The Waltons series creator once recalled what made Elizabeth Walton so special
Plus: Kotler reveals the most adorable note she ever gave the writers about her character.
A vase with bright red flowers floats off the Waltons' mantel and then crashes to the floor in front of the fireplace. Then a rocking chair vigorously moves back and forth with no one seated there, and later a piano’s keys seem to play themselves.
Trying to make sense of these unusual, disturbing scenes in the seventh season episode "The Changeling" is Elizabeth Walton. The youngest in the Walton family is by this point 13, and while she probably expected some changes to occur as she left girlhood and entered into womanhood, she likely never could've predicted the out-of-left-field experiences that The Waltons series creator Earl Hamner Jr. had in store in this most unusual coming-of-age episode.
Some supernatural elements come into play in "The Changeling," bleeding over from Hamner's past as a screenwriter for The Twilight Zone. He even wrote an episode of the classic eerie show called "A Piano in the House" that featured a player piano that revealed the soul of anyone who sat before it.
In "The Changeling," Elizabeth is discovering new things about herself, and of course, in the real world, we'd watched the actor who played Elizabeth (Kami Cotler) grow up before our eyes.
When Cotler auditioned for the role of Elizabeth, she was only six years old. Hamner recalled in an interview with Emmy TV Legends that he wasn’t even there the day she got cast.
Still, he had a good idea why Cotler was flagged for the role, saying the casting director "must've taken into account her beautiful red hair, her talent, her face then that was sort of pixie-ish. A unique, memorable face."
Hamner said that just like Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton, Cotler was a natural. "Like Will, Kami was simply being herself," Hamner said.
Cotler said when she started acting so young, it took her mother by surprise. As any parent reading might understand, it took a lot of convincing, especially because Cotler said her mother expected Kami would get bored instantly with acting.
"It all started for me when I went to get some photos taken for my grandmother," Cotler told Cinephiled. "I was really small for my age and I never stopped talking and the photographer told my mother that he thought I could do commercial work. According to my mom, I kept harassing her about it until she finally sent the photos we took that day to the agent the photographer had recommended."
In this interview, she confirmed Hamner’s suspicion about her audition for The Waltons: Homecoming:
"They were using the same casting director from my Gunsmoke audition, so they called me because they were looking for redheads," Cotler said.
Even after Cotler got the movie role, her family didn't quite know what to expect would come of it and Cotler said, "My family was excited when I got that movie but they treated it like a once-in-a-lifetime event."
When the series became a thing, though, Cotler’s mom got serious and she asked the director if she should take Kami for acting lessons.
"He said, 'No! Don’t do that, leave her alone, she's perfect!'" Cotler said. "So I never had another acting lesson. I remember feeling that I was a little girl and no one else was so I had a certain level of expertise about Elizabeth!"
As she grew with the role, Cotler never had any problem with the way her character was portrayed, willing to do whatever it took to pull off the part, even everything that goes down in a crazy offbeat episode like "The Changeling." Well, except at least once.
"The only time I ever had an objection from her, I'd written in a line where the dog is going to have puppies and the character Elizabeth says, 'I hope one of them is a bunny rabbit,'" Hamner said.
"And so, Elizabeth, or Kami, who’s quite a brilliant girl, said, 'Please, do I have to appear so naïve? Can you give me less naïve reactions?'" Hamner laughed.
Kotler remembered interjecting with her opinion more than once, though.
"I do remember telling the writers at one point that they had to stop making jokes about Elizabeth not knowing where babies came from," Kotler said. "The girl lives on a farm!"
And perhaps her most adorable input that anyone with a younger sibling can relate to:
"I'd say, "Look, I'm too big to be carried, you have to stop having Richard carry me around, I'm dragging on the ground!"