The Waltons, which defined family-friendly viewing, entranced America back in the 1970s. Just listening to the theme song takes you back to Walton’s Mountain and slower, simpler days.
The show unfolded from the 1930s into the 1940s, between the Great Depression and World War II. Take a listen to the show intro and get back to us on the other side.
We’ll tell you about Ralph Waite, who played John Walton, the dad to seven kids and husband of Olivia. His parents also lived with the family, so we know John Sr was both generous of heart and a patient soul.
A Christmas Movie Gave Us The Waltons
A Christmas movie introduced American viewers to the Walton family. That was back in December 1971, when CBS telecast “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.”
The show then started as a series the following September.
Ralph Waite was cast as John Sr. Waite came to acting relatively late in life. He was 39 when he was in “Cool Hand Luke,” which starred Paul Newman. Waite also had a part in the Jack Nicholson movie “Five Easy Pieces.”
Waite took a chance when he accepted the role of John Walton. The former Marine, social worker and minister, could stay with movies or take the TV route. His career was defined by John Walton.
Waite was second-billed on the Waltons cast after Richard Thomas, who played John Boy. The John Boy character is based on the life of writer Earl Hammer, who created the show. Hammer was the show’s narrator, who introduced the show in each episode and then ended it. Then we heard the now-iconic “good nights.” Each family member wished everyone a good night, from Grand Pa to Elizabeth.
But Waite shook up the TV world when he took a role the exact opposite of John Walton. Waite was part of Roots, the record-breaking mini-series from 1977. But seeing him as a sadistic sailor on one of the slave ships was jarring.
Ralph Waites Got Into Politics, But Stayed In TV
The Waltons ran as a series from 1972-81. Post Waltons, Waite dabbled in politics. He was a Democrat and ran for Congress three times. One time he lost to Mary Bono, the widow of pop star-turned-political-leader Sonny Bono. The seat came open after Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident in 1998. He also introduced former California governor Jerry Brown when Brown announced his intentions to run for president in 1992.
Waite also stayed busy with TV work. He had reoccurring roles on NCIS. He played Jackson Gibbs, the father of star Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And Waites was in Bones, playing Seeley Booth‘s grandfather. He still was in movies. Waite played Kevin Costner’s father in The Bodyguard.”
Waite died in 2014. He was 85.