The cast of the popular tv series ‘The Waltons’ poses for a promotional photo, 1972. L-R: (back row) Michael Learned, Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite; (middle row) Jon Walmsley, Ellen Corby, Will Geer Kami Cotler and David W. Harper; (bottom row) Judy Norton, Eric Scott and Elizabeth McDonough.
Judy Norton’s life forever changed in 1971, when she chose to appear in a new series that examined the life and trials of a years ’30 Virginia mountain family.
That show was “The Waltons” and Norton star as a headstrong tomboy Mary Ellen.
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However, the drama was not immediately recognized as the iconic classic it is today. In fact, the show was on the dreaded “death block” and threatening to be cancelled.
“It was really the producers who went out and created a grassroots campaign, such as taking advertisements and interviews in the heart, in Middle America, where we really our target audience,” Norton told Fox News.
“Just really kind of begged the people to watch the show and embrace it,” she added. “And that was really the audience that was at the core… that’s for our really loyal fans who continue to watch the show in repeats.”
Judy Norton (right) with co-star Mary McDonough filming of “The Waltons.”
While “The Waltons” premiered bad, it was quickly embraced by the public for her family values.
“It has the whole season to find our audience and get them on board,” said the 60-year-old. “People loved it and remained loyal for nine years. In the world of today, a show would get maybe 3-6 episodes to test it.
“And it’s even harder, because there is so much competition today. A show can be gone before you even knew it existed. So we were in a very lucky time in television where we got that chance to stick around long enough for an audience to find us.”
Norton is the role of Mary Ellen hit close to home.
“I did relate to aspects of my character,” she explained. “I was very much into sports, and I loved the rebellious, non-conforming characteristics of Mary Ellen… And we were telling these universal stories that, although it was founded in the years ’30 and ’40, the stories were about… brings out the best in people.
Judy Norton filming of “The Waltons.”
“I was really proud, and we all were, to be something for families… It really is an honour when you are creating a fictional show that changes people’s lives. That’s what I love about this industry. There is always potential to do that in order to influence the life of people. I always felt a sense of responsibility to try to make that a positive experience.”
“The Waltons” ran from 1971 to 1981. He still lives in reruns and it continues to be inspired by old fans of the show. Norton insisted she always felt a sense of responsibility is recognized as Mary Ellen.
“I always wanted to try harder, because I knew that people were looking at me,” she said. “And that meant something to me. I’m still learning how to grow and improve myself, because I want the best possible role model.”
However, life on the mountain had a lot of bumps on the road. Norton admitted that while “The Waltons” allowed Mary Ellen to age in the show, it was not always easy image of someone that you can easily identify with a child actor.
Judy Norton said she was grateful that her character had to age in “The Waltons.”
“I was able to navigate those really difficult years, while I was working on the series,” she said. “Sometimes it was difficult as an actor, because if I went through that angst-ridden years, they were also expressed in the story that was told… So sometimes I felt,” Oh goodness, my life is on the screen, and this is really making me feel self-conscious.’ All those things made it a great show, but sometimes it was uncomfortable to paint.”
And as soon as “The Waltons” was over, they had longer a challenge for many former child stars are often faced with in Hollywood.
“That is the reason why I was happy to go back to theatre, because… you’re typecast,” said Norton. “It’s just an unfortunate fact of this business. So I went back to my roots, that was the theatre, where I have many roles that were different than what I would be able to play on the tv.
“When I found out that I do not have to be worried about the doors which were closed, I looked for the doors would open. It made my path easier and I was always looking for ways to challenge myself to reinvent it.”
Judy Norton filming of her latest film “Inclusion Criteria.”
Norton fans shocked when she chose to strip down and shed her good girl image for a 1985 Playboy spread. It is a decision she came to regret.
“I got a lot of advice from people who were representing me at the time,” Norton recalled. “They thought it would be a good, positive step in your career. I would not say that that was the case, and it’s one of those things that if I knew then what I know now, I would not have made the choice.
“I learned a lot of lessons from it, in terms of trust in my own instincts and decisions more than those of other people, though it seemed like they knew more than I do. In the end I am the one who lives with a difficult decision to make at the time. It is what it is. You can only go forward.”
But life is different these days for Norton. She recently wrote, produced and starred in a new psychological thriller with the title “Inclusion Criteria.” It is a new chapter that they are happy went into hiding.
Judy Norton filming of “Inclusion Criteria.”
“My character Tara is a painter, a lake, an introvert,” said Norton. “And she starts to experience over and disturbing phenomenon in her world… And she does not know if they are literally crazy, because her mother has, or if someone is stalking or manipulating her for some unknown, obscure reason… There was a lot of acting and emotional demands. And she is also different from other characters I usually played. But I wanted that challenge to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone.”
Norton says that a parent has only inspired her more to work with, both in front and behind the camera.
“I think that in my core, I’m an artist,” says Norton. “And so the ability to use my imagination, create things and sharing stories is what makes me happy and fulfills me… It was only many years after ‘The Waltons’ when I was gone, back to the theatre, that I had the opportunity to take a role in a theatre as a writer and director. I found to my surprise that I really enjoyed it.
“And as you get older a woman is, there are less rolls. So it can be a bit challenging to remain satisfied as an actor. As a writer, [my] age, sex, how I looked – it doesn’t matter…. It was a great training route to hone my storytelling skills.”
Norton has revealed she received praise for “Inclusion Criteria” is not only for curious viewers, but of its “Waltons” cast friends.
“They are my family,” said Norton. “I love them. We are super close. It was a very special bond that we still share, even though it is 40 years since the show went off the air… But we thought that it was normal to love one another. And that was really the best part of all these years. The people I got to work with.”
Behind the scenes of Judy Norton’s movie “Inclusion Criteria.”
“Inclusion Criteria” is currently available on DVD.