‘The Waltons’: 1 Main Actor Was Also a Licensed Minister

A family-oriented series from the ’70s is The Waltons. The show presents an authentic family that had its own flaws. For example, the actor playing Olivia influenced the creators to make the character imperfect

There have been several notable stars among the cast, and one of them was Ralph Waite. While viewers knew him as a fatherly figure, the actor had a religious occupation prior to the show.

Top Row From Left: Eric Scott as Ben Walton, Mary McDonough as Erin Walton, executive producer Earl Hamner, Jon Walmsley as Jason Walton, David Harper as Jim-Bob Walton. Bottom line from left: Kami Cotler as Elizabeth Walton, Michael Learned as Olivia Walton, Ralph Waite as John Walton, Judy Norton as Mary Ellen Walton smiling, in black and white
Top Row From Left: Eric Scott as Ben Walton, Mary McDonough as Erin Walton, executive producer Earl Hamner, Jon Walmsley as Jason Walton, David Harper as Jim-Bob Walton. Bottom line from left: Kami Cotler as Elizabeth Walton, Michael Learned as Olivia Walton, Ralph Waite as John Walton, Judy Norton as Mary Ellen Walton | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

‘The Waltons’ focuses on a rural family

The Waltons is an American television series that first aired in 1972 on CBS. Based on Earl Hamner Jr.’s book, the show ran for nine seasons before getting canceled in 1981. The story is about a family living during The Great Depression and World War II. The main characters live in the fictional town of Jefferson County, Virginia. The show focuses on John Walton Jr. and his six siblings, parents, and grandparents. Also called John-Boy, he is the eldest of the children and seeks to become a journalist. 

Those who have seen the series may remember the dinner scenes being a staple. In most of the episodes, the family would gather around the table for meals. The dynamic of the family allowed viewers to feel a sense of comfort. Richard Thomas portrayed John-Boy in the show. The character was created after Hamner Jr., who decided Thomas was perfect for the role. Other cast members include Judy Norton, who played the oldest sister Mary-Ellen. Mary Elizabeth McDonough was Erin in the show, and Jon Walmsley was Jason. 

Ralph Waite starred in ‘The Waltons’

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Waite was born on June 22, 1928, and later became known for his work as an actor and political activist. He attended Bucknell University after having served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The actor was a member of the Peninsula Players theater program and made his debut in New York. 

During the 60s, Waite made his way to Broadway. He furthered his acting career by moving to California. The actor began to rise in fame as he landed roles in films like Cool Hand Luke. Eventually, he starred in the successful TV series The Waltons

In the show, Waite got cast for the role of John Walton Sr. Originally, the actor did not want to audition, but his agent had persuaded him. His character is the father of seven children and works in a lumber mill to provide for his family. John appears gruff on the outside but tends to be easygoing. The character is married to Olivia, who is played by Michael Learned. 

Ralph Waite used to be a minister

Multiple actors had various occupations before moving over to film and television. It was not until Waite was 30 years old that he decided to study acting. Before that, he had been a book editor and a social worker for a brief time.

According to The Guardian, the actor graduated with a master’s degree from the Yale University Divinity School. Waite went on to be a minister at the United Church of Christ on Fisher Island and in Garden City, New York. However, he had left the church after witnessing what he saw as hypocrisy. 

Of course, that would not be the only time the actor got involved with religion. In 2010, he returned to organized religion as a minister after decades of shunning it. He was a part of the Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship. The organization intends to be more inclusive compared to others. 

One of the reasons why Waite chose this congregation is that it aligned with his progressive views. As mentioned previously, the actor was a political activist with liberal values.