Goodnight, daddy
February 14, 2014 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Ralph Waite has died, at the age of 85. You might know him for his Emmy-nominated performance as Slater in the mini-series "Roots," or from countless other stage and screen roles, or from his three unsuccessful attempts at a Congressional seat in California. But odds are you know him as John Walton, Sr. (the third-greatest television dad of all time, according to a 2004 TV Guide poll) on "The Waltons."

As a young struggling actor in Hollywood, "he had no desire to do a series, but he said his agent assured him, 'It will never sell. You do the pilot. You pick up a couple of bucks and then you go back to New York.'"

But it did sell, and The Waltons became a television staple for nine seasons and six TV movies. Perceived by some as a backlash against the "rural purge" of American television in 1970-71, the show was narrated by and told from the perspective of eldest son John Jr. ("John Boy"), whose goal is to become a novelist and journalist. Many episodes of the show are available online, including the pilot and a Thanksgiving special, and the first two seasons are streaming on Amazon Instant.

And of course, there is that goodnight scene.
posted by jbickers (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

He had a bit of a comeback recently with a recurring role as Jethro Gibss' dad in "NCIS". And if you're looking to see if he could play counter to the wholesome dad on "The Waltons", check out "Chato's Land".
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:34 AM on February 14, 2014

I just realized that the first episode of The Waltons was set in 1933 and premiered in 1971 -- 38 years previously. It's been 43 years since that episode.

We are father away from The Waltons that The Waltons were from the Great Depression.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:38 AM on February 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Perceived by some as a backlash against the "rural purge" of American television in 1970-71

To me it always looked like family porn (not in the dirty way) for modern Americans who didn't have a big old family house on a big old piece of America (a mountain named after them!) and a big extended family where the parents hadn't divorced and the kids hadn't moved away forever and everyone still loved everyone.
posted by pracowity at 7:47 AM on February 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I went through a rural purge of my own for things like The Waltons -- probably because of backlash against things certain members of my family adored, probably because of people like the first President Bush using them as some sort of idealized state. (It's unfortunate that "family porn" brings something else immediately to mind because it is a perfect descriptor to me.)

But having seen episodes as a TV snob adult who has also thankfully put aside shallow rebelliousness of youth where you dislike things just because of those who like it, it was often quite a good show, and even when it wasn't as tightly written as you might like, Ralph Waite acted the heck out of it.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:08 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Goodnight, Ralph.
posted by vacapinta at 8:11 AM on February 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, he was SO GOOD in Season Two of Murder One, which also cast him against Waltons-type as the manipulative billionaire.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:15 AM on February 14, 2014

I absolutely adored The Waltons when it was on. He was a fine actor.

posted by xingcat at 9:26 AM on February 14, 2014

My mother grew up near the Hamners - Earl Hamner wrote the Waltons and it was loosely based on his family and Hamner Mountain.

(Goodnight, Mom)
posted by daniel9223 at 9:38 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mucho periods for John Walton. What a show and role. Remember the time he and John Boy got into it in the lumber mill and he landed a punch that knocked John Boy on his keister? That was bad ass tough love!
I don't really care what orientation the guy had, he could be my daddy any time!
posted by Colonel Panic at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2014

Perceived by some as a backlash against the "rural purge" of American television in 1970-71

I always find it ironic when The Waltons gets depicted as red state Americana, because you not only have Ralph Waite (who ran for Congress as a liberal Democrat), but you also have Will Geer aka Grandpa Walton, who was blacklisted for his leftist beliefs during the Hollywood blacklist, favored marijuana in his strawberry tea, and was the lover of radical gay activist Harry Hay. He also founded a garden called the Theatricum Botanicum, which had the goal of including all plants mentioned in the Shakespeare plays. Mary McDonough aka Erin Walton has done some rabble-rousing herself with her activism on the health risks of silicone breast implants.

During the 1991-1992 recession before the 1992 presidential election, George Bush Sr. said we needed more families like the Waltons than the Simpsons. Allegedly, some PR person had Marge Simpson "reply" something to the effect that the Simpsons and the Waltons were a lot alike: "We're just both trying to get through the Depression."

posted by jonp72 at 1:28 PM on February 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can also see Ralph Waite play the villain in a blaxploitation movie in this trailer to the 1972 film Trouble Man.
posted by jonp72 at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2014

posted by detachd at 1:45 PM on February 14, 2014

posted by disclaimer at 3:20 PM on February 14, 2014

Jackson Gibbs, resident of Stillwate PA and Father of Special NCIS Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, has died at the age of 85. Going through his papers it was recently discovered that he had a completely undisclosed family by the Name of Walton. He leaves 7 children as Walton, and one as Gibbs.
posted by elmaddog at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2014

I really enjoyed seeing him on NCIS and Bones.

posted by wiskunde at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2014

Goodnight, Pa.

posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:21 PM on February 14, 2014

He also made a lovely film set on Skid Row in downtown L.A., On The Nickel, in response to getting slugged by a cop while down at one of the rescue missions volunteering.

posted by Scram at 10:09 PM on February 14, 2014

Also quite terrifying as a slave ship captain in "Roots."
posted by cass at 10:25 AM on February 18, 2014

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