Though he's had a career that spans decades, Richard Thomas will always be best remembered as John-Boy Walton. The Waltons was one of the most popular TV shows of the 70s, running on CBS for nine seasons. Though Thomas wasn't on the show full time after season 5, he was one of the most important characters and it wouldn't have been the same without him.
Richard Earl Thomas was actually exposed to the world of entertainment early on growing up in New York City. His parents not only danced with the New York City Ballet but were owners of the New York School of Ballet. When he was just 7 years old he appeared in the Broadway production of Sunrise at Campobello. In an interview with the Emmy Awards, Thomas explained that his first on-camera gig was on the Hallmark Channel.
"A Hallmark Hall of Fame show called "The Christmas Tree." 1958. It was sort of an Omnibus show, with different Christmas stories, and one of them was called "The Miracle of the Orphanage." It was about two ladies who ran an orphanage, played by Jessica Tandy and Margaret Hamilton -- a very good way to start, right?
They were wonderful to me. The idea of working very early on with older actors -- from whom you obviously had a great deal to learn -- this is part of the great thing about being a child actor. You're apprenticing. You're learning all the time."
But his career would completely change as soon as Earl Hamner Jr. decided that he was perfect to play the role of John-Boy in his autobiographical TV series, The Waltons. Hamner explained in an interview with the Archive of American Television,
"I was most thrilled to get Richard Thomas for the role of John-Boy. He was marvelous, and as it turned out, he was perfect in the role." He added joking, "I often said he made a better John-Boy than I did being me."
That's high praise considering the role of John-Boy was based on Hamner himself. Thomas explained that he really owes everything to Hamner for casting him in the role that would earn him an Emmy win as well as a Golden Globe nomination.
"There are no words to express what I owe Earl Hamner. It's impossible to measure what playing that role gave me as an actor, not only in terms of the experience of playing it, but in the effect that it had on my later work. My debt to Earl can't ever be paid back, except to try to take what he gave me and turn it into good work.
Thomas added that Hamner was at the heart of the entire show, overseeing everything from the scripts he didn't write himself to the TV movies.
"When you add to that his qualities as a human being -- his good humor, the patience and the latitude that he would give us, the respect he had for the actors, his good faith in everybody, his willingness to rewrite... He was a wonderful man. Such a gentleman. So many Southern virtues came into play in the way he dealt with us as actors."
After 124 episodes on The Waltons, Thomas has not even remotely slowed down. He's appeared on countless TV shows -- Roots: The Next Generations, The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson, NCIS: New Orleans, Stephen King's It miniseries, an FBI investigator on The Americans, Blue Bloods, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Touched by an Angel, Promised Land, Blacklist, Just Cause, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and more.
Thomas also played John-Boy in multiple TV films including The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, A Walton Wedding, and A Walton Easter. He played Hank Williams Jr in Living Proof: The Hank Williams, Jr. Story and appeared in Final Jeopardy, The Christmas Secret, Fifth of July, and Taking Woodstock. The actor also never forgot his theater roots and was nominated for a Tony Award in 2017 for his role in the production of The Little Foxes.
Outside of acting, Thomas is a happily married family man in his hometown of New York. He has a son, Montana, with his wife Georgiana Bischoff and four children from his first marriage to Alma Gonzales -- Richard Francisco, Pilar, Barbara, and Gwyneth.
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