Jan 13, 2023

Richard Thomas: Falling in Love with a Photograph

When I was in junior high and high school, this was one of the most recognizable faces in America: Richard Thomas, who played Depression-era teenager John-Boy on The Waltons (1971-77).

I never saw a single episode, just snippets as I walked through the living room on my way upstairs to watch hip sitcoms like Welcome Back Kotter, Barney Miller or What's Happening!!!  Who wanted to watch a boring drama set a thousand years ago, when my parents were kids?

But I saw the parodies on Saturday Night Live and in Mad Magazine, I heard all the jokes, and I had a big crush on Richard Thomas.

Ok, not much of a physique, but that hair, those eyes, those  lips! Tell me you can look at that face without wanting to kiss him.

He wasn't a big teen idol, with no shirtless centerfolds in the teen magazines, barely a mention as they poured out articles about Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, and Shaun Cassidy.  Maybe he was too old, in his 20s (born in 1951).  Maybe he was too married.  Or maybe he just wasn't androgynous.

But I didn't know he was married, and nine years older was the perfect age for me.  And the pictures in TV Guide, Parade, and other general-interest magazines were enough to spark my romantic interest.

In an interview, Richard stated that he was studying Mandarin Chinese for fun.  I was into languages!  Maybe we would meet and study Arabic together.

I like your smile.
Ana uhibu aibtisamatak

May I kiss you?
Hal li 'an 'aqbalak?

The first erotic dream I remember, around 1975 (ninth or tenth grade), involves kissing Richard Thomas.  I replayed that dream in my head a thousand times.

 I hadn't even figured "it" out yet, and I was fantasizing about kissing Richard Thomas!

During high school and college, I saw him in 3 movies:

1. Roots: The Next Generation (1979).  He played a boy involved in an interracial romance.

2. No Other Love (1979).  He played a mentally handicapped boy who wants to get married.

Both roles about forbidden love.  Could Richard be gay, and trying to "come out" in a roundabout fashion?

3. The 1980 Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond the Stars (he played Luke Skywalker to George Peppard's Han Solo and Sybill Danning's Princess Leia).

For some reason I missed his role as a gay wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet in Fifth of July.  It aired on March 9, 1982, during my senior year in college.  Most likely I just didn't know about it.

I haven't seen Richard Thomas in anything since.  He generally appears in movies and tv series that I would have absolutely no interest in, religious (The Easter Story, Touched by a Angel), hetero-romantic (Linda, Time after Time), or sad (To Save the Children, Anna's Dream).  No more gay roles, that I know of.

Besides, he has not aged well.  His eyes have narrowed, his lips have shrunken, his face has panned out.  Kissing him would not be out of the question, but it's certainly not the first thing you think of when you see this photograph.

And his photograph was what I fell in love with.

See also: The Waltons: The Gay Connection


  1. "He's studying Mandarin! Maybe we can converse in Arabic together!"


    1. I figured if he was interested in Mandarin, he would be interested in Arabic, too. In Rock Island, anything other than Spanish, French, German, and Swedish was exotic.

    2. I just thought it was like, those two don't even sound alike.

      I'm just imagining him trying to masturbate only to hear "Good night, John Boy."

      I never got some nostalgia. Mostly 30s and 60s. Too many bad memories to go with those eras of you lived through them.

  2. I'm surprised he never played a gay character- I believe Paul Newman wanted him to play the gay runner in his adaptation of "The Front Runner" a film that sadly was never made. Newman was going to direct and play the gay coach.

  3. you really can't remember having any erotic dreams before 9th-10th grade?

  4. I used to watch The Walton's! (Though I did not crush on John-Boy --some of the younger brothers were kind of cute). I remember watching the pilot, The Homecoming, alone with my mother when it aired. I come from a large family, and it was rare to have "alone time" with my parents, so that is a nice Christmas memory for me. I have a CD of The Homecoming and try to watch it every holiday season, if only to admire the Baldwin sister's candle-lit Christmas tree.

  5. Richard Thomas played a gay character on Chicago PD in 2016. It was kind of a last minute twist though. The episode is called "A Night Owl."

  6. I'm surprised no on here ever saw "Andre's Mother" on PBS circa 1990. He played a gay man who had to make funeral arrangements for his recently deceased AIDS-afflicted lover. On top of all that he had to deal with his lover's mother who refused to accept her son's sexuality and Cal and Andre's relationship. It was an awesome production.

  7. He did play a character in Lanford Wilson's play "Fith of July" he also did the made for tv version in 1982. He played Ken a Vietnam vet who lives with boyfriend Jed

    1. I heard about that during my senior year at Augustana, but I never saw it.

  8. He is perhaps one of the most beautiful human beings ever. His lips, his gait, his dancer’s butt. He bounces off air in
    an agile glee. I disagree with the auteur. I think he’s aged well. He’s a spectacular, brilliant, sensitive actor.
    Yes, he’s still irresistibly kissable.


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