Ralph Waite wanted John Walton to be a little meaner
The actor wanted Pa Walton to be more like his own dad, who could be critical.
When Ralph Waite joined The Waltons to play John Walton, he did way more than just act the part.
He began directing episodes in 1973, a year after the show premiered, and in total, he directed 16 episodes.
He became very invested in the show's success, but by 1975, he may have taken too many steps outside his character.
That year, he began prodding The Waltons producers to make his character a more realistic father figure.
In his eyes, John Walton was infinitely too patient, and in his experience, he said he could never be that patient with his own kids in the real world.
But when Waite was pushing producers to change the character from the gentle Pa Walton into a father figure who is more critical of his kids, it wasn't himself that he wanted to channel, but his own father.
Waite told The Sunday News in 1975 that his father "often harassed" him, "the same as everyone else."
Waite's father was a construction engineer who "tended to be a rough and impatient man," and Waite thought to make The Waltons more realistic, John should occasionally show flashes of how even fathers with a great sense of security in themselves like John Walton could lose patience with their kids.
Of course, producers nixed the idea any time that Waite raised it, because Waite said, "You begin to feel like you're violating audience expectations."
"We mustn't go too far," Waite explained the ethos of The Waltons' idyllic mountain world. "Viewers expect a certain mold. So, there is a tendency to play it safe."
In the end, Waite settled for the vision that producers had for his character, even when directing episodes.
He decided that even though John Walton was the picture of a perfect dad, that didn't mean that he had nothing in common with his most famous TV character.
"He's the good side of me," Waite said.
And as for any tension Waite felt about his own dad losing his cool every now and again when Waite acted up as a kid, he didn't harbor any bad feelings.
The actor felt strongly that his life experiences had led him to The Waltons and after that, he'd been blessed.
"It's been a good life," Waite said.
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The episode with the kid from the CCC, John stops him from stealing by aiming his rifle at the kid. When Ben uses John-Boy's car secretly, and gets i to an accident, John grabs him by the collar and threatens him. I recall another episode like that. Then there's the episode where the family joins the cousins in an armed struggle.
When I watched every episode last year, it struck me that they'd sanitized the show with time, presentinga purer family than in early episodes.
To slip into more realism, the characters (actors) have to be very strong (meaning compelling). Because there has to be a purpose for watching.
I've been watching Adam 12 lately (as one of the cop shows). I am amazed at how many of the stories don't have a happy ending. Of course it's taken from real stories, is the disclaimer. And the show could be downright depressing except for Kent McCord and Martin Milner. It's hard to explain. But they have a leveling force in the series. Part realism, resignation and duty. Very compelling, because that's what first responders do.