Family & Companions
Armed with a lifetime of talent and training with which to battle against Hollywood typecasting, actor Richard Thomas would, nonetheless, be forever identified with John-Boy, the earnest eldest son of "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981). Born into a New York show business family, he made his Broadway debut at the age of seven, and later on film opposite Paul Newman in "Winning" (1969). The 20-year-old actor was already gaining modest notoriety as a gifted young star in films like "Last Summer" (1971) by the time his leading role in "The Waltons" made him a bona fide television star. When Thomas left the show in 1977 in order to pursue other roles, it proved difficult to shed the lingering image of the somewhat naïve John-Boy. Campy genre work in films like Roger Corman's "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980) was balanced out by more rewarding efforts on stage in such Broadway productions as "Fifth of July." Thomas garnered accolades for his titular role in the music biopic "Living Proof: The Hank Williams, Jr. Story" (NBC, 1983) and as a man haunted by a childhood terror in "It" (ABC, 1990). Continuing to mix television work with his theatrical endeavors, he took part in such lauded stage productions as "The Stendhal Syndrome" in 2004 and "Race" in 2009. Decades after leaving Waltons Mountain, Thomas appeared both content with his television legacy and determined to continually seek out new challenges as an actor.
Born Richard Earl Thomas on June 13, 1951 in New York City, NY, he was the son of Barbara and Richard S. Thomas, noted dancers with the prestigious New York City Ballet and owners of the New York School of Ballet. Raised in a home so deeply ingrained in the arts, it was of little surprise when the seven-year-old Thomas made his professional debut on Broadway as John Roosevelt in the Tony Award-winning production of "Sunrise at Campobello" in 1958. More acting work soon followed, even as Thomas pursued general studies at Manhattan's Allen Stevenson School, and later, at The McBurney School. He made early television appearances on installments of the long-running "Hallmark Hall of Fame," in adaptations of "The Christmas Tree" (NBC, 1958) and Ibsen's "A Doll's House" (NBC, 1959) alongside such impressive names as Ellen Burstyn, Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer. Shortly thereafter, he was the co-host of the children's educational series "1, 2, 3 Go" (NBC, 1961-62), in addition to making guest appearances on such drama programs as "The Defenders" (CBS, 1961-65).
Thomas appeared on television with increased frequency throughout the 1960s with work that included roles on two popular daytime soap operas - "The Edge of Night" (CBS/ABC, 1956-1984) and "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010). He made his film debut as the son of ambitious driver Paul Newman and neglected wife Joanne Woodward in the racing drama "Winning" (1969). Later that same year, Thomas earned praise for his leading performance as a callow youth grappling with his emerging sexuality in Frank Perry's "Last Summer" (1969), pairing him with up-and-comers Barbara Hershey, Bruce Davidson and Catherine Burns. He co-starred with Burns once again in the Vietnam-era drama "Red Sky at Morning" (1971) prior to his being cast as eldest son John-Boy Walton opposite Patricia Neal in the role of family matriarch Olivia in the made-for-TV movie "The Homecoming" (CBS, 1971). The family drama, about a depression-era clan nervously awaiting the return of their hardworking father during a snow storm on Christmas Eve, became a surprise hit for the network and spawned one of the longest-running, most beloved series in television history.
With actress Michael Learned taking over duties as Olivia and Ralph Waite portraying the steadfast John Walton, Sr., Thomas began his five-year stint on "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981) as the devoted family scion and aspiring author, John-Boy Walton. The show, unabashedly nostalgic for a bygone era and its accompanying values, became a fixture of American pop-culture with its signature coda moment of "Goodnight, John-Boy," called out as the Walton children turned off their bedroom lights, one by one. The role earned Thomas an Emmy Award in 1973, in addition to allowing the young actor to direct several episodes of the series throughout his tenure. Thomas managed to pick up other roles during his time on "The Waltons," included his moving portrayal of disillusioned young soldier Henry Fielding in an adaptation of Stephen Crane's anti-war novel "The Red Badge of Courage" (NBC, 1974). Nonetheless, fearful of being typecast as the eternally eager to please John-Boy, Thomas left the show in 1977 and soon appeared in theaters as a troubled teen obsessed with the late James Dean in "September 30, 1955" (1977). He attempted to distance himself from Walton's Mountain even further when he starred as a swashbuckling space hero in Roger Corman's campy sci-fi classic "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980).
Perhaps finding his recent film and television work less than satisfying artistically, Thomas returned to Broadway for the first time in more than 12 years with his participation in a mounting of Lanford Wilson's "Fifth of July" in 1980. Working steadily in both mediums, he went on to appear in a plethora of TV films, notably the title role in "Living Proof: The Hank Williams Jr. Story" (NBC, 1983), a biopic about the talented country-western performer's struggle to emerge from his legendary father's shadow and conquer his own personal demons. He continued to diversify his acting portfolio with an inspired performance as an inept, scheming evangelist in the biting satire "Glory! Glory!" (HBO, 1989). Thomas played the adult version of one member of a group of childhood friends terrified by an evil entity in the guise of a monstrous clown (Tim Curry) in Stephen King's "It" (ABC, 1990). That same year, in an admirable balance of empathy and pathos, he played the grieving lover of an AIDS victim in "Andre's Mother" (PBS, 1990), based on the heart-wrenching play by Terrence McNally.
Thomas made guest appearances in 1997-98 episodes of "Promised Land" (CBS, 1996-99) and "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003), then later took on a recurring role as charismatic attorney Hamilton Whitney III on the legal drama "Just Cause" (PAX, 2001-03). Continuing to enjoy his work on stage, he received numerous accolades for his efforts in the off-Broadway drama "The Stendhal Syndrome" in 2004. He lent his talent to a segment of the horror miniseries "Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King" (TNT, 2006), and turned up as a reverend in the comedy-drama "Taking Woodstock" (2009), a fictionalized recounting of the rock concert that defined a generation. Then it was back to Broadway, alongside actors David Alan Grier and James Spader, for a well-received production of David Mamet's "Race" throughout its 2009-2010 run, followed by the starring role in the 2011 off-Broadway production of "Timon of Athens" at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Stage debut in Sacandaga, NY production of "Damn Yankees"
Broadway debut, "Sunrise at Campobello"
TV debut in Hallmark Hall of Fame production "A Christmas Tree" (NBC)
TV series debut as a regular on the NBC children's educational series "1, 2, 3, Go!"
Feature film debut "Winning"
First played John-Boy Walton in "The Homecoming--A Christmas Story" (CBS)
Played first stage role as an adult in L.A. production of Shaw's "Saint Joan"
Played Hamlet at Hartford (CT) Stage Company
Made excutive producing debut with NBC TV-movie, "Living Proof: The Hank Williams Story" (also starred)
Won praise for stage performance in title role of "The Count of Monte Cristo" in washington, DC
Reprised role of John-Boy Walton in TV special "A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion" (CBS)
Played John-Boy again in "A Walton Wedding" (CBS)
Co-hosted "It's a Miracle" on Pax TV
Appeared on the London stage in "Art"; rejoined the play in July 2001, appearing with Joe Morton and Judd Hirsch
Returned to broadway in Michael Frayn's "Democracy"