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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER RICHARD THOMAS
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John-Boy teams up with Henry Fonda in Roots II


Seven years ago, on Christmas Day 1972, CBS aired a holiday program titled The Homecoming about a family living in Appalachia during the Great Depression. All who were involved in the project went their separate ways after the filming, including a young actor from the Upper West Side named Richard Thomas. But it drew such a favorable response that CBS decided to turn it into a series. The rest is history: The Waltons became a hit and made Thomas a television superstar.

For five years he charmed his way into American homes as the beloved John Boy. Then in 1976 he decided to leave The Waltons in order to concentrate on his marriage, write poetry, do stage acting, perform ballet and make movies. On February 18, in what is certain to be his most closely watched performance to date, Richard will star in the first segment of ABCs Roots II, playing the son of a wealthy railroad lawyer (Henry Fonda) who marries a black schoolteacher. He will appear, to a lesser extent, on the two following evenings as well, before leaving the scene as a 54-year-old man.

In an interview at the New York School of Ballet at Broadway and 83rd Street — which is owned by his parents, Richard Thomas III and Barbara Fallis — he talks enthusiastically about his role in Roots II. "My character is an actual historical figure," says Richard. "He had just come back from college and didn't know what he wanted out of life. … Obviously in 1892 or 3, his marriage was considered a disaster. His wife Carrie was Alex Haley's first teacher. Her school is still in Tennessee today."

Sporting a newly grown moustache, casually dressed, and still boyish looking at 27, Richard carries an air of tremendous confidence about him. Yet his voice changes to one of awed respect when he speaks of Henry Fonda: "The thing about working with someone like Fonda is that his presence is so strongly felt that you get caught up in watching him. It's really uncanny. I had to pinch myself to get back into the scene. And Olivia de Havilland, who plays my mother — she's extraordinary, too. We got along great."

Earlier this year, Richard Performed in the Los Angeles production of Streamers, and also made a TV movie for CBS, Getting Married, which was broadcast last summer. In the late fall, during one of his frequent trips to the West Side, he donned ballet tights to play the character role of Hilarion in the U.S. Terpsichore Company's production of Giselle, starring his 19-year-old sister Bronwyn Thomas, one of the most highly acclaimed young ballerinas in the city.

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