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The Waltons
The Waltons Title Screen.png
Genre Family drama
Created by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring
Narrated by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Composer(s)
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 9
No. of episodes 221
Production
Executive producer(s)
  • Lee Rich
  • Earl Hamner Jr.
  • Rod Peterson
Producer(s)
  • Robert L. Jacks
  • Andy White
  • Rod Peterson
  • Claylene Jones
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) Lorimar Productions
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Picture format 480i
Audio format Mono
Original run September 14, 1972 (1972-09-14) – June 4, 1981 (1981-06-04)
Chronology
Preceded by The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)
Followed by A Wedding on Walton's Mountain (1982)

The Waltons is an American television series created by Earl Hamner, Jr., based on his book Spencer's Mountain, and a 1963 film of the same name. The show is centered on a family in a rural Virginia community during the Great Depression and World War II.

The series pilot aired as a television movie entitled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story and was broadcast on December 19, 1971. Beginning in September 1972, the series originally aired on CBS for a total of nine seasons. After the series was canceled by CBS in 1981, NBC aired three television movie sequels in 1982, with three more in the 1990s on CBS. The Waltons was produced by Lorimar Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in syndication.

Premise

Setting

The main story takes place in Walton's Mountain, a fictional town at the foot of a mountain in fictitious Jefferson County, Virginia.

The actual place upon which the stories are based is in Nelson County, Virginia, and is the community of Schuyler.

The time period is from 1933 to 1946, during the Great Depression and World War II, during the presidential administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman. The year 1933 is suggested by a reference to the opening of the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago, a brief shot of an automobile registration, and it is divulged in episode 18 that the date is in the spring of 1933. The last episode of season one, "An Easter Story", is set in February–April 1934. The year 1934 takes two seasons to cover, while some successive years are covered over the course of a few months.

The series finale, "The Revel", revolves around a party and the invitation date is given as June 4, 1946. A span of 13 years is therefore covered in nine seasons. There are some chronological errors, which ostensibly do not hinder the storyline.

A Thanksgiving reunion show, A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, filmed in 1993, is set in 1963, and revolves around President John F. Kennedy's assassination; A Walton Wedding, made in 1995, is set in 1964; and the latest reunion show, A Walton Easter, filmed in 1997, is set in 1969.

The series began relating stories that occurred 38 years in the past, and ended with its last reunion show set 28 years in the past.

Story

Waltons 1972
John, John-Boy, and Olivia Walton

The story is about the family of John Walton Jr. (known as John-Boy): his six siblings, his parents John and Olivia Walton, and the elder John's parents Zebulon "Zeb" and Esther Walton. John-Boy is the oldest of the children (17 years old in the beginning), who becomes a journalist and novelist. Each episode is narrated at the opening and closing by a middle-aged John Jr. (voiced by author Earl Hamner on whom John-Boy is based). John Sr. manages to eke out a living for his family by operating a lumber mill with his sons' help as they grow older. The family income is augmented by some small-scale farming, and John occasionally hunts to put meat on the table. In the simpler days of their country youth, all of the children are rambunctious and curious, but as times grow tough and the Walton youths grow up to deal with them, the children slowly depart from the innocent, carefree days of walking everywhere barefoot while clad in overalls and hand-sewn pinafores, and into the harsh, demanding world of adulthood and responsibility.

The family shares hospitality with relatives and strangers as they are able. The small community named after their property is also home to folk of various income levels, ranging from the well-to-do Baldwin sisters, two elderly spinsters who distill moonshine that they call "Papa's recipe"; Ike Godsey, postmaster and owner of the general store with his somewhat snobbish wife Corabeth (a Walton cousin; she calls her husband "Mr. Godsey"); an African-American couple, Verdie and Harley Foster; Maude, a sassy octogenarian artist who paints on wood; Flossie Brimmer, a friendly though somewhat gossipy widow who runs a nearby boarding house; and Yancy Tucker, a good-hearted handyman with big plans but little motivation. Jefferson County sheriff Ep Bridges, who fought alongside John in World War I, keeps law and order in Walton's Mountain. The entire family (except for John) attends a Baptist church, of which Olivia and Grandma Esther are the most regular attendees. The church that the Hamners actually attended was Schuyler Baptist Church, near the Hamner homeplace and is still in operation. The church has helped host several events honoring Earl Hamner, Jr., including one in 2014.

In the signature scene that closes almost every episode, the family house is enveloped in darkness, save for one, two or three lights in the upstairs bedroom windows. Through voice-overs, two or more characters make some brief comments related to that episode's events, and then bid each other goodnight, after which the lights go out.

After completing high school, John-Boy attends fictional Boatwright University in the fictional nearby town of Westham. He later goes to New York City to work as a journalist.

The Waltons 1976
Grandma and John-Boy

During the latter half of the 1976–77 season, Grandma Esther Walton suffers a stroke and returns home shortly before the death of her husband, Grandpa Zeb Walton (reflecting Ellen Corby's real-life stroke and the death of Will Geer, the actors who portrayed the characters).

During the series' last few years, Mary Ellen and Ben start their own families; Erin, Jason and John Boy are married in later television movie sequels. Conversely, the younger children, Erin, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth, struggle to find and cement true love.

World War II deeply affects the family. All four Walton boys enlist in the military. Mary Ellen's physician husband, Curtis "Curt" Willard, is sent to Pearl Harbor and is reported to have perished in the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Years later, Mary Ellen hears of sightings of her "late" husband, investigates and finds him alive (played by another actor), but brooding over his war wounds and living under an assumed name. She divorces him and later remarries.

John-Boy's military plane is shot down, while Olivia becomes a volunteer at the VA hospital and is seen less and less; she eventually develops tuberculosis and enters an Arizona sanitarium. Olivia's cousin, Rose Burton, moves into the Walton house to look after the brood. Two years later, John Sr. moves to Arizona to be near Olivia. Grandma appears in only a handful of episodes during the eighth season (she was usually said to be visiting relatives in nearby Buckingham County).

Six feature-length movies were made after the series' run; set from 1947 through 1969, they aired between 1982 and 1997.

Episodes

Production

Pilot movie

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971) was not originally intended to be a pilot for a series, but it became one because it was so popular. Except for the children and Grandma Walton, the actors for the movie were not the same as for the series. The musical score was by Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith (Goldsmith also scored several episodes of the first season, but the producers believed his TV movie theme was too gentle and requested he write a new theme for the series) and was later released on an album by Film Score Monthly paired with James Horner's score for the 1982 TV movie Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

Patricia Neal (as Olivia) won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama. The movie was also nominated for three Emmys: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Neal), Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation (Earl Hamner), and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama - A Single Program (Fielder Cook).

Characters

The Waltons 1974
Grandpa and Grandma Walton

The following is a brief summary of the main characters. See main article for a more complete list.

  • John "John-Boy" Walton Jr. (Richard Thomas, seasons 1–5, guest season 6, three movie sequels; Robert Wightman, seasons 8–9 and one movie sequel), the eldest of the seven children
  • John Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite), the family patriarch
  • Olivia Walton (Michael Learned, seasons 1–7, guest season 8, and four movies), the matriarch
  • Zebulon "Grandpa" Walton (Will Geer, seasons 1–6), John's father
  • Esther "Grandma" Walton (Ellen Corby, seasons 1–5 & 7, sporadically in other seasons, and in five movies), John's mother
  • Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley, entire series and six movies ), second-oldest brother; musically talented
  • Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton Taylor, entire series and six movies), headstrong oldest daughter; becomes a nurse
  • Erin Walton (Mary Elizabeth McDonough, entire series and six movies), second Walton daughter; works as a telephone operator and as manufacturing supervisor
  • Benjamin "Ben" Walton (Eric Scott, entire series and six movies), third Walton son; has an entrepreneurial spirit
  • James Robert "Jim-Bob" Walton (David W. Harper, entire series and six movies), youngest Walton son; mechanically inclined
  • Elizabeth Walton (Kami Cotler, entire series and six movies), youngest of the seven children
  • Cindy Walton (Leslie Winston), seasons 7-9 and four of the reunion movies, Ben's wife
  • Rose Burton (Peggy Rea, seasons 8–9 and one sequel), Olivia's matronly cousin who fills in as matriarch during Olivia's absence

Inspiration

Earl Hamner's rural childhood growing up in the unincorporated community of Schuyler, Virginia, provided the basis for the setting and many of the storylines of The Waltons. His family and the community provided many life experiences which aided in the characters, values, area, and human-interest stories of his books, movies, and television series. Hamner provided the voice-over of the older John-Boy, usually heard at the beginning and end of each episode.

John-Boy Walton's fictional alma mater, Boatwright University, is patterned after Richmond College, which became part of the University of Richmond on Boatwright Drive near Westham Station in The West End of Richmond, Virginia, about seventy miles east of Schuyler.

Filming

The town of Walton's Mountain was built in the rear area of the Warner Bros. Studios, but the mountain itself was part of the range opposite Warner studios in Burbank, California. The Waltons' house facade was built in the back of the Warner Brothers lot. After the series concluded, the set was destroyed. For the reunion shows, a replica Waltons' house facade was built on the Here Come the Brides set on the Columbia Ranch studio, now part of the Warner Brothers studios. The Waltons' house is still used as scenery at Warner Brothers. For example, it served as the Dragonfly Inn on The Gilmore Girls.

Reception

The Waltons cast 2012
The cast at the 40th Anniversary of the show in 2012

Accolades

The Waltons won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1973. Also in 1973 Richard Thomas won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series three times (1973, 1974, and 1976). Ellen Corby was also a three-time winner in the Supporting Actress category, winning in 1973, 1975, and 1976. Will Geer was awarded the Supporting Actor Emmy in 1975. Veteran actress Beulah Bondi won an Emmy in 1977 for Lead Actress in a Single Performance for her guest appearance as Martha Corrine Walton in the episode "The Pony Cart" (Episode #111). She first appeared in The Waltons episode "The Conflict" (Episode #51) as the widow of Zeb Walton's brother.

The series also earned a Peabody Award for its first season.

In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Waltons No. 34 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time.

In 2017, from March 20 to March 24 INSP network remembered the life of Earl Hamner Jr. (who had passed away in 2016) by featuring clips of interviews (once per episode) with him about his time involved with The Waltons during the breaks while its syndicated reruns aired from 3-5PM and again at 7PM.


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