Judy Norton talks about filming the famous Waltons dinner scenes
We dare you to try and find a scene of Olivia Walton eating.
Some of the most well-known things from The Waltons, perhaps second only to the "good nights" at the end of each episode, are the family dinner scenes. Seven children, two parents and two grandparents — not to mention the many guests that stopped by— all crowded around the table made for many entertaining moments.
Judy Norton, who played the oldest daughter, Mary Ellen, recently released a video on her YouTube channel giving some behind-the-scenes insight into what it was like to film those scenes.
In short, she claims they "were an adventure."
Because of the complicated logistics of filming a TV show, every scene from a given episode that took place in the kitchen was filmed at the same time. Even if one scene was at the beginning and another was at the end, they would be filmed back-to-back, usually all on the same day.
"We did not shoot in order because of the amount of time and work it would take to set up and light a particular set," Norton explains.
She also remembers how tempting it was to eat everything on the plate first thing in the morning. However, each scene required many different angles, not to mention multiple takes from each of those angles, so pacing your nibbling was key.
Also, the actors had to do the same thing in each shot to keep continuity. So, if you took a huge bite in the first shot — well, you had to keep doing that for each different setup. And after the food has been sitting out for a while, that idea becomes a lot less appealing.
As Norton puts it, "The food, which is nice and fresh in the beginning, gets less and less fresh."
Michael Learned, who played mom Olivia Walton, had a foolproof way of handling dinner scenes — she just didn’t eat the food!
"We always joke about how Michael Learned never actually ate," Norton remembers.
Learned would move the food around her plate or say her line right before she put food in her mouth. Norton suggests to "watch in episodes and see if you ever catch Michael eating."
In a second video about The Waltons kitchen scenes, Norton talks about how the hot lights and long hours made it hard to keep the energy up. As a solution, father of the Walton family, Ralph Waite, would entertain the kids in between takes. He would tell jokes ("nothing horrible but, you now, a little risqué for the kids") and sing Bob Marley.
"I don’t know whether Ralph really could sing in tune or whether it was just something that he thought was fun to sing out of tune, but he sang out of tune all the time," Norton recalls. She continues that Waite had "a couple of favorite things that he would sing and one of them was 'I Shot the Sheriff.'"
There were lots of pranks and jokes on set during the dinner scenes and sometimes uncontrollable fits of giggling. Norton notes that Michael Learned was especially prone to ruining takes because she was laughing.
The fun that the actors had together off camera shows through in the final dinner scenes. They are always a highlight of any episode. Check out Judy Norton’s full first video about her experience filming those scenes below!