The Waltons

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For other uses, see The Waltons (disambiguation).
The Waltons
The Waltons Title Screen.png
Season one title screen
Genre Family drama
Created by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring Richard Thomas
Ralph Waite
Michael Learned
Ellen Corby
Will Geer
Judy Norton
Jon Walmsley
Mary Elizabeth McDonough
Eric Scott
David W. Harper
Kami Cotler
Peggy Rea
Joe Conley
Ronnie Claire Edwards
Narrated by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Composer(s) Jerry Goldsmith
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 9
No. of episodes 210 (List of episodes)
Production
Producer(s) Robert L. Jacks
Andy White
Rod Peterson
Claylene Jones
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) Lorimar Productions
Amandas Productions
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
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.[1] 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.

Plot[edit]

Setting[edit]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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, takes place 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.

Story[edit]

John, John-Boy, and Olivia Walton

The story is about the family of John Walton Jr. (known as John-Boy), his parents, John and Olivia Walton, their seven children, and John's parents Zebulon "Zeb" and Esther Walton. John-Boy is the oldest of the children (17 years old in the beginning[4]), 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.

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 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 the Hamners actually did attend was Schuyler Baptist Church, near the Hamner homeplace and 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.

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.

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).

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

Characters[edit]

Grandpa and Grandma Walton.

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

  • John "John-Boy" Walton Jr. (Richard Thomas, pilot, series seasons 1–5, guest season 6, three movie sequels; Robert Wightman, seasons 8–9 and one movie sequel), the eldest of seven children.
  • John "Johnny" Walton Sr. (Andrew Duggan pilot; Ralph Waite series seasons 1-8 and six movie sequels), the family patriarch
  • Olivia Walton (Patricia Neal pilot; Michael Learned series seasons 1–7, guest season 8, and three movies; matriarch.
  • Zebulon Tyler "Zeb/Grandpa" Walton, (Edgar Bergen pilot; Will Geer seasons 1–6), John's father
  • Esther "Grandma" Walton (Ellen Corby, was a regular the first 4 1/2 seasons and returned in season 7; she's seen sporadically in other seasons, and appeared in five of the six TV movies), John's mother
  • Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley), entire series and six movies, John-Boy's younger brother; musically talented
  • Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton Taylor), entire series and six movies; headstrong oldest daughter; later a married nurse.
  • Erin Esther 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
  • Rose Burton (Peggy Rea), seasons 8–9 and one sequel; Olivia's matronly cousin who fills in as matriarch during Olivia's absence

Production[edit]

Inspiration[edit]

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[edit]

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

Broadcast and release[edit]

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

Some sources indicate CBS put the show on its Fall 1972 schedule in response to congressional hearings on the quality of television. Backlash from a 1971 decision to purge most rural-oriented shows from the network lineup may have also been a factor. The network gave The Waltons an undesirable timeslot – Thursdays at 8 p.m., opposite two popular programs: The Flip Wilson Show on NBC and The Mod Squad on ABC.[5] "The rumor was that they put it against Flip Wilson and The Mod Squad because they didn't think it would survive. They thought, 'We can just tell Congress America doesn't want to see this'," Kami Cotler, who played Elizabeth Walton, said in a 2012 interview.[5] Ralph Waite was reluctant to audition for the part of John Walton because he didn't want to be tied to a long-running TV series, but his agent persuaded him by saying, "It will never sell. You do the pilot. You pick up a couple of bucks and then you go back to New York."[5]

Ratings[edit]

  • 1972–73: #20[6]
  • 1973–74: #2[7]
  • 1974–75: #8[8]
  • 1975–76: #14[9]
  • 1976–77: #15[10]
  • 1977–78: #21[11]
  • 1978–79: Not in the Top 30[12]
  • 1979–80: Not in the Top 30[13]
  • 1980–81: #30[14]

Awards[edit]

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.[15]

Home media[edit]

DVD releases[edit]

Warner Home Video has released all nine seasons and six TV movies of The Waltons on DVD in Region 1. Seasons 1–4 have been released in Region 2. The pilot movie, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, was released by Paramount Home Entertainment. Lorimar produced the series, CBS produced the pilot film, which is why Paramount, under CBS Home Entertainment, handles home video rights for The Homecoming.

German-release DVDs provide German or English sound-track options, with dubbed German voices, or the original English soundtrack, although episode titles, in German, are not always either literal or precise translations of the original English-language titles.

DVD Name Episodes
Region 1 Region 2 (UK)
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story 1 September 23, 2003 N/A
The Complete 1st Season 24 May 11, 2004 November 1, 2004
The Complete 2nd Season 24 April 26, 2005 July 3, 2006
The Complete 3rd Season 24 April 25, 2006 September 11, 2006
The Complete 4th Season 24 January 23, 2007 March 5, 2007
The Complete 5th Season 24 May 8, 2007 September 12, 2007
The Complete 6th Season 22 January 8, 2008 March 20, 2008
The Complete 7th Season 23 April 29, 2008 N/A
The Complete 8th Season 24 January 6, 2009 N/A
The Complete 9th Season 22 April 28, 2009 N/A
TV Movie Collection (not including the original movie) 6 January 26, 2010 N/A

Streaming[edit]

Season 1 and 2 were made available via streaming through services such as Amazon Instant Video.[16]

Syndication[edit]

Lorimar sold the distribution rights of The Waltons to Warner Bros. Television to avoid a lawsuit owing to the similarities to the series and the film Spencer's Mountain, which Warners owned.[17] Warner Bros. acquired Lorimar in 1989, and has continued to syndicate the series ever since. Reruns currently air in the U.S. on INSP, the Hallmark Channel and UP. In Canada, The Waltons airs on Vision TV and BookTelevision. True Entertainment airs the series in the UK.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]