Michael Learned just couldn’t accept the new John-Boy

Richard Thomas called leaving The Waltons "the stupidest thing I ever did in my life."

When Robert Wightman was introduced as the new John-Boy on The Waltons, his face was covered in bandages, and he didn’t speak in his first appearance.

For viewers, the unbandaging of John-Boy’s face was supposed to be a moment that transitioned them from exclusively thinking of Richard Thomas as John-Boy.

At least one member of The Waltons cast did not buy into this choice of imagery, though.

"I said, ‘So John-Boy’s coming back from war with bandages around his face," Michael Learned recounted to the Television Academy. "So, OK… now he has a different face, but he also has a different voice? I hated it. It’s partly why I left."

Earl Hamner has said that departures of actors like Learned and Thomas sapped energy from the show, and Thomas has said that his decision to leave was perhaps "the stupidest thing I ever did in my life."

Thomas told the Television Academy that he made the decision with "the infinite wisdom of a 26-year-old." He insisted that "there was absolutely no reason for me to leave except that I was ready to leave."

"My agent couldn’t believe it," Thomas said. "The producers couldn’t believe it. They offered me more money."

Learned also couldn’t believe it, and soon after Thomas left, she made plans to do the same.

"I just couldn’t deal with a new John-Boy," Learned said. "I couldn’t handle it. Not that he wasn’t a good actor. I feel sorry for him, actually."

Wightman was a virtual nobody when he got cast to step into Richard Thomas’ very large shoes to continue the role of John-Boy.

At the time, he was only active in the Los Angeles theater circuit, but he’d gotten a reputation for what The Los Angeles Times once described as his "Jimmy Stewart-like charm."

His first onscreen role ever was in a TV movie that Richard Thomas starred in called No Other Love.

It seemed Wightman was destined to stay in Thomas’ shadow, though, performing as John-Boy in 16 episodes of The Waltons and only one of the TV movies.

Thomas eventually returned to the role of John-Boy in the Nineties, happy to be welcomed back home on The Waltons.

At the time when Wightman was cast, though, Thomas had nothing but words of encouragement for his temporary replacement in the franchise:

"I think it’s terrific that someone else has been cast as John-Boy," Thomas told the Pittsburgh Press in 1979.

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ShawnM 29 days ago
Just like in the show ‘Last Man Standing’ Replaced the first daughter I got used to that. Replaced the second daughter (as the result of the show being canceled and picked up by another network) what were they thinking there? No even close.
L 1 month ago
I always thought that Richard Thomas left the show to do movies.
TinaMarieHaddadRhodes 1 month ago
No one learned from Bewitched. Some characters you just can’t replace. They tried it on Dallas it didn’t work. It didn’t work for me on the Brady Bunch variety show or in the movies. The two Becky’s on Roseanne, no good. They have done it time and again and just doesn’t work…
The problem is, if they lose the actor, they either lose the character or use a new actor. Peripheral characters candisappear, but it's harder for a central character. You have to concoct a reason, and the loss of a Darrin or whatever changes the dynamics. Eight is Enough survived the mother's death, but they brought in a new womanto marry in.
BruceBaker 1 month ago
I hate when they replace a character with a different actor and pretend nothing happened hoping for a seamless transition. At least they thought ahead and had a story line.
LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Nice to see many comments. Usually the stories MeTV does on anything Walton's related don't get much fanfare.
MattAlbrecht 1 month ago
It's okay Richard...your career went no where after the Walton's, and had you hung around, I don't think it would have either, judging by how well the other kids did.
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Michael MattAlbrecht 1 month ago
The movie about James Dean. "Mission of the Shark". "A Thousand Men and a Baby". Those come to mind immediately. He's really had a long career. Mostly tv. I'd say he did better than the other Walton kids.
L TaMaL 1 month ago
What about the Red Badge of Courage and All's Quiet on the Western Front.

Oh, I forgot. Such titles are no longer required reading in English Lit.
Michael L 1 month ago
Those were either before, or during The Waltons. So not a good indicator of where his career went.
Ljudylynn 1 month ago
Mary Ellen's husband, Curtis was played by 2 different guys. They should have left him dead instead of replacing him. Now THAT was a dumb move by the producers. And young Ashley Longworth was played by 2 different actors.
CoreyC Ljudylynn 1 month ago
One was Jonathan Frakes who was later best known as William Riker of Star Trek The Next Generation.
wrialhuden Ljudylynn 1 month ago
Perhaps Tow Bower wasn't available at the time to reprise his role when the script for "The Tempest" was submitted. Frankly, I believe it was a mistake to bring Curt back to life, so to speak. It was established he was killed at Pearl Harbor but several years later Mary Ellen is informed that Curt is living in Florida, having started a new life there because he didn't want to return to Mary Ellen and John Curtis as his war injuries left him impotent...
goplad wrialhuden 1 month ago
Bower asked for a small salary raise but the producers balked then decided to replace him.
Michael Ljudylynn 1 month ago
I'm not so worried about the actor changing, but the story of Curtis makes no real sense. He dies, Mary Ellen gets on with her life, becoming a nurse and then working to become a doctor.

But bringing Curt back didn't add anything. If he'd gone missing, yes. But he died.

I don't think the show thought it through. I can't believe this was planned all along.

Some of the returns make little sense, but certainly if an actor is hired for one role, they may not be available if the show decides to bring them back. David Huddleston was great as The Literary Man, but when they grought the character back, another actor, and the pizazz of the role is gone. Maybe it's David Huddleston, maybe it's putting this roaming character into a job. They probably should have just used a new character, except for the part wher John Boy knew him.
Airedale92129 goplad 1 month ago
Some producers let their greed get in the way of what's best for the show. Andy Griffith & his producers wrote wonderful Betty Lynn off the show, rather than give her the modest raise she was asking for.
Ljudylynn 1 month ago
Talking about how the show used the same actors for different roles, there was also the guy in the same hospital room with John boy. He later came on to play Paul, Erin's fiance and later her husband. Come on!
Michael Ljudylynn 1 month ago
The lumberjack? I just saw that episode recently, I didn't recognize him.
Ljudylynn 1 month ago
The show replaced many characters with other actors: Verdies son, Josh was played by different kids, Rose had a previous role as the landlady when Erin and MaryEllen moved out, Olivia's aunt was played by 2 different actresses, and I believe Kip Niven played a pastor and also an army officer on the show. I've been watching reruns on Hallmark channel and really noticed all the changes throughout the different seasons. It bothers me and makes me wonder if the producers thought the viewers wouldn't notice. Also, have any of you noticed all the cold sores the actors had on their lips? Kind of gross.
jezthewitch Ljudylynn 1 month ago
Many of these series used actors for different roles. Little house on the prairie did the same. It never bothered me. I looked at it like maybe the producers liked the person and kept their eyes open for another part they could play. Its a great show, watch it with a positive attitude
Michael Ljudylynn 1 month ago
One thing, watching the series every weekday puts episodes closer together. The changing actors becomes more obvioys when the episodes aren't weeks apart.
Coldnorth Ljudylynn 1 month ago
With HD today the older shows all their flaws. Some of their makeup is so thick I’m surprised it didn’t crack. Even today, you can see acne, different hair tints and cold sores. Close ups must be hard for some actors now because nothing can be hidden by makeup
DeborahRoberts 1 month ago
Thomas leaving didn't kill the show. It made sense for John-Boy to go to New York, and the show did fine without him for a while. The problem was the same one that destroys many great shows: not knowing when to quit.

The last great moment for the show was the Pearl Harbor episode when Jim-Bob has to tell his sister her husband was killed in the attack. If they'd stopped then, they could have gone out on a beautifully written and acted high. Instead they dragged on. Olivia abandoned the family for D.C. when Learned left, which was completely out of character. Some of the kids aged into mediocre actors. They foolishly recast John-Boy, and Mary Ellen's husband came back from the dead (another recast) with the bizarre explanation that he'd faked his death because Pearl Harbor had left him impotent. 🙄

A great show deteriorated into a bad soap because no one wanted to stop milking the cash cow.
I figured the reason Ms. Learned left was BECAUSE the show was morphing into a soap opera. I suspect some executive at Lorimar pushed for it to veer into soap opera territory when "Dallas" (also produced by Lorimar) became a smash hit right out of the gate.
CaroleThorpe 1 month ago
So what alternatives were left to producers with Thomas' "stupidest" decision. If they didn't tmreplace him, the only other options left would be to kill off Jonn-Boy (which the audience then would never tolerate) or cancel the series and put everyone else out of work. Dozens pf people behind as well as in front of the camera would have been affected. They did the best they could being put in an impossible position by Thomas.
RonLunn 1 month ago
I agree with Michael Learned recounting about her feelings for the new John Boy. Both my wife and I felt the same way, quite awkward.
LoveMETV22 RonLunn 1 month ago
I agree with most, that Robert Wightman just didn't recreate the original John-Boy. However he was just brought on to finish out a series that was to end anyways. Both Richard Thomas and Michael learned had decided to leave the series anyway so the " Michael Learned just couldn’t accept the new John-Boy" phrase and the Richard Thomas " "the stupidest thing I ever did in my life." phrase, are just one of numerous reasons, as both actors have said in numerous interviews. I guess they added them in their article to give it a little pep. So a kudos to Robert Wightman for his part in helping Earl Hamner end what was a great television series.
CaptainDunsel 1 month ago
I never watched The Waltons (beyond the first movie, "The Homecoming") in first run or syndication, so I have no opinion on Wightman's performance, the story arc or any other "in series" aspect of the change.

But it seems to me that very few performers who step into a well-liked role established by another performer get very far in their careers. I'm referring to recasting rather than replacing the character. So, Darrin Stevens counts (and may be considered an exception) while Major Burns / Major Winchester does not.

Can anyone think of some exceptions? Performers whose career survived taking over an established character.
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You are correct - people in military units often leave. But we're talking about TV stories, not actual military units. Gomer Pyle stayed in the Marine Corps for years, when a real person in that position would long have been let go for "failure to adapt".
That's why I mentioned Burns/Winchester as *not* being the sort of replacement I was thinking of. The character of Winchester was a different character filling a similar story function - that of foil for the Hawkeye/BJ pair. I was talking of actors stepping into the same character as another.
LoveMETV22 GlennaRose 1 month ago
More a personality flaw or childish behavior on Agnes Moorehead's part towards Dick Sargent. The producers ended Dick York's run on the show after York suffered a seizure while on set. However both actors did a good job in that role. All in all an enjoyable series.
LoveMETV22 GlennaRose 1 month ago
CaptainDunsel's comment is correct regarding "talking about TV stories, not actual military units." Larry Linville (Major Burns) had a 5 year contract with the M*A*S*H series, he was offered a 2 year extension on that contract, which he declined. He felt he developed the character as far as he could and didn't wish to go any further with the series. I liked both characters, but it was nice when David Ogden Stiers (Major Winchester) joined the cast, he gave the series a breath of fresh air which it needed at the time.
MC1707 GlennaRose 1 month ago
Good show and Mr. York WAS Darin Stevens. So much better than Mr. Sargent.
CoreyC 1 month ago
I understand the reason Richard Thomas leaving is that he wanted to do different roles other than John Boy Walton but he was too recognizable as him. Most fans of TV shows find it almost impossible to accept another actor in the role. Just look at Dick Sargent as the new Darrin.
Carolyn813 1 month ago
I am a 75 year old African American Female. The Walton's has been so special to me for so many years. When Grandpa passed away I missed him so much. After Richard Thomas left the show.....now that made me cry. He was so talented at such a very young age. All of the Walton's were special to me. You know to this day when anything goes wrong in this world 🌍 I love to watch the Walton's. It just makes me feel better. Just hearing the intro music warms my heart. There will never be a Family Show like the WALTON'S.🤗
Michael Carolyn813 1 month ago
I watched it in first run, but I don't think every episode, and I must have stopped watching the later seasons. But I watched every episode two years ago, and seeing them all together gave me insight. I can't explain why the show is memorable, but it is.

I watched the remake of The Homecoming on the CW last December, and it missed the essence of the show, and seemed like a modern show, rather than set in the thirties
JiuJitsuLife Carolyn813 1 month ago
I agree with you ma’am. I grew up watching the waltons. I am now 51. The Waltons is a feel good show for me. The intro music puts my mind at ease. If I’m having a bad day, it’s The Waltons to the rescue. It’s a once in a lifetime show. I say that because I’ve yet to see a show that compares to the Waltons series. It made me feel like I was in those depression days with them. Even though I was but a sparkle in God’s eyes. God bless you Carolyn. 🙏🏻❤️
LoveMETV22 Michael 1 month ago
100% on the CW's remake. However (and just an opinion) I give the CW a thumbs up for their effort, and much like say The Hallmark Channel the remake was not totally profit motivated, I'm sure they wanted to create some $$ from it. It will be interesting to see how they do with the other remake later this year.
Absolutely agree!!!
jezthewitch Michael 1 month ago
The remake on cw was embarrassing
slinton4 Carolyn813 1 month ago
Thanks so much for your comment. I think we all need to have a special “place” to retreat to, especially with the craziness of things today. Not everyone shares the same feelings but, for me, the Waltons is a chance to slow down for just a bit.
LadyAgnes 1 month ago
Michael Learned left when she got the show "Nurse".
RichLorn 1 month ago
And another series jumps the shark.
GTStang08 1 month ago
Most of us who grew up watching "The Waltons", knew that once Richard Thomas (John Boy) left, came back, and left again, then we learned that Michael Learned left for good after leaving the first time...that things just weren't the same. Grandma and Grandpa were already gone and the storylines began to have less and less meaningful purpose. The show should have ended in '79. All good things come to an end, just like "The Rifleman". But the producers kept it going and the show was soon becoming the laughing stock of many of my middle and high school classmates.
LarryAJacobsen 1 month ago
Richard Thomas didn't sound anything like "the narrator" who supposedly was a grown-up John-Boy.
CoreyC LarryAJacobsen 1 month ago
The narrator was Earl Hammer the show's creator.
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