One of the iconic episodes of The Waltons sees the family’s house burn down. Everyone in the family survives, and it was a responsible stunt sequence on the Warner Brothers lot. However, some of the cast members didn’t escape that episode of the classic TV show without a few close encounters with the blaze.
The Waltons stars Michael Learned, Richard Thomas, Eric Scott, Judy Norton and Kami Cotler reunited for Stars in the House to raise money for The Actors Fund. They discussed the fire episode, and all the battle scars they endured for it.
Eric Scott called ‘The Waltons’ fire ‘a free for all’
Scott was a kid on The Waltons. The setup for the fake TV fire intrigued him initially.
“They brought in pipes that had flames that would come out, almost like a fireplace,” Scott said. “They put them around all the frames of the doors. I remember they had to take our nightshirts and get fire retardant.”
They must not have used enough safety fluid on Learned’s costume.
“Mine caught on fire,” she said.
Scott said there was only so much the fire department could control the fire.
“We had no safety,” Scott said. “The fire department told us stay here, don’t do this, don’t do that but you know what, it was a free for all.”
‘The Waltons’ cast suffered for their art
Cotler remembered watching her Waltons sisters try to escape the fire.
“When the fire scene was filmed from the girl’s bedroom, Elizabeth doesn’t get out of bed if I remember this correctly,” Cotler said. “So I was sitting in the bed and I watched Mary and Judy get up and run out. They were told there’ll be fire along this wall so hug that wall. My memory is that you went out the door and there was fire on both sides. I remember your backs arching as you felt the heat coming from the other wall.”
Cotler also remembered the entire Waltons cast experiencing after effects of the fire.
“Didn’t everybody have headaches and coughs afterwards because we inhaled a lot of smoke,” Cotler asked?
Her co-stars confirmed. Meanwhile, the Waltons fire became a major spectacle on the studio lot.
“I remember there being all these visitors because people around the lot knew we were going to be filming this exterior fire sequence that evening,” Norton said. “Behind almost like a roped off area, there were like dozens of people, visitors standing, watching this happen. It was like where did all these people come from? We’re on a lot.”
Kami Cotler and Richard Thomas felt the psychological impact
Cotler was the youngest actor in the scene. She recalled losing herself in the moment.
“It’s the only time I ever cried for real on screen,” Cotler said. “It was that moment where Ralph [Waite] comes out of the house carrying Mary, Erin, in his arms. Just for that long it was real, just for a beat and I began to honestly completely weep.”
Thomas agreed there was little acting when they watched the Waltons house burn.
“I remember standing there in the driveway, all of us watching our home go up in flames,” Thomas said. “There was no imaginative leap at all. It was absolutely immediate. There was no gap between what I was looking at and my feelings for the home and for everybody. It was very strong, very, very strong.”
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