An Unofficial Web Site ¤ Series History
¤ The Series
¤ Followup Movies
¤ Notable Episodes
¤ Episode Guide
¤ The Real Waltons
I began watching The Waltons from its first incarnation as The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. I loved the family, felt they were my own, and stayed with the series even during the last few seasons where they threw continuity to the winds. When I first surfed the Web, I searched for information on the series, but back then didn't find much. Hence this fan page was created.
For more material on the series, check out Earl Hamner's book Goodnight, John-Boy, written with Ralph E. Griffin. For a fantastic web reference, surf to the official Waltons Web page at http://www.the-waltons.com/, a great site which includes stories, interviews, sounds, etc.
The novel Spencer's Mountain, written by Earl Hamner Jr in 1961, was the genesis of The Waltons. The novel's story, like the television saga of the Walton family, concerned the materially poor, but rich in love, family of Clay and Olivia Spencer and their nine childrenClay Jr (Clay-Boy), Rebecca (Becky), Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Shirley (named after Shirley Temple), Patricia (Pattie-Cake), and Donnie. (Midway through the book Olivia gives birth to twins who are christened Franklin Delano and Eleanor.) In the course of the novel, Clay-Boy experiences first love and Clay struggles to raise money to send his eldest son to college.
Clay's parents, Zebulon and Eliza, also live with the family, and most of Clay's nine brothers live nearby, with the exception of the youngest, Virgil, whose arrival from the city with Lisa, a Jewish girl, causes much comment and interest. Olivia's parents, Homer and Ida Italiano, also appear in the storyHomer, interestingly enough, is descended from Italians vintners brought over to help Thomas Jefferson with his vineyard at Monticello (Doris Hamner, the inspiration for Olivia Walton, also had Italian antecedents from the Jefferson era).
Clay-Boy's first love interest is Claris Coleman, the all-too-worldly (at least for Olivia's taste) teenager daughter of widower Colonel Coleman, who runs the local soapstone factory where Clay works. She helps Clay-Boy found a neighborhood library and supports him in his desire to go to college.
In 1963, Warner Brothers made Spencer's Mountain into a feature film starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as Clay and Olivia, with James MacArthur as Clay-Boy and Mimsy Farmer as Claris, and the venue was changed from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Grand Tetons range in Wyoming. Fonda and O'Hara, as usual, were excellent, but MacArthur by that time was just too old and self-assured for the role of skinny, shy Clay-Boy. He gave the role his best shotthe real disappointment in the film is Mimsy Farmer's portrayal of Claris, who turns the precocious teen into a blonde sexpot.
In 1971, CBS televised Hamner's follow-up Spencer novel, The Homecoming-A Christmas Story, as an original, one-time holiday special. The movie garnered excellent ratings, and, with a desire to establish some quality family programming, CBS President and CEO William S. Paley urged the producers to make the special into a continuing series.
The Homecoming-A Christmas Story, one of the better holiday movies-made-for-TV, follows the simple holiday preparations of the Walton family, anxiously awaiting the homecoming of their father, who, due to the Depression, has taken a job 28 miles away. The fact that Hamner was required to change the name of the family from "Spencer" to "Walton" and the names of most of the lead characters since Warner Brothers owned the rights to the Spencers' names did not detract from the telling of the story. This is a memorable film, with images that stick in your mind from numerous charming (Elizabeth's "Puppies!" comment comes to mind) and haunting scenes.
Although Richard Thomas, Ellen Corby, and the children were all kept for their roles in the television series, the other leads were recast. Edgar Bergen was not well, Patricia Neal was not interested in doing series television, and Andrew Duggan did not want to appear in a program where, he felt, the father would be a "back seat" character, so Will Geer, Michael Learned, and Ralph Waite took over the roles of Grandpa, Olivia, and John. Joe Conley took over the role of Ike Godsey (the character was originally portrayed by Woodrow Parfrey) and Sheriff Ep Bridges became a much kinder element in the persona of John Crawford (David Huddleston was The Homecoming's Sheriff Bridges). Two characters from The Homecoming, Hawthorne Dooley, the black minister, and Charlie Snead, the well-meaning thief (originally played by Cleavon Little and William Windom, respectively), appeared in the series' first season in recast roles, but were soon written out of the show.
Yancy Tucker, played by Robert Donner, was a Charlie-Snead type character for the remainder of the series, and Lynn Hamilton was brought in as Verdie Grant, a black neighbor of the Waltons whom John-Boy teaches to read in an affecting early episode. (Hamilton's Verdie character was the basis of some outstanding episodes, including one in which she went searching for her "roots" on a plantation where her grandparents had been enslaved. Verdie later married widower Harley Foster and helped bring up his son Jody. Together they later adopted an orphan named Josh who was originally staying with the Waltons.)
Another notable cast member in the series' early years was John Ritter as the "uptight" Reverend Matthew Fordwick. In a complete turnaround from his later fun-loving "Jack Tripper" character on Three's Company, Ritter's Fordwick was a sober, often stern, God-fearing man. Although the character remained serious thoughout the run of the series, he loosened up considerably after falling in love with and marrying Rosemary Hunter, the much-beloved teacher at the one-room Waltons Mountain school.
The Waltons did respectably well in the ratings, but it never was a "big hit" in the way some of the comedies of the era were. Some advertisers complained that its demographics were skewed toward an older audience (a big "no-no" to most advertisers, who want to reach younger people who spend more), and one of the reasons the series was originally renewed was because William Paley believed it was a quality show, which he wanted for his network. Later, as the ratings improved, the complaints were withdrawn. The series did manage to garner many awards, including Emmy awards for Richard Thomas, Michael Learned, Will Geer, and Ellen Corby, but the coveted "Best Dramatic Series" almost invariably went to The Waltons' classy opposition, the British import Upstairs, Downstairs, except for the series' initial nomination year, 1973. The series' other awards included the coveted George Foster Peabody Award, which they shared in 1973 with Alistair Cooke's outstanding America series.
The series immediately became a favorite with the critics, however, as well as legions of people who deplored the fact there was not more family programming on television. When its popularity began to be heard in the ratings, the networks promptly sprang on the same bandwagon: two years later a plethora of family shows and/or nostaglic series premiered. The two most successful of the bunch were Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, and Melissa Gilbert, based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and Happy Days, the squeaky-clean 1950s retrospective that starred Ron Howard and made Henry Winkler's "Fonzie" a household name. Some of the other imitative series were:
There was even an animated take-off called These are the Days on ABC Saturday mornings, with a widowed mom, three kids, and an invention-crazy grandfather living on a 1900s farm.
Earl Hamner also tried to create a series about an African-American family in the same vein as The Waltons, set in the late 1940s, revolving around the experiences of a Baptist minister and his family, but only the pilot movie, A Dream for Christmas, saw the light of day.
The Waltons lasted nine seasons. During the first five years continuity was strictly kept. Many episodes referred to events in previous stories or were sequels to things that happened in other episodes.
For the sixth season, following Richard Thomas' departure from the series, the producers wanted to get away from the Depression theme of the initial five seasons. They therefore "skipped" a year to push the characters forward into the World War II era (leaving as an unfortunate side-effect the fact that this meant Mary Ellen was pregnant for 18 months).
Richard Thomas returned to guest in several episodes, but the series continued well without him. While it weathered Ellen Corby's sudden stroke during the fifth seasonCorby later returned to the story at her own insistence in a limited fashionand Will Geer's death, which was intertwined into the plotline, the fact that the growing family had to be kept "close to home" to keep the cast intact for audiences and the growing restlessness of Michael Learned and Ralph Waite began to stifle the series. Learned left and returned, only to leave again; the family's cousin Rose filled the "housekeeper" role in the family while her grandchildren provided some younger cast members to keep interest. (In ninth season the grandchildren were "sent home," but Rose remained.) The reasons why Olivia and John would be missing while the children stayed at home started to fray into unreality.
Perhaps one of the worst of the final Waltons episodes was a facet in the growing romance between Mary Ellen and Arlington Westcott Jones, a.k.a. Jonesy, a veterinarian setting up a practice in the area. In true soap-opera style
When The Waltons finally left prime time television, it was not the end of their story. NBC picked up the rights to the storybut ironically not to Jerry Goldsmith's theme song!and broadcast three television movies in 1982: A Wedding on Waltons Mountain (Erin marries Paul Northridge), Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain (Mary Ellen sustains an injury that makes her unable to bear more children), and A Day for Thanks on Waltons Mountain.
There followed a long hiatus for the characters, and then the Walton story continued starting in 1993 as yet another series of television movies, this time back on CBS. Richard Thomas starred in these movies, with John-Boy, now working as a television writer and reporter, as a primary character.
In the first, A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, it became obvious that continuity had been thrown to the wind. It was now "the turbulent early sixties," and a portion of the plot concerned the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, while the story had advanced 16 years from the end of the television series, the actors had only aged ten years. Elizabeth, having graduated high school in 1947, had just returned, in 1963, from a trip hitchhiking across Europe that she took in lieu of going to college (where the money came from to send her to Europe was never stated). During the movie she makes the decision to join the Peace Corps, but is present in the subsequent movies, A Walton Wedding (in which John-Boy marries Janet Gilchrist) and A Walton Easter, concerning the birth of John-Boy and Janet's first child. Also, in the last movie, set at the time of the moon landing in 1969, John and Olivia celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary. This makes them married in 1929just four years before The Homecoming takes place (which not only makes all the Walton children illegitimate but means Olivia gave birth to John Boy when she was age three!)!
In another laughable timeline mistake, both Grandma and the Baldwin sisters are present in A Walton Easter. If we are kind with estimating their ages in The Homecoming, set in 1932, at "around sixty," that means both the Baldwin ladies and Grandma are about 100 years old at the time of this last movie! (We could surmise that the ladies have been preserved by continual sips of "the Recipe," but how about Grandma, the teetotaller?)
Granted, inevitableand understandablechanges had happened to some of the characters during the intervening years. Erin had been divorced from Paul after she discovered his infidelity, and was now teaching school. Jason and Toni had some rocky marital problems due to his trying to pursue a country music career (all their children were named after country-and-western singers, including Patsy Cline). Aimee Godsey (once again played by Rachel Longaker) returned to the fold on the outs from her mother after marrying a garage mechanic; Corabeth finally forgives her after Aimee gives birth to a daughter she names "Beth."
But big discrepancies also existed in other quarters. Mary Ellen and Curt's son John Curtis was completely forgotten in the CBS movies: Mary Ellen (who was supposed to not be able to have children after the Mother's Day accident) and Jonesy (whom we never saw; it was explained that he was serving in Vietnam) now had two children together, Clay and Katie. Somewhere between the final NBC movie and the first CBS movie, Ben and Cindy's daughter Virginia, "Ginny," had died, which was putting a great strain on their marriage. However, nowhere did we see Charley, the son that was born to them in one of the NBC movies. In more confusion, Peter Fox returns as the local minister, but now he's Reverend Mosely rather than Hank Buchanan.
In short, although the movies provide a nice reunion with the cast members, they are troublingly missing some of the continuity that so made the series so enjoyable. It was as if the producers said "Hey, let's give them the Waltons in a more interesting era," without caring about the timeline or the established characters that people had followed for so long. They are, in that respect, ultimately disappointing for fans of The Waltons television series.
Check out my episode guide for more details, but here's my recollection of some choice/memorable/watershed episodes:
Two forms of Waltons books came out in the 1970s. For adult fans of the series, there were three paperbacks published by Bantam Books, written by Robert Weverka. These were novelizations of episodes, two to a book, and instead of just writing them as two stories, Weverka interwove them so that they formed one seamless narrative. IMHO, he did a pretty good job. The first book, called simply, The Waltons, combined the two episodes "The Love Story" and "The Reunion." The second book, The Waltons: Trouble on the Mountain" combined "The Typewriter" and "The Separation," and the third, The Waltons: An Easter Story, combined "The Theft" with "An Easter Story."
Six other books, original novels for children, were released as Whitman hardbacks. These books featured additional "regular" characters never seen on the series, such as the Trotter family, a dishonest hardscrabble bunch always making trouble for the Walton children. The six books were:
There were also several Waltons Little Golden Books and coloring books.
Earl's father did work in a soapstone factory like Clay Spencer, and Doris Hamner, like Olivia Spencer, had Italian ancestors who worked in Thomas Jefferson's vineyards. Each of Hamner's siblings have a counterpart in the Walton family (with the exception of Ben, who was a combination of two brothers):
|Walton Child||Hamner Counterpart|
|Ben||Paul and Bill|
Whether Ike Godsey had a counterpart I don't know, although the character is so intimately drawn it would be hard to believe not. Apparently no one's been able to ascertain whether there were really any "Baldwin sisters," although residents believe Hamner based the sisters on a real-life mother-daughter moonshining team. (It wasn't said if this mother and daughter were of genteel ancestry or not.)
Boatwright University, John-Boy's alma mater, is the fictionalized version of the University of Richmond (there is a Boatwright Library at the University of Richmond, per Mildred Coates), which Hamner attended. The town of Rockfish exists and there is a Rockfish River, and other towns and cities mentioned on the showLovingston (the county seat), Waynesboro, Scottsville, Covesville, and, of course, Charlottesville, are all real. Buckingham County, where the Baldwin ladies' infamous cousins lived, is just east of Nelson County. "Jefferson County," where Waltons Mountain sits, is a fictional creation, however.
|The Waltons is the property of Earl Hamner, Jr., and Amanda Productions/Lorimar Television/Lee Rich Productions. This is a fan page. No copyright infringment is intended. Any opinions stated are my own and do not reflect the thoughts of the creators or producers.|