By: Mary McDonough
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: April 2011
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: March 22, 2011
Finally! At long last, fans of The Waltons have a memoir that they can sink their teeth into. While there have been books written by Earl Hamner (his family was the inspiration for the show) and even one penned by Joe Conley (Ike Godsey on the show), this is the first memoir written by one of the kids from the iconic show of the 70s. Ms. McDonough has done a marvelous job of recapturing the magic of Walton’s Mountain, what is was like growing up on set, and what life had in store for her once the show was canceled. With candid openness, she has bared her soul to share her tumultuous life with the reader.
Lessons From the Mountain begins with a brief overview of McDonough’s life before she landed the role of Erin on the Walton’s. We get just enough of a look into her strict Irish Catholic upbringing to understand where her doubts and insecurities in later life took hold. Then it’s on to that all-important audition that landed her the role of young Erin Walton.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an episode of The Waltons, but spending a weekend with this book brought back many vivid memories. The author introduces the reader to all the cast members and recounts many wonderful and often funny anecdotes about each. I was happy to learn that Will Geer was much like his character of Grandpa Zeb, with his freewheeling ways and great wit while Ellen Corby was the disciplinarian, just like Grandma Esther. While I would have liked to read more about Richard Thomas (John-Boy for those not familiar with the show), I suspect the age difference between the two actors might be the reason there are not more stories about him. There are anecdotes that will make you laugh (the sinking/floating of the Annabel Lee statue, food served at the Walton dinner table), some that will make you shed a tear (Ellen Corby’s struggles after her stroke, McDonough’s struggles with body image and depression), and finally some that you’re just glad you read, such as the antics of John Ritter on set.
Unfortunately for McDonough, life on the Mountain was not all laughs. There was a “gray cloud” of doubt that followed her everywhere, along with a poor body image that eventually led to all sorts of fad diets. She tells of always projecting a positive, happy image, but of then going home and crying for hours in her bathtub. She didn’t want to share her self-doubts, which was reinforced by her upbringing where showing emotions were discouraged.
The final third of the book is focused on life after The Waltons. McDonough struggled to get acting jobs, first because she was typecast as the pretty red-head who wasn’t “quite right” for this or that part, followed by the “she looks different” comments after her decision to get breast implants. While the implants didn’t help her acting career, they unfortunately had a lasting impact on her health, which began to deteriorate. Finally, after years of searching for answers, McDonough, like many women, learned the truth about silicone implants and to her credit, became an activist for women’s issues, even testifying on Capital Hill. She is quite open in her retelling of this part of her story, recounting both the pain and fear.
Unlike so many memoirs, the writing in this book is crisp, clear, and makes for a quick read. It is refreshing to read an autobiography where the author is also a writer – it shows! Also, if you’re looking for a book filled with the “dirt” on a show, this is not it. While Ms. McDonough gives us plenty of insight into the going-ons on the set, she is at all times respectful of her fellow cast members. In many ways, she is much like the image of Erin on the show – pretty, courteous, and with a wonderful sense of humor. Enjoy.
Quill says: If you’re a fan of The Waltons, don’t miss this book and the chance to re-visit Walton Mountain.