Star of ‘Waltons’ series has soft spot for Milford

By Don Newman, Lifestyle Staff Writer, June 11, 1977, The Oakland Press

“I love New York and I love where I live in Hollywood, but I get homesick for Michigan. And it’s nice to be back where people care about you and look out for you. It’s nice to have a man down the street who has know you for 60 years and three friends living within three blocks of here whom I started kindergarten with.”

That’s Mary Jackson’s explanation of why she’s been spending time in Milford this summer.

And if the Mary Jackson does not strike a cord of  recognition, how about Emily Baldwin, one of the Baldwin sisters on the popular TV series, “The Waltons.”

A lovely, straight-forward woman, with a very unassuming manner, Ms Jackson has been a regular cast member of “The Waltons” since its first season. She’s returning to the West Coast soon to begin work on the sixth season of shows.

“I love Michigan, and I love Milford. I plan to spend the month of May and a couple of weeks in October of every year here,” she said as she looked around the small, comfortable living room partially furnished with some of the original tables and chairs.

“I really haven’t done much since I’ve been here except work on this house, but in the future I plan to fish a lot and browse around, visiting the cemetery and studying the old tombstones.

“This is a lovely place to come back to,” she said.

Mary Jackson, who has always used her real name, except for about six months when she let an agent talk her into changing it to Mary Stephens (“That didn’t last because everyone called me by my real name anyway.”) has deep roots in Oakland County.

Her maternal grandfather built the house in which she now lives when visiting Milford. A great-great-grandfather who came over from Scotland had settled in Commerce Township.

“I was born in this house,” she said, “and so was my mother. I had noticed on past visits that the house was deteriorating, so I told the owners if they ever decided to sell to be sure to contact me. I purchased it last year and I’m in the process of putting it back in shape,” she said.

“I intend to put back the gingerbread trim on it, too. I’ve found a Mennonite who will make the gingerbread for me,” she added.

The Mary Jackson house on Canal St.

Ms. Jackson returned to the area this summer for the 50th class reunion at Milford High School and to give the commencement address at the high school..

She also preformed recently in “The Pounder Heart” with David Wayne at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

Recipient of the Distinguished Alumnae of the Year Award last year from Western, Ms. Jackson returned this year to appear in the play to raise money for the university’s scholarship fund.

“I can’t tell you a time I didn’t want to act,” Ms Jackson said. “I’ve always wanted to act. When I was 11, my mother died. There was a club in town called the Monday Literary Club that gave plays. The daughters of the women in the club always appeared in the plays. “I wanted to be in a play so badly, but I never told anyone. I’m sure if I’d told my friend Bea’s mother, Mrs. Alta Tripp, she would have let me, but I didn’t say a word. I just suffered. I didn’t appear in a play until my senior year in high school.

“Two years after graduating from high school, I managed to earn enough money to go to Western Michigan. My friend Bea, (Mrs. Beatrice Tripp Williamson, now of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) had told me about this marvelous teacher there named Laura Shaw, who had trained at the Moscow Art theatre. I knew I had to study with her.

“Who’d ever thought Moscow would touch Milford,” she added with a chuckle.

“From Western I went to the Bonstelle Playhouse in Detroit and then on eventually to New York. I actually done more theater than I have TV or movies,” she said.

“I played in the road company of ‘Desk Set,’ ‘Garden District,’ ‘Kiss and Tell,’ and ‘Apple of His Eye.’

She first went to the West Coast in 1939 with a Shakespearean Company to perform at the Old Globe Theatre, built at the San Diego Exposition.

Ms. Jackson made her cinema debut in “Anything Can Happen.”

She continued to concentrate on stage work, however. She was in the original West Coast cast that ended up on Broadway in “Trial of the Cattesville Nine,” with Peter Strauss, Ed Flanders, Richard Jordan, Sam Watermen, Donal Moffit and Tom Troop.

“Now some of them are big names,” she mused. “But then, they were just hard working actors.”

Ms. Jackson interrupted her career for 13 years of marriage to a newspaperman. That ended in divorce and she went back to acting.  

“It’s splendid working on ‘The Waltons’ because it’s like a big family. Everyone gets along and is interested in the other person. Don’t believe any rumors you might hear about a feud or hard-feelings because John-Boy is leaving.

“I’ve known Helen Kheeb, Ellen Corby, Will Geer and Ralph Waite for a long time. I’ve worked a lot with Will. Spent six-weeks in a play with Ralph. I also knew Michael Learned before that show. The children are all just as nice as they seem on TV, too,” she said.

Ms. Jackson can currently be seen in the movies, “Audrey Rose” and “Fun with Dick and Jane.”

“The main thing is, I enjoy what I’m doing,” said Ms. Jackson.

Her love for Milford disproves the old line, “you can’t go home.”

Remembering Milford’s own Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson was best known as a stage, screen and TV actress, with many movie credits and an endearing role as one of the Baldwin sisters on the TV show Walton’s Mountain (visit the Walton’s Mountain museum site). But to many in Milford, Michigan she was just Mary, a hometown girl who was born and raised in Milford and who came back almost every year for a month to catch up with old school friends and just relax and enjoy the ambiance of our little Village.

When she passed away, Mary willed her two houses in Milford (her home and a home next door for her caretaker) to the Milford Historical Society. To read Mary Jackson’s obituary click here. Mary had been active (mainly behind the scenes) for years on projects that preserved the Milford that she knew and loved as a child - she helped fund projects at the Oak Grove Cemetery and helped get the Mont Eagle Bridge rebuilt. Her love for Milford was documented nicely in the article below from The Oakland Press.

The Milford Historical Society is committed to preserving the home that she kept in Milford on the corner of Canal and Houghton Streets, which was her childhood home. For pictures of that home click here. The Milford Historical Society will be opening the home for public tours on special occasions(see brochure). The home is full of memorabilia of Mary’s private “Milford life” and will be preserved mush as it was when she came to stay with us every year. The Society will sell the caretaker’s house to raise money for the preservation and maintenance of the Mary Jackson home. For more on that, click here. Mary appeared in many stage, screen and TV productions. For a list of here movie and TV credits, click here & here.