• July 19, 2024

Eric Scott: “Waltons” Icon/King of Hearts – Herbie J Pilato S3

The+Waltons

The timeless appeal of The Waltons is attributed to many reasons. Firstly, each episode was as a little movie, with a beginning, middle and an end, unlike contemporary television shows that feature convoluted arc storylines or guest-characters that linger throughout the entire season.

“Today,” Eric explains, “there is more a soap-opera mentality. But on The Waltons, we’d introduce a character and in 48 minutes of production, you got to know that character, and there would be resolution with that character.”

Upon recently viewing a few episodes, Eric was “amazed,” especially with performances by Richard Thomas, Ralph Waite and Michael Learned. “They were so strong, with regard to character development,” he says. In their inter-acting with fellow cast members, Eric assesses, “Michael and Ralph listenedso well,” which is one of the most respectful gestures an actor could convey while working in a scene. “And Richard, of course,” who played John-Boy, “was always a stunning person to be around.”

As Eric recalls, Thomas took great strides to “care for us.” If any of the younger Waltons cast members felt a particular line of dialogue was incongruent with their TV counterparts, Thomas would make certain the scripts were altered to maintain the integrity of each performance and the show in general. “If he felt there was a character flaw,” Eric relays, “or if something wasn’t progressing smoothly or was inconsistent with any character, he’d address it. He made sure that John-Boy and all the other characters were covered. I would talk with him, make suggestions about my character, and the script would be changed. In many ways, Richard really was our big brother,” on and off-camera.

Thomas, as did Waite, had directed a few episodes and, according to Eric, “had that energy. He’d walk on the set and he’d have all these different ideas that he wanted to do. He was amazing. He would usually get a script a few days before the rest of us and when I say he worked on it, I mean he worked on it.”

As Eric saw it, Thomas was “an actor’s director, just like Ralph. He allowed the technical side to just flow, organically. And I cherished his insight. He was the driving force on our show, and he had an incredible influence on it. And when he had the opportunity to direct, he brought along the same kind of gusto. He had ideas and knew our characters as well as we did. Our characters were very much like each of our personalities, and he knew those personalities well. Because we had such a large cast, the producers recognized early who we were as individuals, and set out to incorporate traits from our real lives into our characters.”

With Ben Walton, Eric’s character, “they saw him as a little bit of a wise ass that could get into a little bit of trouble once in a while. But he also had a business sense. He was intelligent but emotional. And that was more or less taken from me,” Eric admits with his refreshing trademark candor.

Although Thomas’ the lead-character of John-Boy Walton – the alter-ego of the show’s master-mind Earl Hamner – received top-billing, Eric is quick to point out, “We didn’t have prima donnas on our show. We were a troupe all the way.”

That team-spirit would most certainly include Hamner. “I had never worked with a producer/writer like we did with Earl,” Eric relays. “It was like having an in-house writer on the set. Between him and Richard we all always felt that there was someone to talk to. They looked through each script (as if) with magnified glasses, every word was under the microscope.” With this kind of patience in production the end result was a quality product, “and it showed.”

Comparatively speaking, and in retrospect, each 48-minute Waltons episode equals approximately 15 minutes in production time today because, as Eric explains, “We took the time to develop characters, to let the characters and the actors find their way. Nowadays, it’s all about quick-editing, and the seven-second approach to watching a show.”

Another Waltons co-worker that served as somewhat of a mentor for Eric was Ellen Corby who played Grandma Walton, even after she suffered a stroke that disabled her speech. “All you had to do was look at those eyes of hers,” Eric recalls, “and how she conveyed so much without even saying a word. She had that little bit of spicy energy, and she saw that same vim and vinegar in me, and she encouraged me to ‘Go for it! Go out there and do it! Add to it.'”

In effect, the set of The Waltonsprovided a mutually support system that proved beneficial for the cast – as well as the home audience. As far as Eric can tell, the series was and remains popular for two main reasons:

(1) Viewer relate to it

and/or

(2) Viewers aspire to relate to it.

He explains: “When I talk to people that grew up watching it within my generation, I think they are connecting it back to the wonderful time they had growing up in the ’60s and the ’70s. So I think that nostalgia is probably part of the attraction now. And remember, too, because it was based in the 1930s, it was nostalgic even then (when it debuted in the ’70s).”

“But, it’s funny,” he goes on to clarify, “because when we were doing the show, I didn’t think about the effect it had on anything. We were just working. It was a production. I looked at it from an acting standpoint, or learned from it from a post-production standpoint. It was all very technical for me. I didn’t look at it as entertaining, or consider if the public was enjoying it. I could never control any of that. And we would never change what we were doing to appease others. We just did what we felt was right for the show and with each script, and we honored that.”

In turn, fans continue to honor the show.

“People approach me,” Eric goes on to say, “and tell me of the impact that the show had on them growing up, how it changed their lives…that they raised their kids according to what they learned on the show…how they named their children after our characters. These are all like wonderful residuals for the effort and energy we put into doing the show. It’s all love. It’s a gift.”

As a result of The Waltons popularity, additional one-hour family shows appeared

on television, including NBC’s Little House on the Prairie(1974-83). Like The WaltonsLittle House, which was produced by TV legend Michael Landon (of NBC’s Bonanza/1959-73 and Highway to Heaven/1983-89), was a period piece, based on real life experiences, specifically those of Laura Ingalls and the memories she shared in monumental Prairie books.

“Michael Landon was brilliant,” Eric intones. “I loved his work on Little HouseHighway to Heaven and Bonanza. He really knew how to entertain.” But despite the fact that House was set in the 1880s, Eric believes “some of the dialogue was very contemporary,” and he respected Landon’s choice to go that route. “But I don’t feel the development of his characters had the same amount of layers that we did on The Waltons. His show was wonderful entertainment, and parents could sit down and watch it with their kids, who absolutely loved it. And for that it was great. But on The Waltons, I always felt we were making an adult show and that kids could enjoy it as well.”

As when Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek appeared in a few episodes playing Sarah Simmons, a somewhat disgruntled friend of the Waltonchildren. In one segment, it was suggested that her character was pregnant out of wedlock. “It was just two little lines,” Eric intones, and such subtle references may or may not have been picked up on by a ten or twelve your old viewer. “But for adults, that was a commentary on the times. So, our show had a great deal of depth, and that was one of its strengths. The stories were just terrific.”

Most of the stories, certainly in the early years of the series, stemmed from the creativity and real-life memories of Earl Hamner. Other scripts were ignited by the equally gifted minds of writers like John Furia, who had previously worked on shows like The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-65) and Kung Fu (ABC, 1972-75), the latter for which had shared sets for the 1973 feature film remake of Lost Horizon (on which the young Walton actors frequently played).

In direct opposition to what became the unwritten “no hugging/no learning” rule later set down by Seinfeld(NBC, 1990-1998), the Walton characters frequently embraced one another, literally and figuratively. The characters had issues with one another, but by the given episode’s end-tag, those issues were resolved. Both the Waltons and their viewers were comforted and, as Eric sustains, “That’s what TV shows are supposed to do. That’s what life is supposed to do. We all lose our patience or perspective from time to time, and conflict arises. But as long as there is an apology that’s appropriate, then great – that’s what life is all about. I mean, we shouldn’t all be on such pedestals that we can’t be human.”

The human condition is something of which Eric is all too familiar. In those challenging days after his wife Theresa passed away and before finding love again with new wife Cindy, Eric was a struggling single parent. The Waltons had ended its successful original run, and the acting roles were few and far between. He had experienced the highs of professional TV stardom and the trauma of personal tragedy. Had he not retained the moral fiber instilled in him by his loving-kind parents he might not have survived. Instead, he not only survived, but thrived, and through it all never once took anything or anyone for granted in his real-life or reel-life families.

“We all get how fortunate we are,” Eric says of he and his Waltons co-stars. “We have each other as a second family. We were happy to be together on the show, and we enjoy getting together today” (as when Eric and Cindy recently stayed with Mary Erin Walton McDonough and her husband Don while appearing at a Waltonsevent).

In fact, in the astounding realm of Eric Scott, a manifold of families frequently gather in celebration. When Cindy came into his life, she too had recently lost a spouse. And while Eric remains close to Theresa’s family, Cindy remains close to the family of her first husband. Each of their connective broods makes every effort to gather for holidays and any other day as much as they can. It’s a life of quality, not unlike the treasured family existence that was portrayed on The Waltons from The Homecoming in 1971, to the weekly series from 1972 to 1981 through the TV-movie sequels of 1982, all of which aired on CBS.

Then, from 1993 to 1997, Eric and his Walton co-stars regrouped for a trilogy of TV movies for NBC, the first of which was A Waltons Thanksgiving Reunion. By the time this first film aired, Eric had lost Theresa to cancer and, as he says of he and his Walton co-stars, “a lot of things had happened in our lives. It was very different from when we were all together back in the 1970s. It was a very emotional time for me, personally, but it was also very emotional for all of us to look back at how our lives had progressed, and that we were now reunited with old friends. Each of us had gone through a great deal, some more than others. But we were there for each other…and everyone was certainly there for me.”

Case in point: Eric and the cast received a lot of press for the Thanksgiving Reunion film, and made numerous appearances on talk shows to promote it. For one such appearance, Ralph Waite was unable to be there in person, but part-took in the event via telephone. Upon hearing Eric discuss the loss of Theresa, Waite was overcome with emotion, and whispered under his breath, “Bless his heart.”

It was as if God was speaking through Waite, echoing the sentiment millions of home viewers were assuredly uttering to themselves. In the process, it seemed Eric’s already-genial soul was furthered sweetened…with the strength to move on after tragedy, to journey forward in faith with a firm foundation of moral structure and character that had been instilled within him by his parents, a centering stabilizing force of light that continues on through his children; and which remains illuminated for the rest of us – each time we watch The Waltons.

“Bless his heart,” indeed.

For more information aboutThe Waltons

To see a video of a recent reunion ofThe Waltonscast on the NBC’sTodayshow, click here.

Herbie J Pilato is a Writer/Producer who has worked for Syfy, A&E, TLC, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony. Herbie J is the author of a number of acclaimed TV tie-in books (TheBionicBook,Life Story – The Book of Life Goes On, TheBewitchedBook,Bewitched ForeverTheKung FuBook of Caine,TheKung FuBook of Wisdom, and NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A Book). Herbie J is also the Founder and Executive Director for The Classic TV Preservation Society (a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gap between positive TV shows and education), the Creative Director for Erie Street Entertainment (a TV production company that is geared toward sci-fi/fantasy, and family-oriented material), and appears frequently on TV in shows, like the TV Guide Channel’s new series, 100 Moments That Changed TV (now airing every Sunday night in October). For more information, please log on to

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