Earl Hamner Jr.

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Earl Hamner Jr.
Earl Hamner Richard Thomas The Waltons.jpg
Hamner and Richard Thomas on the set of The Waltons, 1976
Born Earl Henry Hamner Jr.
(1923-07-10)July 10, 1923
Schuyler, Virginia, US
Died March 24, 2016(2016-03-24) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California, US
Occupation Writer, producer
Nationality American
Spouse Jane Martin (m. 1954–2016; his death)

Earl Henry Hamner Jr. (July 10, 1923 – March 24, 2016) was an American television writer and producer (sometimes credited as Earl Hamner), best known for his work in the 1970s and 1980s on the long-running CBS series The Waltons and Falcon Crest. As a novelist, he was best known for Spencer's Mountain, which was inspired by his own childhood and formed the basis for both the film of the same name and the television series The Waltons, for which he provided voice-over narration.


Hamner was born July 10, 1923, in Schuyler, Virginia to Doris Marion (née Giannini) and Earl Henry Hamner Sr. The oldest of eight children, Hamner had four brothers and three sisters. The boys, from youngest to oldest, were James Edmund, Willard Harold, Paul Louis, and Clifton Anderson. The girls, from youngest to oldest, were Nancy Alice, Audrey Jane, and Marion Lee.[1]

The family of Hamner's mother, the Gianninis, were immigrants who came to the United States from Lucca, Italy in the 1700s[citation needed]. His father's family came to Virginia from Wales[citation needed]. Until the 1900s, the Hamners were tobacco farmers near James River, Virginia, when they moved to Schuyler located on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.[citation needed]

A company town where the economy was based in soapstone mining by New Alberene Stone, Schuyler was hit hard by the Great Depression, and thus the company and its mines were forced to close. Hamner's father worked in the mines from the time his oldest son was born until the company's closing. After losing his job, Earl, Sr. could only find work as a machinist at the DuPont factory in Waynesboro, Virginia, about 30 miles away. Due to the distance between home and work, Earl, Sr. lived at a boarding house in Waynesboro during the week and traveled back to Schuyler and his family on the weekend. Taking a bus from Waynesboro to Charlottesville and another stop along the way, Hamner's father would walk six miles to the family home at the end of his weekly journey. Taking that walk on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1933 was the inspiration for "The Homecoming", Hamner's 1970 novel, which became a Christmas special and the pilot for The Waltons in 1971.[1]

Hamner died of cancer on March 24, 2016, aged 92.[2]


In 1954, Hamner wrote “Hit and Run”, an episode of the NBC legal drama Justice, in which guest star E.G. Marshall played a man haunted for his crime of striking a newsboy on a bicycle and fleeing the scene of the accident.[3] He reprised the theme in the 1964 "You Drive" episode of The Twilight Zone.[4]

Hamner contributed with eight episodes, in the early 1960s, to the CBS science fiction series The Twilight Zone. His first script acceptance for the series was his big writing break in Hollywood. He also wrote or co-wrote eight episodes of the CBS animal series Gentle Ben (1967–1969) and four episodes of the ABC sitcom Nanny and the Professor (1970).

He created two less successful series, Apple's Way (1974–1975) and Boone (1983–1984). Hamner used family names to title his projects: Spencer (Spencers Mountain) is the maiden name of his paternal grandmother Susan Henry Spencer Hamner. The Waltons derives from his paternal grandfather Walter Clifton Hamner and great-grandfather Walter Leland Hamner.[citation needed]

List of works[edit]


  • Fifty Roads to Town (1953)
  • Spencer's Mountain (1961)
  • You Can't Get There From Here (1965)
  • The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain (1970)


  • The Avocado Drive Zoo (a memoir) (1999)
  • Good Night, John Boy (2002; reminiscences of making The Waltons TV series)
  • Generous Women (2006; collection of memoirs)




  1. ^ a b Earl Hamner Jr. "Official Website of Earl Hamner Jr.". Earl Hamner Jr. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ Earl Hamner Passes Away at 92
  3. ^ "Justice". ctva.biz. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ darrenpearce111 (January 21, 2014). ""Twilight Zone" You Drive (TV Episode 1964)". IMDb. Retrieved April 30, 2015. 
  5. ^ Palm Springs Weekend at the American Film Institute Catalog

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Earl on March 24, 2016.

Below is an obituary written by Earl's devoted friend, James Person.

Earl Hamner (1923-2016)

Best known as the creator, executive producer, and warm narrative voice of the long-running television series The Waltons, writer Earl Hamner died Thursday, March 24, in Los Angeles at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. He was 92 and had battled cancer for nearly two years. He is survived by Jane, his wife of 61 years, as well as his son Scott, himself an accomplished writer, and daughter Caroline, a family counselor.

Born into a large affectionate family in Virginia's Blue Ridge foothills in 1923, Hamner knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. He grew up during the Great Depression, an era that captured his imagination and later served as the time setting of his best-known novels and TV series. After seeing active service in the U.S. Army during World War II and then interning as a writer for radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Hamner began writing for radio (and later, television) programs in New York, notably The Today Show. In 1961, with television transitioning from live programming to film, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he soon became a contributor of scripts to The Twilight Zone, hosted by a man he had known at WLW, Rod Serling. He also published the autobiographical novel Spencer's Mountain, which was praised at length by novelist Harper Lee and adapted to a successful film starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara.

In these and his teleplays for other series, in his novels, and in his film adaptations of Johanna Spyri's Heidi and E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, Hamner brought a warm, affirming sense of traditional, timeless wisdom that affirmed love as the essential quality that makes life worth living. He embraced William Faulkner's famous credo: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal . . . because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. . . . The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." Hamner kept a typed copy of those words tacked to the wall of his office.

He won the Christopher Award five times and also took home the coveted George Foster Peabody Award in 1972 and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama (Continuing) in 1973 for The Waltons. Despite having achieved this level of success and international recognition, he remained the real-life John-Boy Walton, never losing his affection for the folkways, old stories, traditions, and manners of the family united in loving community with its members, close friends, and the larger community, living on family land or on long-familiar ground. In his autobiographical works of imagination especially--Spencer's Mountain, the CBS drama Appalachian Autumn, The Homecoming, and even the nighttime drama Falcon Crest--the past forever flows into the present. In one of the narrations that bookended an episode of The Waltons, Hamner wrote: "Some men are drawn to oceans, they cannot breathe unless the air is scented with a salty mist. Others are drawn to land that is flat, and the air is sullen and is leaden as August. My people were drawn to mountains. They came when the country was young and they settled in the upland country of Virginia that is still misted with a haze of blue which gives those mountains their name. . . . In my time, I have come to know them. . . . I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers. I saw yesterday and now look to tomorrow."

Until the end of his life, Hamner held to a personal vision of television and motion pictures as media for affirming the better angels of human nature, reminding his audience that the past is never dead; it's not even past. His world of wondering boyhood and moral imagination can never stale. In Depression-era Walton's Mountain, in the opulence of Falcon Crest, even in the unnerving alternative worlds of The Twilight Zone, he created worlds to delight in and revisit time and again.

CLICK HERE to read a collection of some personal thoughts James shared about Earl.

Below is a list of organizations Earl supported. He would be honored to be remembered by a charitable gift in his name to any of the following institutions:

The Library of Virginia Foundation 800 East Broad Street Richmond, VA 23219

The University Richmond Advancement Operations Richmond Hall G-19 University of Richmond, VA 23173 donatenow@richmond.edu

The National Audubon Society P.O. Box 97194 Washington DC 20090-7194

The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. Topanga, CA 90290

Motion Picture & TV Fund Foundation 23388 Mulholland Drive Woodland Hills, CA 91364

Writer's Guild Foundation www.wgfoundation.org 7000 West 3rd Street Los Angeles, CA 90048


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