Before Carrie, Sissy Spacek's big TV breakthrough came on The Waltons
"Sissy even looked like us with her red hair and freckles."
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It's hard to imagine Sissy Spacek in the Seventies without picturing her as Carrie.
In this iconic 1976 role, Spacek, under a bucket of blood, became one of the most chilling antiheroes in high-school horror history.
However, three years before this big-screen classic debuted, Spacek appeared in two episodes of The Waltons.
As Sarah Jane Simmons, Spacek was one of the most troubled teens we met on the mountain, but not in the eerie way of Carrie.
In "The Townie," Sarah Jane starts hanging around with the Waltons kids. The daughter of a widow for whom the world has lost its sheen, Sarah Jane desperately wants to leave the mountain to find a brighter future in the outside world. This puts her character in intriguing contrast with John-Boy, who struggles with feeling pulled to experience the world while also deeply wishing not to miss a cherished moment with his family.
In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Richard Thomas (John-Boy) has named Spacek among his favorite guest stars on the show, and in her memoir, Lessons from the Mountain, Mary McDonough (Erin Walton) remembered Spacek and Thomas got along so well, they could barely get through a take without bursting into laughter.
"She and Richard cut up and are in more than a few gag reel shots together," McDonough wrote. "Sissy even looked like us with her red hair and freckles."
In fact, Spacek's real story of how she came to be on the mountain shows how the future Oscar winner somewhat mirrored her character Sarah Jane, at least in terms of her ambitious will to reach for the stars.
Spacek grew up as a kid in the country in Quitman, Texas, where she was part of a family that also included her cousin, actor Rip Torn. Well, Torn called her up one day and invited Spacek to run away from her "happy, idyllic, small-town life" to become a singer in New York. She changed her name to Rainbo and did just that, but her fame would come instead as an actor. (She had this change of heart to switch paths after a walk-on role in an Andy Warhol film.)
The Waltons became Spacek's early stop on her way to becoming a movie star, and even though she only appeared in two episodes, you could say that her character did at least make an effort to stick around longer – she memorably asked John-Boy to make an honest woman out of her and marry her by saying (in the episode "The Odyssey"): "When are you going to stop being John-Boy, and start being John-Man?"
After The Waltons, Spacek started doing spooky Stephen King movies and the rest is Hollywood history. Looking back at this early period in the Seventies, Spacek told The Telegraph it was a "magical" time for artists.
Her friends on the mountain watched her star rise from afar.
"It was so fun to watch all of her movies over the years," McDonough said. "I liked to think we were a stop on her train to the Oscars."