Note: Portions of this section are from my news entry on
July 16, 2001, describing my 2001 visit to Schuyler, Virginia. Schuyler was the childhood home of Earl Hamner, Jr., who created the 1970s CBS television
show, The Waltons. Three years later, that visit inspired me to create this section of my website, devoted to The Waltons.
It's probably hard for some of you to believe, but I was young once. And back in those long-ago days (I'm talking here
about the 1970s), my favorite television show was a CBS series called The Waltons. In fact, I think The Waltons
was one of the best television programs ever produced. Yeah, I know, guys aren't supposed to like The Waltons – or at
least they're not supposed to admit that they like The Waltons. But what the heck, I've never done all those things
that I'm "supposed" to do, like get married, have a family, and not quit a good job to go traveling for a few years.
Yep, I'm a Waltons fan and I'm darn proud of it. Now, I couldn't write a 500-page website without honoring my favorite
television show, so I decided to write this section devoted to The Waltons.
Above: The Waltons (plus Ike and Reckless) hanging out on their porch.
Creating The Waltons
The Waltons was a fictional show but was based on the life of author Earl Hamner, Jr., who grew up during the Great Depression in the
town of Schuyler (pronounced "Sky-ler"), Virginia. Hamner wrote a book about his upbringing in Virginia called Spencer's
Mountain which, in 1963, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as Clay and Olivia Spencer. James MacArthur portrayed
their son, Clay-Boy, the model for Earl Hamner himself.
Hamner later wrote another book with a similar theme and setting called The Homecoming, which was based on an actual event in
his family one year at Christmas during the Great Depression. The Homecoming was made into a CBS TV movie in 1971,
but since the name "The Spencers" was copyrighted, Earl Hamner decided to call the family "The Waltons."
The Homecoming, a two-hour movie, aired on December 19, 1971 and was a huge ratings success, so CBS decided to turn it into a TV
series. They shot the first season's episodes that spring, at the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California, using what was known as
the Skeffington house for the exterior shots of the Waltons house. Earl Hamner, Jr. himself selected the house because it reminded him
of his childhood home in Virginia (see News: July 16, 2001 to see the actual Hamner house
in Virginia during my visit there). That house in Burbank, by the way, had been used in an earlier television series, Mayberry
R.F.D. In 1991, ten years after the Waltons had said a final goodnight to America, the house was partly burned down by a disgruntled
studio employee, but it was repaired and rebuilt and, starting in 2001, was used as the Dragonfly Inn in the TV series, "Gilmore Girls."
You can read more about the Waltons house and the sets in Burbank used for the filming of The Waltons on
Above: The Waltons House. It looks suspiciously like the Dragonfly Inn from
the TV show, "Gilmore Girls." Hmmm...
The first episode of The Waltons aired on Thursday, September 14, 1972. The CBS executives couldn't have picked a worse
time slot for the show, though, because The Waltons squared off against two popular shows: The Mod Squad on ABC and the #1 rated
program in the country, The Flip Wilson Show over on NBC.
During its first few weeks, and despite critical acclaim, The Waltons wallowed near the bottom of the TV ratings. It seemed that the
show, stressing homespun themes, was doomed from the start given its high-powered and glitzier competition, and no one in the Waltons cast
expected to stick around very long. To help rescue the show, CBS mounted a PR campaign, which was how I first heard about it. I remember
as a kid seeing a full-page ad in Life Magazine (remember Life Magazine?) that fall titled, "Help Save The Waltons," so the next Thursday
evening I checked it out.
Nearly Cancelled – But Then a Hit
Here's The Waltons theme song.
Their PR campaign worked because, through the ads and word-of-mouth, not only did I start watching The Waltons every
Thursday night at 8 p.m., but so did millions of other Americans. The show received a lot of critical acclaim, as well, with both
Richard Thomas (John-Boy) and Michael Learned (Olivia) winning Best Actor Emmys that first year, along with Ellen Corby, who played the
crusty-but-loving Grandma, the first of 19 Emmys the show would eventually win. The show's family-oriented message was a welcome relief
during that time of political upheaval, with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal dominating the news.
The show, which Earl Hamner had based on his childhood, was about a poor-but-contented family headed by John and Olivia Walton, who lived in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The family-oriented series centered on
John and Olivia's oldest son, John-Boy, who, during the show, grew up to become a writer (just as Hamner had). The other key cast members,
who modeled the large family Hamner had grown up in, included John's parents (Grandma and Grandpa) and John and Olivia's six other mostly-red-headed
kids: Jason, Mary Ellen, Erin, Ben, Jim-Bob, and Elizabeth. Living in rural Virginia, they all spoke with a slight drawl which, oddly
enough, disappeared after the first few episodes.
By the way, and if you're wondering about the "Boy" part, as in "John-Boy," rural families back in the early 1900s often called
their young children who had the same name as the father "Boy," instead of the "Jr." we use today. My grandmother, for instance,
who lived a rural life, used to call me "Del-Boy" when I was little (even though my father's name wasn't Del. She just liked the sound of it).
Here's a Waltons Good Night with Earl Hamner talking about his grandparents.
This is from Episode #38, The Bequest.
The overriding theme of the The Waltons is that family bonds and personal relationships are more important than money
and possessions. Each hour-long episode stressed the homespun values of compassion, resourcefulness, heritage,
simplicity and perseverance. Of course, those values are unfortunately becoming rare in today's increasingly materialistic
world, which is why I believe The Waltons should be a reminder of the way our lives could (and should) be lived.
The first few years of the The Waltons, when Ellen Corby and Will Geer (a.k.a., "You old fool") were both alive and
well, were definitely the best. After about five years, though, things started to fall apart and the show began going downhill. Mary
Ellen got married, Ellen Corby had a stroke, John-Boy headed off to New York, and, in 1978, Will Geer (Grandpa) died. The show became pretty pathetic
towards the end, especially with Livvy shuffled off to a sanitarium and a reconstituted John-Boy working in New York City (does anyone even
remember the second John-Boy?) The final episode aired in 1981, although after nine seasons The Waltons probably
should've said goodnight to America a few years earlier. Nevertheless, The Waltons has since thrived in syndication while endearing a whole
new generation of viewers.
The Walton's Eternal Message
Above: Those memorable Waltons children. From left to right: Mary Ellen,
Jason, Elizabeth, John-Boy, Ben, Erin and Jim-Bob. I'm quiet like Jim-Bob, play the harmonica like Jason, want to write like John-Boy, and my first girlfriend looked like Mary
I was fortunate to have grown up in a stable household with two parents who were both wonderful role models. I didn't
realize it at the time, but watching The Waltons when I was young helped to cement the positive values that I'd been raised
with, values like honesty, hard work, and judging people not based on how much money they had, but rather on their character and
integrity. With recent surveys showing that most American high school students cheat on tests, perhaps we could use more
shows now like The Waltons and fewer shows like The Osbornes or Jersey Shore.
It's been 30 years since I've seen The Waltons, but I recently started watching reruns of it on the Hallmark Channel.
From seeing the reruns, I realized what a positive impact the show had on my life these past three decades. That includes important
things, like not judging others based on their wealth, but also simple things, like wanting to play the harmonica like Jason when I was younger (I
wasn't nearly as good as him), and wanting to date a woman named Jenny (as in John-Boy's "Jenny" from episode #17, "The Love
Story.") I never got my wish on that one, by the way – though my first girlfriend did look a lot like Mary Ellen, which I admit
is kind of weird.
Yes, The Waltons looks a bit dated now, but its message about values and family harmony is timeless. To honor the show and to
promote its eternal message, I've dedicated this section of my website to celebrate The Waltons. I hope you like it.