Mary Ellen of 'Waltons' fame to perform Friday in Hannibal

Judy Norton’s stage show draws from what she calls the “great American songbook” — classic tunes from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. She performs Friday at Hannibal-LaGrange University. (Submitted Photo)
Posted: Apr. 9, 2013 9:31 am Updated: Apr. 23, 2013 3:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Judy Norton has come a long way since "Good night, John-Boy."

Norton, who played Mary Ellen on the 1970s CBS hit television show "The Waltons," will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Roland Fine Arts Center on the campus of Hannibal-LaGrange University.

Norton will be singing hits from what she calls the "great American songbook," classics from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, plus other standards and "a little bit of Broadway."

Tickets at the door are $20.

Norton, 55, portrayed Mary Ellen, the oldest of the daughters on "The Waltons," which ran for nine seasons (1972-81) and triggered six TV movie sequels. The show was based on the book "Spencer's Mountain" and a 1963 film of the same name. The TV show was centered on a family in a rural Virginia community during the Great Depression and World War II.

"The show gave everyone something to relate to, and it was a feel-good type of program," Norton said. "The show spoke to the heartland of America. I think a program like that could still do well on television today.

"When (‘The Waltons') came on, there really wasn't a family type of show like that on television. When we became a hit, there was a real run of family shows that followed.

"The Waltons were much a part of me and I'll never be away from it."

For most of its run, "The Waltons" was a top-20 program for CBS, reaching a high of No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1973-74 season, when it won an Emmy for the best dramatic series on television.

Norton's post-Waltons career has included TV, film, theater and song. She has been a performer in front of the camera and has worked behind the camera, writing and directing.

"What interests me most about singing is the storytelling aspect," she said. "I'm always interested in a different sort of challenge."

That's putting it mildly.

Norton, who now lives in Los Angeles, took part in several of the early World Free Fall Conventions that were held in Quincy from 1990 to 2001. She said she remembered being a part of some sort of a world record during one of her parachute jumps and also remembered some of the more comical events tied to the convention.

Norton said she once landed in someone's front yard east of Quincy and told how friendly the residents were.

"They looked at me and smiled, and asked if I wanted something to eat," she said.

Among the other TV programs Norton has appeared in are "Battle of the Network Stars" (1979-81), "Felony Squad" (1968), "The Love Boat" (1982), "Stargate SG-1" (1998), "Ed" (2000) and a variety of game shows. Among movies, some of her credits include "Hotel" (1967) and "Valentine" (1979).

Norton's appearance in Hannibal has been coordinated by Mike Marks, president of the Hannibal Concert Association. Marks was publicist and personal manager to some of Hollywood's biggest stars while living on the West Coast, among them William Shatner, Vince Edwards, Alan Hale and Paul Newman.

Marks, who moved to Hannibal 14 years ago, is in his fourth year as president of the HCA.