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How John Ritter's Advice Helped Save This Waltons Actress

Season 5 Episode 505
Aired on 04/05/2015 | CC tv-14
In the '70s, millions of TV viewers tuned in every week to watch The Waltons, a wholesome series about a close-knit family living in Virginia during the Great Depression. Actress Mary McDonough was cast to play the middle daughter, Erin, when she was just 10 years old. "The Waltons changed my life," she says. "I went to school one day, got all of my books and assignments and left and never came back."

Now, four decades later, Mary shares the lessons she learned from growing up on set and how she handled the intense pressure. "Erin, my character, was supposed to be the pretty one, so the message to me became this pressure to be perfect, to look perfect, to act perfect and to not make any mistakes. That took it's toll on me," she says. "When I was 15, I had an ulcer. My hair started to fall out."

Then, when Mary entered her teen years, she says, her body began to grow and change. "The wardrobe woman looked at me and said, 'Well, do you think you could fit in the clothes from last season, or have you gained more weight?' And it hit me just like a knife in my heart," she says. "And I wasn't fat; I was just maturing."

Mary says that when the script called for her to wear a bathing suit in an episode, she would starve herself to look thin on camera. Thankfully, one of Mary's co-stars, John Ritter, took notice.

Watch as Mary shares the advice John gave her and how it helped save her life.

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