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Ralph Waite is an American actor whose most notable role was playing John Walton Sr. on the 1970s television series The Waltons.
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Ralph Waite was born on June 22, 1928 in White Plains, New York. He holds degrees from Bucknell University and Yale University Divinity School. At age 30, he went into acting and eventually landed the role of John Walton on The Waltons. After the series ended, he continued to work in TV and film. Following long-held political aspirations, Waite unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1990 and 1998.
"... I feel in my bones you lose a lot of life's value if you don't see yourself as a member of the family of man. The beauty of life is in people who feel some obligation to enhance life. Without that, we're only half alive."
The eldest of five children, Ralph Waite was born in White Plains, New York on June 22, 1928 to Esther Mitchell and Ralph H. Waite. After graduating from high school, young Ralph joined the U.S. Marines and served for two years between 1946 and 1948. He then entered Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree.
In 1951, Ralph Waite met and married Beverly Hall, who inspired him to go into social work in New York’s Westchester County. Bureaucratic barriers and the indifference of his superiors discouraged him and he quit to enter Yale’s Divinity School. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister, he soon found himself at odds with church protocol and disenchanted with the hypocrisy he saw in his fellow clerics. Waite eventually found a position as a religious editor for book publisher Harper & Row and also became active in politics, picketing for the NAACP.
By age 30, other demons in Ralph Waite’s life began to reveal deeper problems and he went through a period of deep soul–searching. In 1960, Waite began taking acting lessons and made his professional debut in the off-Broadway production of The Balcony. It was around this time that he began drinking and would battle the addiction for the next 14 years. By 1965, Waite was starring opposite Faye Dunaway in the play Hogan’s Goat, in which he received critical acclaim and much confidence. In 1964, his 9-year-old daughter died of leukemia and in 1969 his marriage to Hall ended. Wait traveled to Hollywood, where he found small bit parts in films such as Cool Hand Luke (1967). Waite also continued his stage work in The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald and Shakespearian classics Hamlet and Twelfth Night.
In 1970, Ralph Waite got a big break playing Jack Nicholson’s brother in Five Easy Pieces. Critical acclaim followed, as did many offers. In 1972, Waite was cast in the role that would forever define him as an actor, the patriarch John Walton in the immensely popular television series The Waltons. The series told the story of a small farming family living in Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. In its nine-year run, The Waltons earned high ratings and many Emmy Awards. Not wanting to be forever identified as John Walton, Waite extended his talents into other projects, including the title role in the film The Secret Life of John Chapman (1976) and the blockbuster mini-series Roots (1977), for which he received an Emmy nomination. In 1980, Waite wrote, produced, directed and distributed the film On the Nickel, the story of a recovering alcoholic who seeks out a friend on Los Angeles’ skid row.
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