Most child actors who were somehow forced to be under the spotlight from very early age get tired of the life that comes along the status of being a celebrity, so many of them decide to pursue a totally different career later in life.
If the name Mary McDonough sounds familiar, then you were probably a fan of the first ever family show of that type, The Waltons. In fact, this show is considered to have paved the way to similar series, such as Little House on the Prairie.
“The Waltons kind of paved the way for others to come on the air. We were a large family living in the depression and Little House was a small family living on a prairie. There are some similarities. They both have morals and lessons that they teach in their storylines. Having three generations living under the same roof is a little bit different. Their storekeeper had a kooky wife and so did ours. We both have similar fan bases also,” McDonough said of the series which represent her huge breakthrough.
She played the role of Erin Walton for ten years. Her characters was adored by many, so McDonough became a famous name. The then 10-year-old girl enchanted millions with her acting and people loved her so very much.
The actress recalled the time she auditioned for the role that changed her life. She says that the line was the longest she had ever seen as it looked like every girl from California was there, hoping to be part of this new project. McDonough was asked to read a scene from The Waltons The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, and it was more than enough for her to be picked for the role of Erin among the hundreds of other girls.
“My dad said It was like buying your first ticket to the Irish Sweepstakes and winning,” she said about getting the job.
Speaking of the time of the filming of the series, McDonough remembers how being a young girl she was under a lot of pressure to always look flawless.
Speaking to Oprah, she said: “When I was 15 I had an ulcer, my hair started to fall out, I had these rashes on my head, and I remember my parents took me to the doctor. And the doctor said, ‘Well, is she under any pressure?’ And my parents said, ‘No, she’s the luckiest girl in the world — Are you kidding me?’”
From the beginning of the series, McDonough turned from a young girl into a woman, and that transition wasn’t easy for her. She often starved herself in order for the clothes to fit her, although she wasn’t really getting fat, but maturing.
It was actor John Ritter who helped her overcome that period of her life when he advised her to start writing a journal and put down her thoughts and her struggles. According to McDonough, writing a journal saved her life. She learned how to love her body again.
After The Waltons, McDonough had a hard time finding a job in Hollywood. One reason, according to her, was that she wasn’t “large enough.” This “forced” her to undergo a breast augmentation surgery. That, however, didn’t go as planned and McDonough was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and collagen disorder Sjogren’s Syndrome.
“My hair fell out and I would be tired all of the time,” she told Smashing Interviews. “Of course, everybody kept saying, ‘Well you’re crazy. You’re depressed. Go to therapy!’ So it was 10 years of being undiagnosed and finally I got to the point where I was in so much pain I couldn’t even lift my daughter.”
Once The Waltons was over, McDonough worked as a waitress and a bartender for some time. She also landed some smaller roles in several television series, Will & Grace, The Love Boat and ER, among others.
Today, she is a public speaker and a workshop leader. She “helps people change, create life balance, and return to a sense of self” according to her web page. She also has a YouTube channel and is an author of many books.
“I’m not alone and I never was alone, and none of us are,” she told Oprah. “And now I can help people, and the reason I do almost everything I do is so that no one feels as alone and terrified as I did. And it’s pretty rewarding.”