Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: . Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
The Waltons, It
Currently Known For:
Tell Me Your Secrets
1958 - Present
June 13, 1951
The Waltons, It
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"I think that that is a wonderful format, you know, having individual stories over a period of weeks that are thematically connected in terms of genre, there's not enough of that out there."
Some people may say that an actor who specializes in TV movies isn't a real movie star. To that we say: How many people do you know who helped to create a catchphrase? Even if you've never seen a single episode of The Waltons (1972-77), you get the reference when someone says "G'night John Boy." There are people making over a hundred million dollars a picture who wish they had that kind of impact on the culture. From The Waltons to IT, to The Americans (2013-2016), Richard Thomas has certainly made his impact on American entertainment, without ever needing to become a Hollywood film star.
The Young John-Boy
Richard Thomas was born into a showbiz family in Manhattan on June 13, 1951. His parents were both dancers with the New York City Ballet, and owners of the NY School of Ballet, so it seemed destined that he would get his big break at a young age. Many actors fight their whole lives to get to Broadway, for Richard Thomas, it happened at age seven, when he debuted in Sunrise at Campobello (1958). Right away he had his hands full with television roles including A Doll's House (1959), based on the Ibsen play, and had recurring and one-off roles on daytime soaps like The Edge of the Night (1961) and As the World Turns (1966-67). Filmmakers soon came calling and he appeared with Paul Newman in the auto-racing film Winning (1969). Not even out of his teens, Thomas already had a successful career as a working actor by the time he landed the role that made him a star as John-Boy Walton Jr.
With his natural good-ol-boy charm and boyish looks, Thomas was a natural to play the young John-Boy in the series based on the real life experiences of writer Earl Hamner Jr. The series began as a TV film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971), and Thomas was one of the few cast members who would appear in both the pilot film and the series proper, featuring in one hundred twenty two episodes before leaving the role to Robert Wightman (though Thomas would return for the occasional TV movie).
After spending more than half a decade playing the good-natured John-Boy, Richard Thomas knew that he would have to spread his wings a bit to avoid being typecast. He played against type in You'll Like My Mother (1972) with Patty Duke, where he portrayed the savage murderer Kenneth Kinsolving. He then featured in TV adaptations of The Red Badge of Courage (1974) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). Following this, he took on the role of none other than country legend Hank Williams Jr. in the biopic Living Proof (1983).
If you grew up in the nineties, you may already know what we're going to mention next.
Already a television superstar, Thomas would contribute to TV history with his role as Bill Denbrough in IT (1990). This legendary two-parter was not just any mini-series, but an actual TV event, the kind of thing that people planned their week around, and a project that proved a television horror film could be just as scary and dramatic as anything seen in theaters. Even if you were too young to remember The Waltons, you no doubt sympathized with Thomas as he recoiled in horror at Tim Curry's malevolent Pennywise.
Since then, Richard Thomas has kept busy with theater and television work. He featured in a production of Twelve Angry Men (2006) (a dream role for many actors) with fellow TV legend George Wendt, the David Mamet play Race (2009-10) with James Spader and David Alan Grier, and landed a recurring role as FBI investigator Frank Gaad on The Americans (2013-16). Most recently you may have seen him in NCIS: New Orleans (2019) as Deputy Director Van Cleef, The Blacklist (2019) or Billions (2019) in the recurring role of Sanford Bensinger.
Richard Thomas does feature in the occasional theatrical feature, but it's never been his area of focus. Most recently he played Mr. Werth in Anesthesia (2015), an independent sleeper hit, proving that he has a lot more interest in a challenging character than he does in box office receipts.
If there is any doubt as to the legacy of an actor who chooses to focus primarily on television, take a look at the debates people have as to whether IT the miniseries is better than the films. Not many people continue to generate that much discussion thirty years after the project wraps.
"Regrets? I never got to play Romeo, which was too bad. But it's really Juliet’s play. But no, you wish you’d done better in certain parts or wish you'd behaved better as a young person. Not too many regrets, I have to say."