Dec. 2, 2011 at 9:42 AM ET
To some, it was a too-sweet show that put a sugary sheen on growing up during the Depression -- but to millions, "The Waltons" was the ultimate wholesome show about the importance of family. And 40 years on, as TODAY's Matt Lauer told eight members of the cast in the studio Friday, they "haven't changed a bit."
On hand were Kami Cotler (who played Elizabeth), Jon Walmsley (Jason), David Harper (Jim Bob), Eric Scott (Ben), Michael Learned (Olivia, aka "Ma"), Richard Thomas (John-Boy), Judy Norton (Mary Ellen), Mary Elizabeth McDonough (Erin), and while they have all completely grown up since the 1971-81 series ended, they were all still smiling and laughing with one another.
"We get giddy, we love each other," said Learned. "We adore each other."
Of course, Thomas added with a smile, "It'd be trouble if we were out here for too long."
Lauer reflected on how no one from the show ever wrote a "tell-all" book, and how they all managed to escape the challenges Hollywood can throw at young actors (though Norton did pose nude for Playboy in 1985).
"It was a very different time to be famous," said Cotler. "On the whole, when Waltons fans meet you they feel like your family. So there isn't that kind of 'get you' or 'gotcha' intrusve thing. People just want to give you a hug."
And, added McDonough, "It's not like there was one star ... we really became like siblings."
The series ultimately ran for over 220 episodes, and there were seven TV movies, but the tone never changed: Family triumphed over all, even when the series dealt with more challenging issues -- something many forget.
"That annoys me," said Learned, when Lauer asked about the show's perceived sugary factor. "In the beginning it was not (too sweet); toward the end it got a little ... fell in love with itself. But toward the beginning we were dealing with book burning in Germany, we were dealing with the Dust Bowl cousins ... some real issues, as well as the warmth of the family."
And speaking of family, the TODAY crew made sure Thomas felt right at home: Signing off from the chat, they all shouted off-camera, "Good night, John Boy!"
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