but he would come back the following season in a much more important part, Dr. Curtis Willard.

Curtis arrives in season five and forms an immediate connection with Mary Ellen. Very immediate. She breaks off her engagement to the man she was about to marry and ties the knot with Curtis instead! Naturally, Tom Bower appeared numerous times as Dr. Willard in the fifth and sixth seasons of The Waltons. In fact, before he is called away to war, he and Mary Ellen have a son named John-Curtis.

Tom Bower played two roles that could not be more different but he wouldn't the be the first actor to play a one-off part then come back for a regular or recurring role. Roger Moore guest-starred on Maverick before coming on as the third leading man, Beauregarde, in the later seasons. There are many other examples, and not just on shows from the 1960s and '70s. Nancy Stafford had a single-episode role on the first season of Matlock before joining the cast as Michelle Thomas in season two.

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Mblack 13 months ago
I think we've seen a story like this before. Maybe not the same framing.
Rob Mblack 13 months ago
I was thinking the same thing.
BenSobeleone 13 months ago
Just some trivia: Tom Bower played Marvin in Die Hard 2. He helped John McClane.
Mblack BenSobeleone 13 months ago
I never noticed. But now I see the resemblance. Kind of a stepdown from Mary Ellen's husband
BenSobeleone Mblack 13 months ago
Tom Bower also played a helicopter pilot in the Harrison Ford movie Clear and Present Danger. Willem Dafoe was also in that movie.
Mblack 13 months ago
Of cpurse, Curt gets killed at Pearl Harbor, but after the war after Mary Ellen has another whirlwi romance, with Jonesy, a woman arrives to tell her Curtis is alive. But like John jr,he looks very different.

Her first boyfriend she was going to marry was a doctor.
Pacificsun 13 months ago
Really interesting story, MeTV Staff writers! Completely new info and another slant on the Walton's. Appreciate the context you provided, about aerial flying circuses, and the ground breaking female performances. So, how the article's been written does give us a feel for those decades. And makes the episode in particular much more interesting watch!!

Mission accomplished!!
39 months ago
"Curtis" always seemed a grouchy sourpuss.
Mblack 13 months ago
If I remember, he grew up in coal country, a hard life.

If I recall, he got through medical school on a promise, so he was obligated to serve in the army.
Pacificsun Mblack 13 months ago
Wow! You've really been paying attention to the storylines!

The writers would be appreciative!
Terry 39 months ago
I absolutely love The Waltons!! I didn't get to watch the show when it came on TV the first run. I have a standing date at noon to watch them now!
MarkSpeck 39 months ago
Matlock also had Kari Lizer, who was a defendant in the first season (a Madonna-type singer accused of killing her manager), but came back as a regular in the second season as law clerk Cassie Phillips.

An even better example is Brynn Thayer...she appeared in a very unusual episode of Matlock, where he handled two cases (it was a two-hour episode, if I recall). She was his client in one case, where she was innocent, but it turned out, she was the real killer in the other case! Anyhow, just a handful of episodes later (and if this was Law & Order and not Matlock, imagine how up in arms the fans would be!), Thayer became a regular as Ben's daughter and new law partner, Leanne McIntire.
Pacificsun MarkSpeck 13 months ago
Yup, Matlock (AG) never flinched from touching the "edge of the box." Meaning doing everything needed to keep the series interesting. I remember another novel two-partner. Kind of unusual for that kind of mystery/detective/lawyer series. Beyond the formulaic.
stephaniestavropoulos 39 months ago
Reading this story, reminds me of the episode that took place on Olivia's birthday. {I know, more than one of them did.} A pilot who works for the Post Office, crashes his plane on a field, {I believe,} on Walton's Mountain. Naturally, the family all rushes over to offer up that good old Mountain Walton hospitality.
The pilot was played by Paul Michael Glaser. {Approximately two years removed from his "break out role" as David Starsky, on another network.}
The family was at a loss as to what to gift Olivia for her birthday. John-Boy read her a poem. Olivia talked about how she would like to go flying. I can't remember who suggested it, {the obvious choice would be Jim-Bob,} But who ever it was, broached the topic to PMG's character about getting him to take their mother flying, and off she went into the wild blue yonder! You really felt like you were up there with them! Leastways, I did! Great shots by the camera crew!
Oddly enough, Aunt Bee also went flying, she took flying lessons.
It seemed made up for that episode. It's the only time we see Olivia interested in flying (though the episode is later referenced) while James Robert is the airplane lover. He finally gets up in the Summer of 42 episode, where the widowed love interest gifts him with a flight. Hewas already building his plane by then.
Andybandit 39 months ago
Interesting story. I watch some of the episodes of the Waltons. A lot of the episodes are boring.
ELEANOR 39 months ago
Many actors on Perry Mason appeared in one-off roles and then were brought back in reoccurring roles. Most notably were Karl Held, Wesley Lau and Richard Anderson.
MrsPhilHarris ELEANOR 39 months ago
You are correct!
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