Linda Purl grew up in Japan and had trouble adjusting to American life
"There seemed to be no culture or tradition," the Matlock and Happy Days star said of the U.S.
The Waltons episode "The Spoilers" is not about spoiler alerts. No, the "Spoilers" in this case are a family of city folk who moves back to the mountain due to the Great Depression. The Hanovers may have lost their fortune, but they have not lost their taste for New York. In other words, they're a little snobby. The children, in particular, have a seemingly "bad" influence on the Walton kids.
But not entirely. The daughter, Alicia, convinces John-Boy to move to New York to pursue his dream as a writer. That has a positive influence on his life.
The casting director found the perfect actress to play Alicia Hanover in Linda Purl. The teenage newcomer had just begun her television career. "The Spoilers" was one of three small TV roles for her in October 1974, the month that introduced her to audiences. Well, American audiences. Because Purl had begun her career in Japan, where she had spent most of her life up to that point. Her youth had been spent in Tokyo.
Purl's father was an executive with Union Carbide. When she was two, her family moved to Japan, where she became a child star.
"For seven years, from the ages of 7 to 14, Linda had her own TV show in Japan's educational network," a newspaper profile explained in 1976. She performed on stage, notably in a Japanese production of The King and I, in which she was the only non-Asian actor. (She played Anna's son.) Toho, the iconic film studio behind Godzilla, discovered Purl and put her into motion pictures.
In 1971, Purl returned to United States. It was not an easy adjustment.
"I didn't like it at first," Purl admitted to the reporter. "I didn't understand my country. I found no discipline or pride or respect for teachers among my schoolmates. There seemed to be no culture or tradition."
Now you can see why casting her as a fish-out-of-water on The Waltons was so apt.
She would return to The Waltons again two seasons later for "The Heartbreaker," wherein she portrayed a musician who breaks Jason's heart.
Around the same time, Purl was playing Richie's high school girlfriend, Gloria, on Happy Days. She would return to the series later playing a different character, a different girlfriend. She was Fonzie's flame, Ashley Pfister.
Perhaps having recurring roles on a slice of Americana like Happy Days helped condition her to American life.
"After I had been here for some time, I went back home to Japan for a visit and I found I really didn't belong there either," Purl said. "I'm not Japanese and they can't accept me as one of them."
Purl had good reason to stay in the States — she kept landing meaty roles on television. A few years after Happy Days, she played Charlene Matlock (pictured up top on the left), the daughter of Andy Griffith's Ben Matlock, on Matlock. Decades later, the tables had reversed, and she was playing the parents, notably Pam's mom (and Michael's lover) on The Office.
You could say she finally found her home.