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Happily ever after?; Gay grandpa, alcohol abuse and a Playboy centrefold ... it would never have happened on Walton's mountain. But the perfect family acted out these dramas in real life ...

IT is almost 30 years since the Waltons first hit our television screens and still they are remembered as the epitome of the all-American family.

But as the cast gathered for a reunion this month, although their smiles remained as sweet as mom's apple pie, it was clear that life has moved on.

All are older and most are a little less wholesome than we remember them. Absent from the get-together was the late grandpa and grandma Walton, alias the late Will Geer and Ellen Corby. Kami Cotler, who played the nasal carrot-topped Elizabeth, was also missing.

But the rest of the cast were happy to turn up for the party to celebrate the show's new CD, A Walton's Christmas: Together Again.

The series revolved around the lives of John and Olivia Walton and their seven children in their home on Walton's Mountain.

Their lives were seen through the eyes of their eldest son, John Boy, an aspiring novelist.

The stories, written by Earl Hamner Jnr, were based on his life in his family home near the hick town of Schulyer, Virginia. He left home in the 1930s to become a writer and his childhood was first dramatised in the 1963 film, Spencers' Mountain starring Henry Fonda.

The movie flopped, but the Waltons appeared for the first time in a television film eight years later. It was a big success and Warner Bros built a series around the family.

It was first screened on September 14, 1972 and, after more than 250 episodes, finished on August 20, 1981. It won more than 20 Emmy awards.

Three TV films followed - A Day of Thanks On Walton's Mountain (1982), A Wedding on Walton's Mountain (1983) and A Waltons' Easter (1997).

The series is still shown on US television and on Channel 4 in this country. Every week, millions tune in around the world to see if John Boy will ever get that book published, if Jim Bob will ever fix his car and if Elizabeth will ever blow her nose.

The Waltons determination to stick together in the face of the Depression and Second World War made them a family role model held up by politicians and church groups.

Ironically, the actors' lives were in reality everything that the Waltons were not.

What would the locals on Walton's Mountain have said if they knew that Grandpa (Will Geer) was gay, Pa (Ralph Waite) was a recovering alcoholic and that Mary Ellen (Judy Norton-Taylor) had posed for Playboy?

It was kept quiet from the nation that Will was in fact a one-time lover of one of America's most famous gay activists Harry Hay.

Hay formed the group the Radical Faeries to liven up the gay scene with weekend gatherings that focused on drag, nudism and mud baths.

Grandpa would have passed out, but the cast weren't shocked - they had their own skeletons to worry about.

Ralph Waites, a former Presbyterian minister, was drinking heavily when he won his role as the head of the household. He hit the bottle after his nine-year-old daughter died of leukaemia in 1964.

He said: "During the early days of the Waltons, I was a wild man. There was no such thing as a lunch without three or more Martinis. When I finally got back to the set, I was pretty much out of things."

Ralph met his third wife Linda, 37, in an alcoholic-recovery programme and today he helps run a residence for drug and alcohol addicts.

Last year, he stood as a Democrat for Congress against Sonny Bono's widow Mary. Mary McDonough (Erin), Jon Walmsley (Jason) Judy Norton-Taylor and Eric Scott (Ben) all supported him, but he lost, winning less than a third of the vote.

During his campaign Ralph said: "People trust John Walton. Everywhere I go, people are ready to like me. It's a very big plus."

The girls, too, were less angelic than their on-screen personas. In 1985, Judy Norton-Taylor posed nude for Playboy. She said: "I wanted to shake people up a bit."

Mary McDonough described the Waltons as like "being an animal in a cage". Everywhere she went as a child, she was teased for being Erin.

So she joined acting classes after the series and took more meaty roles. She said:"I played prostitutes. People would say: 'I never thought of you as a slut, but you're a great slut!'."

She even got breast implants to help her with her new roles, but she claimed they gave her the disease Lupus and had them removed.

Eric Scott said the actors fell victim to typecasting. He gave up show- business and now runs his own highly-successful courier business. He said: "I didn't like not working every day."

He came to the aid of David Harper (Jim Bob) offering him a job as a courier after his acting career flopped.

Eric said: "I still have an agent, but you're pushing your odds if you think something like The Waltons is going to happen more than once in a lifetime."10.

ELIZABETH

KAMI COTLER was born in California in 1961 and joined The Waltons when she was six. After two years of talking through a stuffed-up nose, it was discovered that Kami was allergic to the animals she worked with on the series. After The Waltons, she did a show called Me And The Chimp, but it bombed and she quit showbiz and went to Berkley College to study teaching. She is now a teacher in Walton's country, Virginia.11.

GRANDPA

ZEBWILL GEER was one of the hardest workers in the show and won two Emmys. But he kept quiet that he was homosexual and was the lover of the gay activist Harry Hay. As well as The Waltons, he had bit parts in movies, including Jeremiah Johnson with Robert Redford. When Will died in 1978 at the age of 76, Richard Thomas, who played John Boy, said: "He had such gusto for work - or 'goosetoe' as he used to call it."9.

GRANDMA ESTHER

ELLEN CORBY, who died in April this year aged 86, was born in Wisconsin. She was nominated for an Oscar in 1947 for playing a lovelorn spinster in I Remember Mama. She starred as Esther from 1972 until 1977, when she suffered a stroke. She won an Emmy for the part three times and later returned to play Esther again in three Waltons TV movies.8.

ERIN

MARY BETH McDONOUGH, who was born in 1961, took acting classes AFTER The Waltons to eradicate her goody, goody image, but failed. She had breast implants because she was tired of losing parts to "blondes with big boobs" and claims to have got Lupus disease as a result. She now campaigns for its awareness and was recently in ER, playing a girl who had Lupus.7.

OLIVIA WALTON

MICHAEL LEARNED was born in April 1939 in Washington and won a best actress Emmy three times for her role in The Waltons. She said: "I was exhausted doing the show 12 hours a day for seven years." She then starred in a successful series called Nurse and won a fourth Emmy. The three times divorced mother of three still works in TV and theatre.6. JOHN WALTONRALPH WAITE, 61, is one of the most successful actors from the series.

A former Presbyterian minister, he last year stood as a democrat for Congress against Sonny Bono's widow Mary. He said: "People trust John Walton." But not enough to elect him. Ralph is currently starring on Broadway and was in Murder One, Bodyguard and Cliffhanger.5.

MARY ELLEN

JUDY NORTON-TAYLOR was born in 1958. After the show, her career went into a slide despite a few TV roles. She is currently a drama teacher in Canada and heavily in to Scientology.

Always considered the dare-devil among the Waltons cast, she posed nude for Playboy in 1985. She has been divorced twice, but is now married with a child.

JOHN-BOY

RICHARD THOMAS, who was born in 1957, quit The Waltons in 1977 and later won a Tony award for playing a gay Vietnam veteran on Broadway. He is now married to his third wife and has triplets whom he has used to good effect in advertising campaigns. In 1983, he lost 50 per cent of his hearing due to a nerve disorder. He now writes poetry.

JASON

JON WALMSLEY, who was born in Lancashire in 1956, gave up acting to concentrate on music. He sings and plays keyboards, was in a rock band, cut an album and had a semi-successful US tour. He is the driving force behind this year's Waltons CD. His wife, Lisa Harrison, played his screen fiancee Toni in The Waltons. The couple met on the series.3.

JIM BOB

DAVID HARPER, who was born in 1961, has struggled to find TV and movie work after The Waltons. He had a bit part in Fletch with Chevy Chase. He became a recluse until Eric Scott offered him a job. Eric said: "He's incredibly sweet and he likes his privacy." David is now working as a motorbike courier for Scott's highly-successful firm.

BEN

ERIC SCOTT was born in1958. After the series, he starred in the movie Loch Ness Horror in 1981, but the movie was a flop and his career took a nosedive. After quitting show- business, he became a courier and set up his own business and is now a vice- president of one of the largest courier companies in America. His wife died days after giving birth to their only child, Ashley.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Brown, Annie
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 30, 1999
Words:1591
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