Meet the twins who played the first Walton grandchild
One TV critic claimed the twins portrayed "the perfect child" in baby John Curtis.
In the sixth season of The Waltons, Mary Ellen’s son John Curtis is born, introducing the first Walton grandkid on the mountain.
In these early episodes, baby John Curtis charmed audiences so much that at least one critic deemed the new baby "the perfect child," if there ever was one seen on TV.
Playing John Curtis was a set of twins named Michael and Marshall Reed.
In the Seventies, as it was in the Fifties when I Love Lucy hired twins to play Little Ricky, it was still common to hire identical twins to play TV kids, providing a way to film more scenes each week.
This practice of hiring twins was also continued on other Seventies shows like Little House on the Prairie, which hired two sets of identical twins to play Grace and Carrie Ingalls, and perhaps most famously in the Eighties on Full House, with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen playing Michelle Tanner.
On The Waltons, Michael and Marshall Reed appeared in more than 50 episodes from 1978 to the show’s end in 1981.
Not much is known about the twins, including how they were cast, but Waltons star Judy Norton shared in her YouTube series “Behind the Scenes with Judy Norton” that she loved watching different family members interact with the baby boys.
"At that age, they’re not acting," Norton said. "Everything you see from a toddler that age is responding to the actual energy that they are getting off the actors they’re working with."
Norton said working with the twin toddlers was an extra challenge for the cast because sometimes the babies acted unpredictably.
She recalled one scene where John Curtis was supposed to be laying down in a crib, but when she turned around mid-scene, he was standing up and she was suddenly afraid he might try to crawl out.
"I was surprised to see him standing up in that crib," Norton said. "So, my reaction is completely ad-libbed."
Norton said this addition of the baby boys helped The Waltons feel even more like what it was depicting on TV was scenes snatched from genuine real life.
In 1983, a popular TV critic Ron Miller compiled his list of "Top 10 TV Moppets," explaining how shows like The Waltons benefited from bringing in new TV kids after the first lot grows up. He said this practice injected freshness while drawing in more kid viewers who missed the first round of kids on the show and still want someone onscreen to identify with.
"They have to be attention-getting kids," Miller wrote, putting Gary Coleman at the top of his list for his work on Diff’rent Strokes and including even older child stars who he felt perfectly conveyed youthful idealism, like Kim Fields on The Facts of Life.
At No. 10, he listed Michael and Marshall Reed, giving them a special distinction that he described as the "Swee’ Pea Award" (named after Popeye's adoptive child) for "their one outstanding trait: They never talk, so in other words, they portray the perfect child."
After The Waltons ended, neither Michael nor Marshall acted again. (You might notice that IMDb errantly credits Michael for a role in the 1986 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "A Very Happy Ending." Playing the "Boyfriend" in an airport scene in that episode was the much older Michael James Reed, not then-9-year-old Michael Reed from The Waltons.)
It seems that after The Waltons, the twins went back to normal life and never acted again, which Norton said was basically all the twins were hired to do on the show anyway.
"I think it says a lot about the energy that we all had for real working with the young twins who played John Curtis," Norton said. "Real things happened in scenes sometimes."