How It All Began

The Waltons was a television series about the lives of a family who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. John and Olivia Walton, the parents, lived with their seven children on Walton's Mountain. Their home was also shared by John's parents. John and his father, Zeb, together ran a lumber mill from the home. When the series began the people of Waltons Mountain were finding life very hard going during the Great Depression. As the series continued the viewers saw how World War 2 affected the people in the small, close-knit community.

Everything was seen through the eyes of the eldest son, John-Boy, who aspires to be a novelist. Through him we are able to see the saga of the family as they grow up, go to school, become employed, fall in love, get married and begin their own families. We see the struggles and joys of the relationships between the family members as they each cope in their own way with the challenges which life has to offer them.

Earl Hamner Jnr. was the creator of The Waltons and he based the show largely on his own experiences. He was one of eight children, and his family home was near Schuyler, Virginia. He left home in the late 1930's to become a professional writer. Hamners first effort at dramatising his boyhood ended up as a film, Spencers Mountain which was set in Wyoming and starred Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara and James MacArthur as Clay-Boy. It was made in 1963 and was produced by Warner Bros. The movie was not a great success, but is still shown occasionally on television.

In 1971, Hamner wrote a television movie, which aired as a Christmas special, called The Homecoming. It aired on the 19th December, 1971, and, although it had not been intended as a pilot for a series, it attracted such favorable reaction from the public that CBS decided to go ahead and build a series around the family which Hamner had created.

The Homecoming starred Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton, Andrew Duggan as John Walton and Edgar Bergen as Grandpa Zeb Walton, Ellen Corby as Grandma Esther Walton and Richard Thomas as John-Boy Walton. Those children cast in the roles of the younger Walton children were the same in this movie, as those who feature in the series.

The movie won a Christopher Award and Emmy nominations for Patricia Neal, the actress who played Olivia Walton, the director Fielder Cook and the author Earl Hamner, Jnr. For the series, the roles of three of the four Walton adults needed to be recast with only Ellen Corby and the seven children remaining.

The series began screening on 14 September 1972 and finished on the 20th August 1981 and was screened on a Thursday night on CBS from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. As a series The Waltons was given little chance to succeed in 1972, when it was scheduled opposite the very popular The Flip Wilson Show. However it attracted several Emmy awards as well as some good reviews and a large enough audience to keep it on the air, particularly as it finished 20th in its first season. The second season saw it finish ahead of The Flip Wilson Show, forcing it off the air, and its popularity remained fairly steady throughout the 1970's.

One reason that it was so popular, was that the show evolved in time (between 1972 and 1980 it moved from 1933 to 1943) and its characters were allowed to mature and develop. Also the large Walton family was complemented by a host of supporting characters such as Ike Godsey (proprietor of the general store in Waltons Mountain, the tiny Jefferson County hamlet where most of the action took place), sisters Mamie and Emily Baldwin (spinsters who innocently brewed moonshine in their stately home), Sheriff Ep Bridges, Rosemary Hunter (the school teacher), Reverend Fordwick, Cora Beth (John's distant cousin, a frustrated socialite who married Ike) and Aimee (the little girl adopted by Ike and Cora Beth.

The Waltons left the weekly schedule in 1981 and a few specials were subsquently televised during the 1980's and 1990's. It was the first family dramatic series of the 1970's and its successs led to many other similar shows such as Apples Way, Eight is Enough, Family, The Family Holvak, The Fitzpatricks, Little House on the Prairie, Mulligans Stew and The New Land. It was also the first series from Lorimar Productions, a company founded in 1968 by Lee Rich and Merv Adelson. Lee Rich and Earl Hamner were the executive producers of The Waltons.