The Waltons cast Richard Thomas' real-life lover to play John-Boy's girlfriend
Sian Barbara Allen and Thomas fell for each other making a horror movie.
Sure there are plotlines about the Great Depression, World War II and rural living, but at its heart, The Waltons was about love. The love of family, for the most part, although the drama certainly had its fair share of romance. Jason marries Toni Hazelton. Mary Ellen gets engaged to David Spencer, but weds Dr. Curtis Willard, who later disappears in Pearl Harbor and changes his name, leading to her second marriage to Jonesy. As we said, it is a drama.
The love stories carried over behind the scenes. Ma and Pa Walton — Ralph Waite and Michael Learned — quietly fell on love on set. And remember Jason and Toni, who we just mentioned in the prior paragraph? Well, actors Jon Walmsley and Lisa Harrison tied the knot in real life in 1979!
What about John-Boy, you ask? Indeed, Waltons star Richard Thomas had his actual girlfriend play his fictional love interest on the television series, as well. And in this case, the real-world romance predated the Walton's Mountain courtship.
In 1972, just weeks after The Waltons premiered, Richard Thomas appeared in a far, far different role on the big screen. The 21-year-old actor portrayed a killer in the Patty Duke horror flick You'll Like My Mother. Imagine the jarring juxtaposition of seeing the young actor play both a charming farm boy and sadistic slasher in the same month. In You'll Like My Mother, Duke's character heads to Northern Minnesota, to meet her late husband's mom. All is not what it seems in the eerie mansion. Especially considering the creepy Kenny (Thomas) is lurking about the place.
The thriller also featured Sian Barbara Allen in her movie debut as the sister, a role that earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer - Female. (She lost the award to Diana Ross.) Costars Allen and Thomas developed their deep romance during filming.
In fact, it was likely due to their relationship that, months later, The Waltons cast Allen to play John-Boy's romantic interest in "The Love Story," an episode that aired late in the first season. Allen played Jenny Pendleton, a young woman staying with the Walton clan while her parents are in Richmond. John Boy and Jenny wander the mountain together, canoodling and smooching, realizing they have found their first love.
Without spoiling it, it is not a happily-ever-after situation, which you can guess from the fact that Sian Barbara Allen was not a regular cast member of The Waltons. She did return as Jenny a year later for "The Thanksgiving Story."
However, by that point, Thomas and Allen were drifting apart in real life.
The details of their off-set love affair were captured rather sensationally in an overwrought tabloid story from 1973. Get a load of this purple prose from the piece, which can be read in full at All About the Waltons:
"And since there's probably nobody more romantic than Richard Thomas — both in the role he plays as John-Boy on The Waltons and in real life — we can't at help but wonder if he didn't have a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat as he looked through the results of a photo session with Movie World's photographer. The photos… were taken during the last few happy weeks of the beautiful love affair between Richard Thomas and Sian Barbara Allen. Lately, they have been seen dating others, but we feel sure that when Richard Thomas' book of poetry is published this fall, several of the verses will memorialize the happy times he shared with Sian-Barbara."
We also learned that even Allen's mother was enamored with Thomas. "I liked him very much. He's so sweet and he's got so much charm and vitality. He wakes up that way," she declared in an interview. "I can't think of anything I don't like about Richard."
"My great romance right now is with my house and my own time," Thomas said of his love life, rather tersely. Meanwhile, the author of the article, Irma Trask, mused, "There was a time when Sian Barbara used to sit under that lemon tree with him and they'd dream about the future."
Real-life drama and television drama aren't so far apart after all, are they?