Our national obsession with oversized TV families isn’t a recent reality-show phenomenon. Forty years ago, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and The Waltons were each prime-time hits, and eight members of the cast from the latter visited with Matt Lauer this morning on Today. For youngins who scrunched their nose when Today ran video clips of the show, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1971, The Waltons was an extremely earnest drama about a western Virginian family struggling through the Great Depression and World War II. Is it dated? “It was dated when we did it!” interjected one of the cast, which included Kami Cotler (who played Elizabeth), Jon Walmsley (Jason), David Harper (Jim Bob), Eric Scott (Ben), Michael Learned (Olivia, a.k.a. Ma), Richard Thomas (John-Boy), Judy Norton (Mary Ellen), and Mary Elizabeth McDonough (Erin). Watch the clip below:
But was it too wholesome? Tread lightly, Matt. “That annoys me,” said Learned. “In the beginning it was not [too sugary]. Toward the end it got a little… fell in love with itself. But toward the beginning we were dealing with book burning in Germany, we were dealing with the Dust Bowl cousins…segregation…some real issues, as well as the warmth of the family.”
Lauer lauded the cast for handling their adolescent celebrity so responsibly, never running afoul of the law or publishing dishy tell-all memoirs. (Take that, Barry Williams!) “It was a very different time to be famous,” said Cotler. “When Walton fans meet you, they feel like you’re family… people just want to give you a hug.”
Were you a fan of The Waltons? Or did you quickly switch the channel to watch a re-run of Jon & Kate Plus 8?