Waltons, The


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

The Waltons was a highly successful family drama series of the 1970s, which portrayed a sense of family in sharp contrast to the problem-ridden urban families of the "socially relevant" sitcoms such as All in the Family, Maude or Sanford and Son which vied with it for top billing in the Nielsen ratings. Set in the fictitious rural community of Walton's Mountain, Virginia, during the 1930s, the episodic narrative focused upon a large and dignified, "salt-of-the-earth" rural white family consisting of grandparents, parents and seven children. Based upon the semi-autobiographical writings of Earl Hamner, Jr., much of the early narrative was enunciated from the perspective of the oldest son, John Boy, an aspiring writer. The series was based on Hamner's novel Spencer's Mountain, which had been made into a feature film of the same name and subsequently adapted as a CBS-TV holiday special, The Homecoming, in 1971. The initial public reaction to the special was so overwhelming that executives Lee Rich and Bob Jacks of the newly-formed Lorimar Productions convinced CBS to continue it as a series, with Hamner as co-executive producer and story editor.

Lorimar executives constructed the series to emphasize both the locale (the Blue Ridge Mountains) and the historical period (the Great Depression), hoping to evoke a nostalgia for the recent past. They proposed to walk that fine line between "excessive sentimentality and believable human warmth," and took care not to caricature the mountain culture of the family, desiring to portray them as descendants of pioneer stock rather than stereotypical "hillbillies." Production notes in the Hamner papers emphasized the respect to be afforded the family and its culture: "That the Waltons are poor should be obvious, but there should be no hint of squalor or debased living conditions usually associated with poverty." Producers also stressed that The Waltons would not be like earlier wholesome family series Father Knows Best or I Remember Mama transplanted to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia," but instead would be "the continuing story of a seventeen-year old boy who wants to be a writer, growing up during the Depression in a large and loving family."

Premiering in the fall of 1972, the hour-long dramatic series was scheduled in what was considered a "suicidal" time slot against two popular Thursday-night shows, ABC's The Mod Squad and NBC's top-rated The Flip Wilson Show. By its second season, The Waltons achieved the valedictory rank in the overall ratings, and stayed in the top 20 shows for the next several years. During its first season, the series garnered Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, Best Dramatic Actor (Richard Thomas) and Actress (Michael Learned), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Corby) and Best Dramatic Writing (John McGreevey), and continued to receive Emmy's for acting and/or writing for the next half a decade. The series endured until 1981, with the extended family maturing and changing--surviving the loss of some characters, the addition of new supporting characters, and the socio-historical changes as the community weathered the Depression era and entered that of World War II. The cast has reunited for a number of holiday and wedding specials in the nearly 15 years since the series ended, and the Walton family has endured in America's mythic imagination as well as in ratings popularity.

The Walton family was portrayed as a cohesive and nearly self-sufficient social world. The family members operated as a team, full of collective wisdom and insight, yet always finding narrative (and physical) space for their individuality. In addition to the continuing narrative development of each regular character and of the family dynamics over the course of the series, each episode frequently dealt with a conflict or tension introduced by an outsider who happened into the community (Ziegler described these characters as "foreigners, drifters, fugitives, orphans, and others just passing through") bringing their own problems which were potentially disruptive influences upon the harmony and equilibrium of the Walton's Mountain community. The narrative of each episode worked through the resolution of these tensions within the household, as well as the healing or spiritual uplift achieved by the outsider characters as they assimilated the values of the family and learned their lessons of love and morality.

The series was critically praised as being bittersweet, "wholesome", emotion-laden viewing. Reviewers noted that the series conveyed a vivid authenticity of both historical time and cultural place, as well as an emotional verisimilitude regarding the portrayal of a certain type of family life rooted in that time and place. Devoted viewers besieged the network, producers and cast members with fan letters praising the show and expressing their degree of emotional identification with many aspects of the series. Many considered the series to be the epitome of television's capacity for romantic, effective and moving storytelling in its evocation of childhood and its ability to tap into a deep desire for a mythicized community and family intimacy.

Yet the series also had its detractors, who complained that The Waltons was too sweet, sappily sentimental, and exploitative of viewers' emotions. Crowther remarked that its "homey wisdom and Sunday school platitudes have been known to make me gag"; others labeled it an "obviously corny, totally unreal family" with characters too good to be true. Many recognized in the show an "intolerable wistfulness" for a romanticized past constructed through the creation of false memory and hopeless longing. Some critics noted that such a romanticized image of the era could make viewers forget the real nature of rural poverty. "The Depression was not a time for the making of strong souls" or healthy, well-nourished bodies, according to Roiphe, who criticized the series for associating poverty with elevated moral values and neutralizing the social, economic and political upheavals of the 1930s "behind a wall of tradition, goodness and good fortune." Roiphe noted how skillfully the media producers were able to design and articulate myths of American happiness and innocence during the historical period the series portrayed; however, the viewers who admired the series also eagerly participated in that construction of a mythical past. Other critics have noted that despite its embrace of liberal humanitarian values (against racism, etc.), The Waltons' inherent conservatism has made it ripe for appropriation by right-wing "family values" religious groups. Indeed, it has become a benchmark series for The Family Channel, the media outlet for Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, which has held exclusive syndication rights for the series since 1991.

-Pamela Wilson

NARRATOR

Earl Hamner, Jr.

CAST

John Walton ..............................................Ralph Waite

Olivia Walton (1972-1980) .....................Michael Learned

Zeb (Grandpa) Walton (1972-1978) ..................Will Geer

Esther (Grandma) Walton (1972-1979)............Ellen Corby

John Boy Walton (1972-1977) ................Richard Thomas

John Boy Walton (1979-1981).............. Robert Wightman

Mary Ellen Walton Willard ..................Judy Norton-Taylor

Jim-Bob Walton ...................................David W. Harper

Elizabeth Walton........................................ Kami Cotler

Jason Walton ..........................................Jon Walmsley

Erin Walton .........................Mary Elizabeth McDonough

Ben Walton ...................................................Eric Scott

Ike Godsey................................................. Joe Conley

Corabeth Godsey (1974-1981) ......Ronnie Claire Edwards

Sheriff Ep Bridges ...................................John Crawford

Mamie Baldwin........................................... Helen Kleeb

Emily Baldwin.......................................... Mary Jackson

Verdie Foster.......................................... Lynn Hamilton

Rev. Matthew Fordwick (1972-1977)................ John Ritter

Rosemary Hunter Fordwick (1973-77) ...Mariclare Costello

Yancy Tucker (1972-1979) .......................Robert Donner

Flossie Brimmer (1972-1977) .....................Nora Marlowe

Maude Gormsley (1973-1979)........................ Merie Earle

Dr. Curtis Willard (1976-1978) .......................Tom Bower

Rev. Hank Buchanan (1977-1978)................... Peter Fax

J. D. Pickett (1978-1981) ........................Lewis Arquette

John Curtis Willard (1978-1981) [Alternating] ...... Marshall Reed/Michael Reed

Cindy Brunson Walton (1979 1981) ...........Leslie Winston

Rose Burton (1979-1981) ..............................Peggy Rea

Serena Burton (1979-1980) ............................Martha Nix

Jeffrey Burton (1979-1980) ........................Keith Mitchell

Toni Hazleton (1981) .................................Lisa Harrison

Arlington Wescott Jones (Jonesy) (1981) ..Richard Gilliland

PRODUCERS

Lee Rich, Earl Hamner, Jr., Robert L. Jacks, Andy White, Rod Peterson

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

178 Episodes

CBS

September 1972-August 1981   Thursday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Crowther, Hal. "Boxed In." The Humanist (Buffalo, New York) July/August 1976.

Hamner, Earl, Papers. The Waltons Mountain Museum in Schuyler, Virginia. Roiphe, Anne. "The Waltons." New York Times Magazine, 18 November, 1973.

"Wholesome Sentiment in the Blue Ridge." Life (New York) 13 October 1972.

Ziegler, Robert E. "Memory-spaces: Themes of the House and the Mountain in The Waltons." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), 1981.

Highlights
Michael Learned on being cast as "Olivia Walton" on The Waltons
06:25
Earl Hamner on the inspiration for The Waltons
07:46
Fred Silverman on the development of The Waltons, the unexpected success of this "sweet" well-crafted show, and how it beat out the number one program on NBC The Flip Wilson Show on Thursday night
04:19
Richard Thomas on "John-Boy's" wardrobe and accent on The Waltons
03:53
Dorothy Fontana on writing the episode "The Beau" for The Waltons
02:28
Lee Rich on Earl Hammer, creator of The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the movie that inspired the series The Waltons
12:51
Who talked about this show

Bonnie Bartlett

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Bonnie Bartlett on guest-starring on The Waltons
00:40

Robert Butler

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Robert Butler on filters used while directing The Waltons
00:58
Robert Butler on directing The Waltons  (including the episode "Airmail Man")
05:13

Alexander Courage

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Alexander Courage on scoring episodes of The Waltons and putting puns into the titles of music cues
03:50
Alexander Courage on taking over the music for The Waltons in the third season, and the style of music he wrote for the program over the course of eight years
02:32
Alexander Courage on working with The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr.
00:29
Alexander Courage on working on the TV movies of The Waltons
01:55

Dorothy Fontana

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Dorothy Fontana on writing the episode "The Beau" for The Waltons
02:28

Paul Michael Glaser

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Paul Michael Glaser on guest-starring on The Waltons
01:11

Jerry Goldsmith

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Jerry Goldsmith on composing the theme for The Waltons, Barnaby Jones, Police Story, and Hawkins
03:36

Earl Hamner, Jr.

View Interview
Earl Hamner on the genesis of The Waltons 
12:39
Earl Hamner on bringing The Waltons to television
06:01
Earl Hamner on the casting process for The Waltons and the cast of the show
17:06
Earl Hamner on the children cast on The Waltons and how cast changes were handled on the show
11:41
Earl Hamner on producing The Waltons
19:05
Earl Hamner on his favorite episodes of The Waltons
01:09
Earl Hamner on a comparison of elements in Falcon Crest to his previous series The Waltons
01:26

David Jacobs

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David Jacobs on working with Lorimar Productions - producers of The Waltons
00:16

Alan Jaggs

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Alan Jaggs on editing The Waltons and working at Lorimar
02:17
Alan Jaggs on editing The Waltons
01:51

Michael Learned

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Michael Learned on her character of "Olivia Walton" on The Waltons
04:16
Michael Learned on Richard Thomas as "John-Boy" on The Waltons
01:21
Michael Learned on the death of Will Geer
01:04
Michael Learned on her decision to leave The Waltons
02:48
Michael Learned on being cast as "Olivia Walton" on The Waltons
06:25
Michael Learned on The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the made-for-television movie that served as the pilot for The Waltons
01:09
Michael Learned on the character of "Olivia Walton" on The Waltons
04:13
Michael Learned on her chemistry with the children on The Waltons
01:17
Michael Learned on her billing on The Waltons
02:54
Michael Learned on the premise and tone of The Waltons
02:50
Michael Learned on filming the first episode of The Waltons and early critical reaction
01:39
Michael Learned on the production of The Waltons
03:32
Michael Learned on working with The W altons creator Earl Hamner, Jr.
02:13
Michael Learned on working with producer Lee Rich on The Waltons
03:13
Michael Learned on working with producer Rod Peterson on The Waltons; on Ellen Corby's stroke
03:13
Michael Learned on The Waltons'  catchphrases and the scenes around the dinner table
03:32
Michael Learned on Ralph Waite as "John Walton" on The Waltons
01:48
Michael Learned on Will Geer as "Grandpa Walton" on The Waltons
01:05
Michael Learned on Ellen Corby as "Grandma Walton" on The Waltons
01:41
Michael Learned on Judy Norton as "Mary Ellen Walton" on The Waltons
00:47
Michael Learned on Jon Walmsley as "Jason Walton" on The Waltons and the other Waltons children actors
02:50
Michael Learned on the departure of Richard Thomas from The Waltons
01:40
Michael Learned on doing publicity for The Waltons
02:14
Michael Learned on the popularity of The Waltons
02:25
Michael Learned on her favorite episodes of The Waltons
02:28
Michael Learned on her Emmy nominations and wins for The Waltons
02:42
Michael Learned on returning to The Waltons after she left
02:36
Michael Learned on the legacy of The Waltons
01:37

Lee Rich

View Interview
Lee Rich on Eight is Enough as the modern day version of The Waltons
00:47
Lee Rich on casting Ralph White for The Waltons
01:02
Lee Rich on his involvement with the show The Waltons
05:53
Lee Rich on promising to never give distribution rights away again after doing so with The Waltons
00:20
Lee Rich on his favorite series, The Waltons
00:32

Ralph Senensky

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Ralph Senensky on directing "The Gift," "The Conflict," "The Marathon," "The Pony Cart" episodes of The Waltons
09:17
Ralph Senensky on directing "Grandma Comes Home" episodes of The Waltons; on changing the "Goodnight, John Boy" ending in the "Grandma Comes Home" episode of The Waltons
05:23

Jack Shea

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Jack Shea on the collaborative and careful work that made The Waltons such a rewarding experience for him; on the premise and cast of the show
09:12

Fred Silverman

View Interview
Fred Silverman on the development of The Waltons, the unexpected success of this "sweet" well-crafted show, and how it beat out the number one program on NBC The Flip Wilson Show on Thursday night
04:19
Fred Silverman on how the advertising campaign that promoted The Waltons, and its Emmy wins, helped the show's success early on
00:45

John Strauss

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John Strauss on encouraging the audience to write in to save The Waltons
02:55

Richard Thomas

View Interview
Richard Thomas on The Waltons becoming a series
07:09
Richard Thomas on moving to Los Angeles to star in The Waltons, and on the show getting on the air due to William S. Paley
03:57
Richard Thomas on working with The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr. and on the character of "John-Boy Walton"
08:07
Richard Thomas on his character, "John-Boy Walton," on The Waltons
08:32
Richard Thomas on his input into the character of "John-Boy Walton" on The Waltons, and on looking up to the elders in the cast
04:35
Richard Thomas on working with Will Geer and Ellen Corby as "Grandma and Grandpa Walton" on The Waltons, and on Will Geer having been a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist
08:29
Richard Thomas on working with the actors who played his siblings on The Waltons, and on the cast working as an ensemble
04:10
Richard Thomas on the series 1, 2, 3 Go, and on the child actors' work schedule on The Waltons
04:06
Richard Thomas on the guest stars of The Waltons
02:33
Richard Thomas on the dinner scenes on The Waltons
03:01
Richard Thomas on pranks of the set of The Waltons
03:01
Richard Thomas on The Waltons "goodnight" catch phrase
02:16
Richard Thomas on directing episodes of The Waltons
03:23
Richard Thomas on doing publicity for The Waltons
01:45
Richard Thomas on the popularity of The Waltons
02:47
Richard Thomas on "John-Boy's" wardrobe and accent on The Waltons
03:53
Richard Thomas on dealing with the fame that The Waltons brought him
03:53
Richard Thomas on living up to the image of "John-Boy Walton"
04:21
Richard Thomas on favorite episodes of The Waltons and on the reunions
03:44
Richard Thomas on winning an Emmy for playing "John-Boy" on The Waltons
01:52
Richard Thomas on leaving The Waltons
04:59
Richard Thomas on the legacy of The Waltons, and on being typecast as "John-Boy"
07:39
Richard Thomas says "goodnight" to interviewer Adrienne Faillace
00:18

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