It’s strange how we idolize movie stars, actors and actresses. But sometimes one or two come along that play their part so well, you almost believe they are this way in real life.
I grew up watching The Waltons, a great family show series about a family struggling to survive in 1933 and carried on into the 40’s. As someone who came from a large family also, I identified easily with all the brothers and sisters, but mostly with two characters: The father, John, played by Ralph Waite and his son John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, during the series. Various other actors played in the pilot, and there were several movies made after the series ended.
As a young girl who was raised by a stepfather who was hard working, yet completely cold and unaffectionate, I can remember dreaming of John as a father figure. And also as a young girl who lived through books, I identified strongly with John-Boy and his dreams of becoming a writer. Each night the show was on, all eight of us children would fan out on the floor in front of our ancient TV and watch the show intently, rarely commenting as this was not allowed until a commercial came on. My stepfather and mother would be in their favorite spots on the couch, one at each end, rarely exhibiting the kind of love and connections this family had and felt for each other.
It was a dream. No family I’ve have ever heard of cared as deeply for each other, or forgave each other so easily, working out their problems in a healthy loving way. Don’t get me wrong, there was much love in my family, mostly dished out from my mother, but also always shown through the struggles my stepfather displayed in keeping us all fed, clothed and keeping us on the right track in school and with a work ethic and dedication to taking care of his family, even if it was without tender emotion.
Still, the characters have stayed with me throughout my own life, and it struck me today with sadness as I watched the funeral for Ralph Waite, as portrayed on another TV show I love, NCIS. He had taken the role as Gibb’s father, and was once again a great father figure for a new generation. I remember hearing in the past at one time he was rated #3 of all the greatest loved father figures to ever be portrayed on TV. And it struck me hard, as I sadly realized he had finally passed away in real life. I had heard about it a few months ago, but at the time I was at work and it didn’t really register until today.
Of course Richard Thomas has become an icon also, in TV, Movies, theatre, and has directed numerous movies, but he also wrote 3 books of poetry. He is beyond talented, but I will never forget his first role in my world, the one I saw first, as him playing John-Boy. His dream, never ending, never wavering dream of becoming a writer was etched into my tender heart and mind throughout most of my childhood. Along with his father there backing him every step of the way, encouraging him, and teaching him what it meant to be a real man.
Of course I realize that both actors were blessed with great scripts, written by wonderfully well written authors, and I give them credit as well, as it was their great writing that made these men into great actors.
But we rarely get to see the authors, or get to know them as people. I did read the book Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hammer, as a young girl, and loved it, too, which I believe The Walton’s was based on.
I find it hard to believe Ralph is gone, and I truly feel like I’ve lost a dear friend, but mostly I wonder if he was a great man in life also, or just a really good actor. I wonder the same about Richard, and from what I’ve seen of him on talk shows he does seem to be a kind, good man for the most part. But I never saw Ralph in anything but shows, so I can’t say anything in regards to him.
But I do know this, if there were ever two greater actors, given two better scripts, I have not seen them. Or maybe I was just an impressionable young girl who needed an affectionate loving father and an older brother I could look up to, and strive to be like, since I had neither at home.
Thank you Ralph, you will be sorely missed. And thank you, too, Richard, for instilling a lifelong desire in me, to achieve my dreams as a writer.