‘The Waltons’: Mary Beth McDonough Felt Guilty Over Kami Cotler’s Scary Accident on Set

A warm environment was fostered on the set of The Waltons where the cast all treated each other as family. For child actors such as Mary Beth McDonough and Kami Cotler, filming the TV series was sometimes an adventure, even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

One of those adventures resulted in an accident that left McDonough riddled with a “gray cloud of guilt and shame.”

The Waltons with Mary Beth McDonough and Kami Cotler
‘The Waltons’ with Mary Beth McDonough as Erin and Kami Cotler as Elizabeth, 1977 | CBS via Getty Images

McDonough, Cotler, and other castmates explored the set

Mary Beth McDonough is best known for playing Erin Walton on the famous TV show where Judy Norton and Kami Cotler played her sisters.

McDonough loved her relationships with both and considered them as her sisters on and off screen. In her memoir, Lessons from the Mountain, she called Cotler her baby sister and wrote, “I still treat her like one. I was very protective of her from the start.”

She felt the same way about her fictional brothers played by Eric Scott, Jon Walmsley, Richard Thomas, and David Harper. McDonough recalled how she, Scott, and Harper once snuck onto the general store’s set when filming was over to look around, and they experimented with some tobacco.

There was another time when she, Cotler, and Harper ventured to an area while they rest of the cast was filming elsewhere, and their curiosity took over.

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McDonough ‘horrified’ when Cotler fell from a tree house

McDonough relayed a story about how she Cotler, and Harper played around in the set’s tree house on their own accord. One day, they climbed up its ladder and through its square floor opening to hang out. McDonough admitted they didn’t ask permission and she had a nagging feeling they were in the wrong.

“Then I heard a scream. Kami had stepped back through the hole in the floor, fallen, and hit her head every inch of the way down,” wrote McDonough.

“I will never forget the sound of her screams. I was horrified, and I don’t even remember getting down myself. David ran to get help, and I did the best I could to comfort Kami. She had a lump on her head the size of a lemon,” she recalled.

Cotler was taken to the hospital and McDonough described her feelings of guilt for letting her little sister go up into the tree house. She cried and cried as she felt responsible for Cotler’s safety.

“My gray cloud hovered as I tossed and turned all night, waiting for the punishment,” she wrote. She thought she’d be in trouble.

McDonough had difficulty coping

McDonough felt relieved when Cotler returned to work the next day in fine form. Her fears about being reprimanded were unfounded, as no one on set lashed out at her. Instead, she internalized it.

“I vowed to myself to follow the rules. I punished myself by being miserable and said the rosary. I knew I was bad, and bad things happen to bad people. The fall should have happened to me,” wrote McDonough.

It was one event that affected her ability to forgive herself. McDonough shared that she learned how to work through such beliefs with the help of a therapist who taught her how not to judge or punish herself.