The actor who played Erin Walton found true love at 50
Trace the romantic history of The Waltons’ Mary Beth McDonough, from her first love to her soulmate!
When it came time for pretty Erin Walton to get hitched on The Waltons, she was torn between two men.
The eighth season episode "The Lost Sheep" starts with the military man Ashley Longworth Jr. coming up the mountain early one morning to ask for Erin’s hand. She enthusiastically and immediately said yes.
But by the end of that episode, their wedding is postponed indefinitely, leaving Erin open for a second proposal, this time from lumber company heir Paul Northridge.
On the day of A Wedding on Walton’s Mountain— a TV movie that aired three years after "The Lost Sheep"— however, Ashley reappears. Having lost his wife, he’s come back to reclaim Erin’s hand. The love triangle ends with Erin at last saying "I do." (Do you remember to whom?)
For Erin Walton actor Mary Beth McDonough, finding love while doing The Waltons was a tricky business as a teen. It seemed she was always onset and never had any opportunities for romance.
But then she met her first boyfriend, who played in the Alemany Marching Band. He asked Mary on a date, and then to his prom, and soon, Mary was smitten.
"I felt like a normal girl," she wrote in her memoir Lessons from the Mountain. "I was so happy to have found someone who finally liked me and someone I felt safe with."
Rather than show off her new beau, though, Mary chose to hide her first love from the fan magazines, and she went so far as to attend events with a fake decoy boyfriend.
"It was so private, I went to public functions with someone else to throw the press off," she confirmed.
Dating Erin Walton wasn’t all sunshine and flowers from Waltons’ Mountain. It came with a lot of cloudy days, Mary said, and this put a strain on her first romance.
"He was my first love and put up with an awful lot," she wrote, adding that after they broke up, she still thought warmly of their time together. "He was patient and kind and I learned to love, let go, and trust. I felt alive, loved and lucky."
In the real world, Mary didn’t marry until seven years after The Waltons ended. That’s when she met an actor named Robert Wickstrom at an acting class in Hollywood, and they hit it off right away.
Their wedding took place a year after they met, and The Democrat and Chronicle reported in 1988 that the entire cast of The Waltons attended the celebration— a fabulous affair which drew a whopping 350 guests.
As close with her groom’s family as she was with her TV family, Mary chose Robert’s sister as a bridesmaid, and he chose his father, who he was named for just like John-Boy, as his best man.
The older Robert was delighted to have met his daughter-in-law-to-be at the Wickstrom family Christmas before the wedding.
"When he brought her home last Christmas, she was taller than I thought," the groom’s father said, having formed ideas of her appearance from watching Mary on TV. "But she’s very vivacious and friendly and pleasant."
A few years after the wedding, Mary had become an acting teacher and her husband Rob had turned to writing, both seeking quieter lives after their daughter Sydnee was born.
Part of Mary’s decision to slow down was that she was dealing with an illness called lupus that caused her chronic pain. The stress of her husband’s career change, combined with the illness, put their marriage on the rocks.
"Rob stopped pursuing acting and was trying to find a new career," Mary wrote. "I worried about making the mortgage, taxes, and insurance; that pressure added to my stress, which weighed heavily on me and on my health."
She further explained, "Chronic pain— especially if you are undiagnosed and trying to buck up and hide it— can mentally and physically disable. I was not the person Rob had married, and that contributed to the unraveling of our marriage."
Fortunately for Mary, like her character Erin, she had another love waiting for her down the road, her second husband Don. They married 15 years after her divorce from Rob.
It was Mary’s brother who encouraged her to tie the knot again and welcome a new man of the house where she lived with her daughter and two other women.
"My brother Michael said I should marry him quick before he realized he was living with four women," Mary said. "I always joke that Don and Sydnee get along better than anyone in the house, which was so important to me."
In her memoir, Mary acknowledged that it’s Don who places highest in her heart, becoming her true love. The opposite of the young love she portrayed choosing between suitors on The Waltons, this love she found at 50 proved to be the real deal.
"To my Don – my mate, partner, best friend, and love," Mary wrote. "I feel more appreciation than I am capable of expressing. I love you more than you know."