The actors who played the Baldwin sisters on The Waltons both initially auditioned for Miss Mamie
Mary Jackson knew she was right for Miss Emily, but a clueless casting director insisted she couldn’t do comedy.
Read to Me
In The Waltons episode "The Typewriter," John-Boy swears "no typewriter ever came to mean as much to me, as that old machine I borrowed from Miss Mamie and Miss Emily Baldwin."
If you watch the episode, you know that the only reason the Baldwin sisters agreed to let John-Boy use the typewriter is because he referenced their famous "recipe" as bootleggers in his story.
For the actors who played the Baldwin sisters, Mary Jackson (Miss Emily) and Helen Kleeb (Miss Mamie), they spent the rest of their life refusing to share "the recipe" with fans who stopped them on the street wherever they went to beg for the ingredients list to make their own Baldwin brand moonshine.
It’s hard to imagine The Waltons without the Baldwins, and it’s obvious that Jackson and Kleeb had their own special recipe for making the sisters so entertaining for fans.
When casting for the Baldwin sisters, Earl Hamner and producer Robert Jacks had absolutely no luck finding the right actors, until Kleeb left town one day and gave her agent a number where she could be reached in case anything good came along.
Of course that’s when her agent saw the part of Miss Mamie and knew Kleeb would be perfect, but when she called the number Kleeb left, she discovered that Kleeb had just left and could no longer be reached there.
Waiting to get back in touch with her client, Kleeb’s agent didn’t want her to miss out on the part, so she was insistent to Hamner and Jacks that they had to wait until Kleeb got back before they made any decisions.
In the meantime, Mary Jackson got a call to read for Miss Mamie, too. When they both came in to read, they discovered they were neck-and-neck, up for the same role. And Mary didn’t like that one bit. She knew she’d be much better as Miss Emily.
"I was rather aggravated because the casting director had said I couldn’t play comedy," Jackson told The Ithaca Journal in 1977. "After working with people like Mary Tyler Moore, Shirley Booth and Bert Lahr, I was rather insulted. I’m a professional and knew the part of Emily was right for me."
The casting director had both Helen and Mary read for Miss Mamie, and later when Jackson got offered a part on the show, she was confused but delighted to find out she got the part she originally wanted after all.
"I never in my life got a part the way I got this one," Jackson said. "I knew I was right for Emily, but they had me read for Mamie. When I got the call that I had got the part, I still thought it was Mamie and that the studio people were confusing me with someone else. When they finally told me I was Emily, I asked who was Mamie, and they said Helen Kleeb. It’s the first time I ever got a part I didn’t read for."
For Mary and Helen, they were happy for each other to discover they were cast as sisters and would both be on the show. For it turned out, they didn’t meet for the first time at that audition, but in the unemployment line. Both actors bonded in line discussing how badly they needed the work, and when their next roles finally came along, it’s fitting that they became famous together.