Today we're talking with Mary McDonough, author of Lessons From the Mountain
FQ: Your memoir is the first written by one of the child stars of The Waltons and you mention that you hesitated "in deference to my beloved cast..." What sort of feedback have you gotten from other cast members now that your book is out? Do you think we might soon see books from some of the other actors?
The feedback has been wonderful so far. The book isn't out yet so most "family" members have not read it . Michael Learned read the parts about her while I was writing the book. She smiled and was very supportive. Richard read the book and loves it. He said he was proud and enjoyed reading all the stories. It brought back wonderful memories for him.
FQ: We hear so much about "child stars gone bad." But the young cast of The Waltons avoided all those problems. Any idea why?
We are like a real family. We had extended family in Will, Ellen, Ralph and Michael. They watched over us like parents and grandparents. I think having all of us together as "siblings" was part of the reason we came out the other side so well. We are a family. We had each other to love, support and guide us. We were a bunch of kids and no one was the star.
We were never stars or treated that way. We were treated as "the kids" and never like we were special. I think shows with one or two kid stars can make it more difficult. Thereís a lot of focus on that one kid and conflicting messages in the industry can be tough to deal with as an adolescent.
FQ: I was happy to read that Will Geer was very much like his character of Zeb Walton - freewheeling and funny. Is there a favorite story about him that you'd like to share with our readers?
There are so many stories of Will. I think the best ones are in the book. Will was a force. His energy could fill a room and life spirits. I loved his lesson to me about appreciating the show best of all. He taught me to appreciate all things in life and not take anything for granted.
FQ: You mention the need to separate yourself from the character of Erin Walton and yet, I suspect you still have many fans who identify you as Erin. Is it hard to separate the two this many years later?
Itís funny someone just called me "Erin" the other day and I answered. I answer to both Mary and Erin sometimes. In a sense, I am both. Erin is such a part of me and always will be. There are similar elements. A lot of me is in her as I created her and lived her for so long. These days it's not hard to separate the two. Hindsight and growing up help tremendously.
FQ: You were very honest with readers about your poor self image ("hog body," etc.) while growing up. Being in the spotlight certainly made it difficult. Today the media throws all sorts of messages at young girls, telling them how they should look. Do you think kids today have a harder time with body image issues or were we just not aware of the problems back in the 70s?
Body image issues are common and I think we didnít talk about them back then. I know I didn't and that was part of the problem. Now we have open discussions about anorexia and bulimia and have lost people to those diseases. The media does throw so many images at teens today. More sexualized images than when I was growing up, but there was pressure to be perfect and unrealistic media models then too.
Hog Body is such a big part of my life and who I am. It was hard to share how warped my own body image was. But I know so many women and girls feel the same way. I have three teenage girls and would never want them to feel so horrible about their bodies, so I shared Hog Body in my book.
In my work as a coach and my Body Branding, Getting Comfortable with the Skin You're In workshops, I see the same feelings, thoughts, fears and judgments that I felt back then. I speak out on this because it's still present for women and young girls. I donít want any person to feel as alone and scared as I did back then. We need to talk about it, see how it holds us back, know we're not alone and find a way out.
FQ: Life after The Waltons - in your book you mention that you sometimes wondered what it would have been like to grow up "normal," perhaps attending a college back east. If you never got into acting, what do you think you might have chosen as a profession?
Interesting question. I imagine myself tucked away at a school back east. Living in a dorm and studying English and history. I may have taken a similar road to my path now and been a writer, therapist, social worker or teacher. When I was young I wanted to be a nurse. Helping people and connecting them has always been forefront in my mind because of my upbringing. I may have even joined the Peace Corps.
FQ: You deal with the very personal and painful issue of breast implants and related health concerns. Did you struggle with the decision to include this in your memoir? (and thank you for including it!)
(You are welcome - thanks for that!) My struggle with breast implants was a tough one. I never wanted to be a poster girl for a bad boob job; all I wanted to do was act. But life had other plans for me and I include that struggle in the book because I want women to have the information I didn't have. I didn't have that option, it wasnít available. I share it because it is my experience. It's not a popular one, there's a lot of controversy in the implant issue, but I feel women deserve to have all the information to make an informed choice about their bodies. Education is key and women need to take charge of their lives and health. They can do that with proper research and facts.
FQ: Public speaking has always frightened you and yet you got up in front of 100s of people repeatedly to speak on behalf of women's issues. Obviously you feel strongly about the issues to get up to that podium and educate others. What do you see as the issues today? The national media attention has died down regarding implants. Should women still be concerned?
Yes, women should be concerned. The FDA has recently reported an increase in Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma for women with implants.
The numbers are low right now but this is a preliminary study. If the FDA actually took action to report this, you can bet there is something to it.
Women should know that implants don't last a lifetime. A woman choosing implants is looking at surgery every ten years if she has no complications. That is expensive. Some women lose their medical coverage because of implants. There is also the mammography issue for early detection of breast cancer. The implant is opaque and can hide breast cancer. Women with implants need to have extra angles shot in a mammogram. That costs more and is not covered by all insurance plans. It also exposes her to more radiation. She will need to find a technician who is trained to perform these extra angles as well. I could go on and on. My hope is that women take charge of their health and choices before they make decisions. Do the research and educate yourself.
FQ: Are there any upcoming television or movie roles you'd like to mention?
I just finished a movie called Lake Effects. I also produced a Walton Reunion for INSP which airs the show daily. I am hoping to do more specials.