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An Unofficial Web Site

¤  Series History
¤  The Series
¤  Followup Movies
¤  Cast
¤  Notable Episodes
¤  Episode Guide
¤  Books
¤  The Real Waltons
¤  Trivia
¤  Links

                                     
   Updated October 9, 2014   

Unofficial Waltons Web Page

 

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.


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The History Behind the Series

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 children—Clay 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 story—Homer, 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 shot—the 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.


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The Series

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 season—Corby later returned to the story at her own insistence in a limited fashion—and 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—something the series had earlier tried to eschew—they threw a monkey wrench into the works: apparently Mary Ellen's husband Curtis Willard had not been killed at Pearl Harbor at all; instead he was living under an assumed name in Florida, having had brief amnesia after being greviously wounded in Hawaii. When he did remember his identity, he refused to return to Waltons Mountain because he knew Mary Ellen wanted children and the injury had "emasculated" him. It was an appalling disservice not only to the character, but to the wonderful "Day of Infamy" episode that had set up his death.


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Followup Movies

When The Waltons finally left prime time television, it was not the end of their story. NBC picked up the rights to the story—but 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 1929—just 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, inevitable—and understandable—changes 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.


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The Cast

John Walton Jr (John-Boy): Richard Thomas (Robert Wightman in the post-1978 episodes and NBC TV-movies)
Olivia Walton: (Miss) Michael Learned
John Walton: Ralph Waite
Zebulon Walton (Grandpa): Will Geer
Esther Walton (Grandma): Ellen Corby
Jason Walton: Jon Walmsley
Mary Ellen Walton: Judy Norton (later Judy Norton-Taylor)
Ben Walton: Eric Scott
Erin Walton: Mary Elizabeth McDonough (later billed as "Mary Beth")
James Robert ("Jim-Bob") Walton: David Harper
Elizabeth Walton: Kami Cotler

The Regular Supporting Cast

Ike Godsey: Joe Conley
Corabeth Walton Godsey: Ronnie Claire Edwards
Aimee Godsey: Rachel Longaker
Miss Mamie Baldwin: Helen Kleeb
Miss Emily Baldwin: Mary Jackson
Verdie Grant Foster: Lynn Hamilton
Harley Foster: Hal Williams
Rev. Matthew Fordwick: John Ritter
Rosemary Hunter Fordwick: Mariclare Costello
Rev. Hank Buchanan: Peter Fox (later episodes)
Curtis Willard: Tom Bower (real Waltons fans consider the episode where they brought Curt back alive played by Scott Hylands to be an abberation like Dallas' Bobby-in-the-shower sequence—it doesn't exist)
Jeffrey Burton: Keith Mitchell (now Keith Coogan) (8th season only)
Serina Burton: Martha Nix (8th season only)
Rose Burton: Peggy Rea (8th and 9th season)
Yancy Tucker: Robert Donner
Sheriff Ephraim "Ep" Bridges: John Crawford
Paul Northridge: Morgan Stevens (9th season and NBC movies)


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Memorable Episodes

Check out my episode guide for more details, but here's my recollection of some choice/memorable/watershed episodes:

"The Foundling":
First episode, in which the Waltons shelter a young girl who's found on the doorstep, put there by a backwoods' mother whose husband wants to put the uncommunicative child in an asylum. It turns out the little girl is deaf, and there is a very moving scene where John-Boy teaches her sign-language.
"The Scholar":
John-Boy teaches Verdie Grant to read. There is a lovely scene where John-Boy, consoling Elizabeth, who is having problems with her primer, tells her about "the magic of words."
"An Easter Story":
The first of the two-hour (two-part in syndication) specials, this one dealing with Olivia's contraction of polio. This story contains some wonderfully memorable moments, including a recreation of an amateur contest.
"The Best Christmas":
The first of the Waltons' Christmas episodes and probably the best, although the two-hour "Children's Carol" a few years later is also good. There is an outstanding scene where John-Boy and Harley Foster rescue Miss Fanny Tatum (the telephone operator) and her neice JoEllen from the frozen lake into which their car has slipped—I know this was filmed on a hot soundstage, but the set design is so well done you will get the shivers when the two men wade into that cold water!
"The Burn-Out":
Another excellent two-hour (two-part) episode dealing with the family's reaction when the upper story of the house is gutted by fire. The children are farmed out to various neighbors while Olivia wonders if her family will ever be whole again, John struggles to rebuild, and John-Boy tries to reconstruct his novel, destroyed in the blaze. There's an excellent subplot of Elizabeth's trauma from the fire.
"The Achievement":
John-Boy travels to New York to discover the fate of his missing book. Lump-in-the-throat time, including the subplot where John-Boy tracks down Elizabeth's favorite author. (Richard Thomas left the regular cast after this episode and returned for two episodes in the sixth season. He was subsequently replaced in the rest of the series by Robert Wightman, who was a bit colorless in the role, but was probably a good choice for a John-Boy subdued by his war experiences.)
"Day of Infamy":
The Waltons' Pearl Harbor episode. Class act all the way around. A few quibbles: in December in the Blue Ridge it would have been colder, possibly snow on the ground. Also, as a quick way to dispose of Harley and Josh, Verdie says they are away on a fishing trip. In mid-December? I would have believed a hunting trip more.

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Waltons Books

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:

The Waltons: The Bird Dog
Jim-Bob, after eagerly listening to news about a champion bird dog who disappeared from his shipping crate on a train, encounters a lonely elderly man accompanied by an injured dog who fits the description of the missing champion. Jim-Bob believes this may be the missing dog, but doesn't want to hurt his new-found friend.
The Waltons: The Puzzle
The children while away evenings doing jigsaw puzzles they borrow from Ike Godsey—all but Jason, who's made a new friend who may be dispossessed by the Depression, causing the boy to become uncharacteristically bitter.
The Waltons: The Penny Sale
The Depression strikes the Waltons' rich neighbors as well: their land is about to be foreclosed upon and all their valuable horses, a champion line that has been in the family for generations, will be sold to meet the debts on the farm. But John-Boy has an idea to save them if all the neighbors will cooperate.
The Waltons: The Treasures
A drought poses new threats to the mountain and the surrounding area when forest fires break out. As the Waltons try to help their neighbors save their homes, members of the family must decide which of their personal belongings is the most precious if they have to abandon their home to the fires.
The Waltons: Up She Rises!
Desperate for some cash to buy herself a new pair of shoes, Erin takes an odd job—and is rewarded with a goat instead of money. She's in despair until she and Mary Ellen get the idea to start a goat's milk dairy.
The Waltons: The Accident
John hurts his foot while working at the mill and must be rushed to the hospital after infection spreads and threatens his life. Then the doctor says the foot is beginning to turn gangrenous and wants to amputate it!

There were also several Waltons Little Golden Books and coloring books.


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How Much of The Waltons is Real?

Quite a bit, actually. Earl Hamner Jr. and his seven brothers and sisters did grow up in Depression-era Virginia. The prototype for the "Waltons Mountain" area was the small town of Schuyler, Virginia, which is located in Nelson County, just south of Charlottesville. If you visit Schuyler today you will find that the school Earl Hamner attended is now the Waltons Mountain Museum, containing Hamner family memorabilia along with sets from the television series.

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 ChildHamner Counterpart
John-BoyEarl
Mary EllenMarion
JasonCliff
ErinAudrey
BenPaul and Bill
Jim-BobJames
ElizabethNancy

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 show—Lovingston (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.


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Waltons Trivia


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Other Waltons Links

   
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.


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