Mary McDonough came down from Walton's Mountain to write her lessons in a memoir for the masses. In Lessons From the Mountain: What I Learned From Erin Walton, McDonough describes the life and times of the actress over the years on the number-one television show of its time.
WCT: (Windy City Times) Hi, Mary. I read your book last night.
MM: (Mary McDonough) Good, It's an easy read, then.
WCT: Are you from New York?
MM: I am not. I have lived there for a time but I am a born-and-raised valley girl. I grew up a tiny town that I talk about in the book called Northridge, where the earthquake was. We were totally valley.
WCT: Would you compare The Waltons to Little House on the Prairie?
MM: We were about three years before Little House. At the time there were no family shows like it. The Waltons kind of paved the way for others to come on the air. We were a large family living in the depression and Little House was a small family living on a prairie. There are some similarities. They both have morals and lessons that they teach in their storylines. Having three generations living under the same roof is a little bit different. Their storekeeper had a kooky wife and so did ours. We both have similar fan bases also.
WCT: You are friends with [Little House stars] Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim.
MM: Alison gave a quote from my book! Alison, George Clooney and Eve Plumb from the Brady Bunch all did.
WCT: Alison makes me laugh so hard.
MM: She was at my Christmas party and entertained everybody all night long. She is hilarious.
WCT: She made me put on the Nellie wig.
MM: Oh she did? [Laughs] She is fabulous.
WCT: I read in your book that Elton John came to Walton's Mountain.
MM: Yes, he did. He took us to lunch. We got to see his concert and he was great.
WCT: Were there any gay people in the Waltons cast?
MM: No. How can it be that out of 11 people that they were all straight? That is not possible with percentages.
WCT: I didn't see a lot of scandal in the book. Was it hard to write?
MM: The reason that I wrote it was about my lessons not about other people's lessons. I didn't throw anybody under the bus except myself. There is not a lot of scandal because of the relationships that I have with everybody. I asked permission from everyone beforehand. It wasn't hard to write because it was my voice. Once I started to write the stories out then I knew what I wanted to say. I created a proposal first. It was actually really fun to write.
WCT: Have you received any early reactions?
MM: [Waltons co-star] Richard Thomas loves it. He thought it was kind and generous and loved reading about all of the memories from the show. Michael Learned [another co-star] read the segments about her when I was writing it. I ran it by people. I even called Brooke Shields' camp and made sure it was okay to mention her.
WCT: You met many famous people over the course of the show. Were there any special celebrities who meant a lot to you?
MM: A lot of people became famous after the show, like Sissy Spacek. But I think John Ritter had a profound personal effect on me. He saved my life and started me writing, telling me to keep that journal. I think also Sen. [Ted] Kennedy—the picture that he signed of me is still sitting on my desk to this day. Him singing Irish songs to me was pretty wild.
WCT: It was also pretty wild that you auditioned for The Exorcist.
MM: Yes, they had a hypnotist that tried to hypnotize us. They probably realized that we were faking it because we were actresses. They had narrowed it down to a few then they went to New York and got Linda Blaire, who was a wonderful choice.
WCT: I could understand your family not allowing you to do it.
MM: My mother read The Exorcist book in one night. You think reading my book was scary in one night? [Laughs] No, I woke up the next morning and my mom was frozen to the chair. Her eyes glazed over and said, "You are not doing this movie," [and] being Catholic also made it worse. I had never worked before and that was my second audition.
WCT: Talk about being thrown into the fire!
MM: Yeah, they didn't know movies from TV to faking it. I am sure my parents were more frightened because they didn't know how movies were made.
WCT: You just learned on your feet because the producers didn't want The Waltons children to have acting classes.
MM: Yes, it was a little confusing to me at times. We were barefoot and dirty. We were just kids.
WCT: What was your part on Will & Grace?
MM: I did that show twice. I played a mom both times. The one that people remember the most was The Nutcracker episode with me blowing through the place to get a hot buttered rum.
WCT: Are you still acting?
MM: I just did a movie called Lake Effects. I also did The New Adventures of Old Christine as a recurring character. I produced a Waltons reunion special for INSP last year. The Waltons are on every day on the Inspiration Network.
WCT: So the Waltons are really like a family?
MM: We really are. We are all Facebook friends. We celebrate holidays, birthdays and weddings together. We are all very close.
WCT: How are you doing, health-wise?
MM: Thanks for asking. My health is great. The farther I get away from those implants the better I feel.
WCT: Many people may not know that you suffer from lupus.
MM: We don't even know what causes it yet. We don't know the cause or the cure. We just treat the symptoms. There have been some recent breakthroughs with better drugs.
WCT: Windy City wishes all of The Waltons best of luck in the future. "Good night, John boy!"
Lessons drops down from the mountain Friday, April 1, and can be purchased at bookstores everywhere. Proud Mary keeps on autographing at the Hollywood Celebrities & Memorabilia Show, Hilton Rosemont, 5550 N. River, on Saturday-Sunday, March 26-27. Call 847-678-4488 or visit http://www.hollywoodcelebritiesshow.com for details.