With the TV rerun season ever lengthening, summer vacation for the star commences earlier now. Increasing numbers hit the personal-appearance or state-fair circuit to cash in on their celebrity—but not the Waltons, or at least not two members of the cast of TV’s gooey but enormously successful series. Richard (John-Boy) Thomas is spending his hiatus from CBS’s Appalachia set as a city slicker in New York City. And Will (Grandpa) Geer is impresario-star of a free Shakespeare company in California (see next pages).
Thomas, 22, was actually born on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and is visiting his family, who still live there—though now in a much more fashionable co-op bought by Richard which overlooks Central Park. He occupies his time reconnoitering familiar haunts in the brownstone jungle. “The bags under my eyes come from too much sleep,” says Thomas, who doesn’t awaken until noon and eats hero sandwiches for breakfast despite a nervous stomach.
“I don’t mean to be complaining, but I’m exhausted,” he exclaims. “When you go out into the world after six months on television, people are very demonstrative. I mean, I’m not a rock star, but people do get familiar and they tend to grab and scream and pull at times.” It bugs him that fans “insist on calling me John-Boy, and there can be hostility in the constant use of that name.” Thomas refuses to give in though to “the cornpone some people expect.” In his case, his private life little resembles the fan-magazine fantasies about romances with stars (Liza Minnelli) and starlets (Sian Barbara Allen). “I always throw out my own old quote about sex—nothing is more exciting than your own sex life, and nothing is more boring than others’, so I spare people the gory details of my own, which I’m pleased to say is just fine at the moment.”
“My great romance right now,” he says, “is with my house and my own time.” The house is a Spanish, Tudor-style cottage in Beverly Hills, and Thomas muses, “Do you realize for somebody who was reared on the 15th floor of a 96th Street apartment what it is like to have a house with roses, and a lemon tree that makes lemons?” Richard also raises King Charles spaniels there and carts them around in his Volvo station wagon. He says he has “lots of friends, but I don’t see a lot of them, and that’s why we stay close—that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?” he giggles. He says that many of his friends in Los Angeles are “people with whom my father grew up, they are like uncles, they take the place of my family out there.”
Thomas’s parents are professional dancers and proprietors of the New York School of Ballet. Young Richard got his first acting job in the Broadway production of Sunrise at Campobello while still in the first grade, and he hasn’t stopped working since. He did attend Columbia University for two years, majoring in Chinese. “I just didn’t have the proper time to study, and then they made me take so many stupid things.” But he always wanted to be an actor (“I mean film and stage”), and his breakthrough came in 1969 with a starring role in the sleeper movie success Last Summer. His last theatrical appearance was with Sarah Miles in Shaw’s St. Joan in a limited run in Los Angeles in February. Neither performance knocked over the critics, though Thomas was praised for stepping up to such a challenging role as the Dauphin, a character who ages some 35 years.
Thomas has another passion besides acting and family and, true to the TV role he plays, it is writing. Next fall Dell will publish a book of verse by Thomas—”short love lyrics, private rather than social, maybe best just called songs. I’m expecting a lot of flak, of course. You know what they’ll say,” he grimaces, ” ‘John-Boy writes!’ But I don’t intend to admit defeat or hide under a pseudonym. I have to take advantage of the fact people will read my poems because I am who I am.” His other, still unaccomplished dream is to play the fabled dancer Nijinsky in a film. “I may have to save up enough money to do it myself, but then I think my money should feed itself back into my work. That’s a happy way of living. You never are concerned about having money, only how you are using it.” At this point in his young life, slight, intense Richard Thomas, with premature bags under his eyes, beams. “I feel I can exercise my power and control my work, and that’s important. I’m just waiting for the surprises now.”