Yancy and Sissy on The Waltons were married in real life, too
Cissy Wellman on Robert Donner: "He was a phenomenal actor."
In the 1973 Waltons episode "The Chicken Thief," John-Boy confronts a real dilemma when he catches an old family friend Yancy Tucker snatching chickens from other people's coops.
Tucker has a good reason for his stealing, or at least he thinks so. He's been taking from the rich and giving to the poor like a regular Robin Hood. John-Boy feels conflicted, though, walking this moral gray line with his dad's buddy.
On The Waltons, Yancy Tucker appeared in 19 episodes from 1972–78. Played by Robert Donner, the character was one of the most eccentric folks on the mountain.
Pay close attention next time you watch "The Chicken Thief," though, and you'll recognize Cissy Wellman, an actor who eventually gets cast on The Waltons as a character named Sissy Walker.
You'll remember her because she marries Yancy Tucker. But in "The Chicken Thief," Wellman plays a different character. Here, Jane Aspen is a waitress at the Nip-n-Tuck Café who's not linked to Tucker at all.
In the real world, though, Donner and Wellman were already married when audiences were watching them in "The Chicken Thief."
They met on the set of a 1964 Jerry Lewis movie called The Disorderly Orderly. They both had uncredited roles, him as an intern and her as a nurse, but they caught each other's eyes behind the scenes. Calling himself nothing but a glorified extra, Donner said, "I'm forever in Jerry Lewis' debt." Bit parts in The Disorderly Orderly and The Nutty Professor completely changed Donner's life.
And Wellman's, too. At the time, Wellman didn't even want to be an actor. She was more interested in being a stewardess. She was used to flying anywhere at a moment's notice, so when Donner called her to join him on location, she flew out not knowing he would soon propose. He was smitten, and she said yes.
They got married in December 1965 at the Little Brown Church in Hollywood where many other stars wed, including Patty Duke to Harry Falk Jr. the very same year — and, a dozen years prior, Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
For Wellman, their wedding meant it was time to consider what she wanted to do in her career because she truly believed in her husband's talents and wanted to be by his side to support him, as he took on role after role. "He was a phenomenal actor, Robert Donner," Wellman told Love Letters Live. She wanted to do whatever it took to get him noticed.
"You know, I got his career going, and we were traveling a lot," Wellman said. "So I sort of stopped [my career] until The Waltons in the Seventies."
After Donner took the recurring role on The Waltons, Wellman joined him, appearing for three of the five years he spent on the show, including playing Sissy Walker from 1976–78.
"He played Yancy Tucker and I played Sissy Walker," Wellman said. Walker worked at the Dew Drop Inn, where she catches Yancy's eye right away. That’s how Wellman ended up marrying her husband for a second time on TV.
"That was fabulous," Wellman said.
The Waltons character Sissy Walker is introduced in a fifth season episode fittingly called "The Comeback." From that moment on, Wellman's acting career was back on, as she guest-starred on shows like Charlie's Angels and CHiPs, and even played Clint Eastwood's wife in the harrowing opening scene of The Outlaw Josey Wales.
On The Waltons, Donner and Wellman exchanged vows for the second time onscreen in the episode "The First Casualty," which is a real tearjerker of an episode. Their wedding provides some levity.
Fans of classic TV likely remember what happened next in Donner's career, as he hopped TV shows from The Waltons to Mork & Mindy. On the Robin Williams sitcom, Donner played Mork's "adopted dad" Exidor for 23 episodes. After Donner's time on Mork & Mindy ended, so did his marriage to Wellman. Both eventually happily remarried.
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The Little Brown Church is in Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley, not Hollywood.
And it should be noted that Cissy Wellman is the daughter of William Wellman, director of such classic films as "Beau Geste," "The Ox-Bow Incident" and "BattleGround."