John-Boy Walton is one of my all-time favourite characters and the most iconic portrayal of the character comes from actor Richard Thomas – he’s certainly my favourite incarnation of John-Boy. Having said that, I also really like the character as played by Robert Wightman. Unfortunately, a lot of fans are very critical of him and I think it’s simply because they don’t like the idea that John-Boy was recast in the first place.
When Richard Thomas played John-Boy, it was the story of a young man who wanted to go to college and be a writer and through hard work and dedication, he was able to achieve his dreams. However, when Robert Wightman played John-Boy, it was the story of a man dealing with the physical and mental wounds of the Second World War while struggling to find his place in the world. He very much seems to be a man who lives in the shadow of his past successes, while unable to return to the same heights. This is illustrated perfectly when comparing two episodes: The Achievement and The Revel – the first is Richard Thomas’s final appearance as a member of the main cast and sees him heading to New York to get an answer about whether or not his novel will be published. The publishers accept his book and he starts an exciting new life in New York. In The Revel, the final regular episode of the show, Robert Wightman’s version of the character heads to New York for the same reason his predecessor did a few years before, only to find that his novel has been rejected. He spirals into a depression, turns to alcohol and ends up homeless, before returning to Walton’s Mountain so that he could find his feet.
I made the video below as a tongue in cheek tribute to Robert Wightman’s performance – highlighting how the character was much more unlucky during the era of time in which Robert Wightman portrayed him, not quite able to live up to his younger self, in much the same way that fans feel he doesn’t live up to Richard Thomas’s version of the character… while also just serving as a sign of appreciation to Robert Wightman for bringing life to a new interpretation of the character.