The Waltons will always be one of the most beloved family dramas to ever air on television. Audiences became so attached to the Walton family that even after CBS canceled the series after nine seasons, six TV movies set on Walton's Mountain followed bringing the original cast back together again. While we all love John-Boy (Richard Thomas), Olivia (Michael Learned), Grandma (Ellen Corby), and Grandpa (Will Geer), we're partial to Judy Norton-Taylor who played the eldest Walton daughter, Mary Ellen.
After the TV film The Homecoming - A Christmas Story aired on CBS, Judy Norton became a household name for playing the cheeky rebellious daughter Mary Ellen Walton. It was only her second TV appearance following Felony Squad. Norton explained to Fox News that initially, the TV show wasn't the iconic hit we know today. They really had to find an audience who would embrace watching the TV family set in Virginia during the Great Depression.
"It was really the producers who went out and created a grassroots campaign, like taking out ads and doing interviews in the heartland, in Middle America, where we really found our audience," Norton told Fox News.
"Just really kind of pleading with people to watch the show and embrace it," she added. "And that was really the audience that formed the core... Those are our really loyal fans that continue to watch the show in reruns. It took the whole season to find our audience and get them on board. People then loved it and stayed loyal for nine years. In today's world, a show might get maybe 3-6 episodes to test it."
Norton had grown up in Hollywood, born in Santa Monica, California, and after many years as a child actress, she wanted to shed her Mary Ellen image. After the show ended, she posed for Playboy in 1985, shocking the fans that had watched her grow up on television with the rest of The Waltons cast.
"I was getting a lot of advice from people who were representing me at the time," Norton recalled. "They felt it would be a good, positive career move. I wouldn't say that was the case and it's one of those things that if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have made the choice.
"I learned a lot of lessons from it, in terms of trusting my own instincts and decisions more than other people's, even though it seemed like they knew more than me. Ultimately, I'm the one that had to live with a difficult decision to make at the time. It is what it is. You can only go forward."
Though Norton is best known for her role as Mary Ellen, she has continued acting over the years. For a while, she was managing theaters in Canada with her third husband Randy Apostle. Though she's been mostly focused on a theater career she has appeared in numerous TV series including Stargate SG-1, Circus of the Stars, Cold Squad, Millennium, The Love Boat, and several films — The Sparrows: Nesting, Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, and Finding Harmony.
These days, Norton is married to Robert Graves and according to her website has actively been involved with a singing career, as well as directing behind the camera. She even has a YouTube channel where she actively answers questions about her time playing Mary Ellen Walton and tells behind the scenes stories.
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