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The Waltons
The Waltons Title Screen.png
Title Screen from Season 1
Genre Family Drama
Created by Earl Hamner, Jr.
Starring See cast list below
Narrated by Earl Hamner Jr.
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 9
No. of episodes 221 + 7 TV movies (List of episodes)
Production
Producer(s) Robert L. Jacks
Andy White
Rod Peterson
Claylene Jones
Running time 60 minutes
Production company(s) Lorimar Productions
Amandas Productions
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Original run September 14, 1972 – June 4, 1981

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, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. The show centered on the titular family growing up in a rural Virginia community during the Great Depression and World War II. The series pilot was a television movie entitled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, broadcast in 1971. The show originally aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981. After the series left the air, three television movie sequels were broadcast in 1982, with three more following in the 1990s.

The Waltons was produced by Lorimar Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in syndication.

Contents

Inspiration

Earl Hamner's rural childhood growing up in the unincorporated community of Schuyler, Virginia provided the basis for many of the storylines of The Waltons. The setting of the series was referred to as Walton's Mountain. The closest town, Rockfish, Virginia, is frequently mentioned on the show, as is Charlottesville, Virginia.

Plot

Setting

The show takes place in Walton's Mountain, a fictional town in Virginia. Walton's Mountain was based upon creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s hometown of Schuyler in Nelson County south of Charlottesville, Virginia. 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. While Walton's Mountain itself is fictional, Schuyler and surrounding area bear a striking resemblance. A small museum is located in a former school building at Schuyler, not far from State Route 6.

The Walton Mountain Country Store in Nelson County, Virginia

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 70 miles east of Schuyler. The University of Richmond also has a Boatwright Library and is also located not far from State Route 6.

Story

The Walton family, consisting of John and Olivia, their seven children, and John's parents Zebulon "Zeb" Tyler and Esther Walton, struggle to make a decent life during the Great Depression and World War II. The family's story is seen primarily through the eyes of John Boy, the eldest son and an aspiring journalist and novelist, who serves as narrator. John Walton and his father operate a lumber mill, with the Walton sons helping out in the business as they grow older. Occasional strangers needing temporary shelter for various reasons periodically stay with the hospitable Walton family. The mountain also sustains the livelihoods of a handful of colorful townsfolk, including the Baldwin sisters (two elderly spinsters who distill moonshine that they naively and endearingly call "Papa's recipe" or "the recipe"); general store owners/postmen Ike and Cora Beth Godsey (a distant Walton cousin); Sheriff Ep Bridges; Verdie Foster (a hardworking black woman); and Yancy Tucker (a chicken thief and handyman with big plans but little motivation).

In the signature scene that closes every episode, the family house is enveloped in darkness, save for a light in an upstairs window. Through voice-overs, two or more characters have a very brief conversation, often humorous and related to the episode, and then bid each other good-night. (e.g. "Good night, Mary Ellen." "Good night, John Boy.".)

After completing high school, John Boy attends (fictional) Boatwright University in Westham (also fictional). He later goes to New York City to work as a journalist. Richard Thomas, the original actor to play John Boy, left the series in 1976 to seek other roles (his farewell episode aired March 17, 1977). He would make two guest appearances before the role was recast with actor Robert Wightman.

During the latter half of the 1976-77 season, Grandma Esther Walton suffers a stroke (reflecting actress Ellen Corby's own stroke and absence from the program), returning home shortly before the death of her husband Grandpa Zeb Walton (reflecting actor Will Geer's death during the 1978 summer hiatus), and continuing to deal with her diminished ability to move and speak.

During the later years of the series, several of the Walton children marry and begin having families of their own.

World War II deeply affects the family. All four of the 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.

John Boy's (played by Robert Wightman) military plane is shot down, while Olivia becomes a volunteer at the VA hospital and is seen less and less (reflecting actress Michael Learned's reduced involvement), eventually developing tuberculosis and entering an Arizona sanitarium. Olivia's cousin, Rose Burton (Peggy Rea), moves into the Walton house to watch over the brood. Two years later, John, Sr. moves to Arizona to be near Olivia. In 1981, the writers anticipated season ten without the paternal John Sr. Creating a defacto dad, Rose was wedded to her salesman beau (played by William Schallert). Nonetheless, with five of the original actors gone, the series was not renewed for another season.

Emmy Awards

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. Beulah Bondi also won an Emmy in 1977 for Lead Actress in a Single Performance for a guest appearance on the series.

Cast

Main stars

John Walton, Sr.

    • Actors: Ralph Waite, Andrew Duggan (pilot)
    • Profile: The family patriarch, John is a hard-working, industrious man who runs a small family sawmill on his acreage at the base of Walton's Mountain. He is normally very good-natured and wise, and is fearless, ready to stand up to a challenge and tell it like it is. These personality traits sometimes cause him to be very brash, even towards his children and wife on occasion, and he is prone to falling into the mindset of a workaholic when greatly stressed. He is a World War I veteran. Despite his Baptist upbringing, John is somewhat non-religious (the main point of contention in a few episodes) in contrast to his wife, Olivia. The pilot episode indicates that he dies in the year 1969.

Olivia Walton

    • Actresses: Michael Learned (Seasons 1–8), Patricia Neal (pilot)
    • Profile: While John is the tough-skinned, opinionated husband, Olivia is his soft-spoken, patient and loving wife. She is gentle by nature, but firm and unafraid to speak up or administer discipline when needed. Like Grandma, she is a devout Baptist who is often immersed in activities involving the church. This element of her character is probably one of the reasons why Olivia is usually the first person to take in a friend or stranger in need. It should be mentioned that Olivia's background and heritage were never really examined closely in the series, whereas John's was often observed in great detail, and was a plot element on a number of occasions.

Zebulon Tyler "Zeb/Grandpa" Walton

    • Actors: Will Geer (Seasons 1–6), Edgar Bergen (pilot)
    • Profile: The eldest Walton patriarch, Grandpa Walton (affectionately addressed as "Zeb" by his wife Esther, "Pa" by his son John, and "Grandpa" by the rest of the family, including Olivia) likes to spend his time working with John in the sawmill, fishing, teaching and playing with his grandkids. While he is still a hard worker like his son, Grandpa is much more easy-going in general and has a mischievous yet wise and vibrant personality. He especially cherishes his wife (and vice versa), although he can often be found alone relaxing with the Baldwin sisters, happily sipping their "recipe" (moonshine). He is a Spanish-American War veteran and, like Will Geer himself, an amateur botanist. In the beginning of Season 7, owing to actor Will Geer's death, Grandpa's character passes away as a result of a heart attack. Along with G.W. Haines, Boone Walton (a backwoods moonshining cousin of Zebulon) and Martha Corrinne, he was one of the few characters to die on the show.

Esther "Grandma" Walton

    • Actress: Ellen Corby (pilot; Seasons 1–5 and 7; occasional appearances in Seasons 8 & 9)
    • Profile: Grandma is an old and practical but feisty and quick-tempered woman who makes a strong effort to stick to the straight and narrow, and get done what needs to get done. Despite (and often because of) this element of her personality, Grandma, like her husband, has lots of wisdom to dole out among her family and friends. Throughout the series' long run, she was known for often uttering two exclamations: "Good Lord!" (mainly said when surprised, indignant, or both) and "You old fool!" (spoken as a cheekily loving remark towards Grandpa). She is the church organist. In 1977, actress Ellen Corby suffered a stroke, a situation that was incorporated into Grandma's character. This meant her missing the latter half of the 5th Season. During the final two seasons, Corby's health forced her to all but forego the role; Grandma was usually said to be visiting relatives in nearby Buckingham County.

John "John-Boy" Walton, Jr.

    • Actors: Richard Thomas (Seasons 1–5; occasional appearances in Season 6), Robert Wightman (Seasons 8 & 9)
    • Profile: John Walton, Jr., better known throughout the series as "John-Boy," is the oldest of John's and Olivia's seven children. A full-blooded country boy through and through, John-Boy is a prolific writer and serious thinker, often committing to paper his thoughts about his family, friends and circumstances. While normally a calm, quiet sort, John-Boy does occasionally display a touch of his father's fiery temper, and can become very defensive and indignant when the situation warrants. He has been known to write and send op-ed letters and other manuscripts to well-known newspapers and periodicals. As for the show, John-Boy is arguably its main character, as the opening and closing of each episode are narrated by him in voiceover, flashback style. In later years, he ends up moving to New York, enlisting in the military and having his plane shot down. He survives, and eventually, in A Walton Wedding, marries a fellow writer named Janet.

Jason Walton

    • Actor: Jon Walmsley
    • Profile: Jason is next in line, not much younger than John-Boy, and the somewhat introverted musician of the family who is exceedingly good-natured and likes to spend time composing music for the harmonica, guitar, and piano, some of which are performed during the show. Beginning in Season 3, Jason attends the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music to learn music theory and composition, and in Season 4 he lands a job as the honkey tonk piano player at a local tavern called the Dew Drop Inn, much to Grandma's and Olivia's chagrin. In Season 5, Jason joins the National Guard.

Mary Ellen Walton

    • Actress: Judy Norton Taylor
    • Profile: Mary Ellen is the third oldest of the children and the oldest daughter. Throughout the first few seasons, she is mostly a whiny and rebellious tomboy, often vain and typically girlish. In the early seasons, David Doremus plays her boyfriend, the awkward G.W. Haines. In later seasons (likely because of her marriage to Curt and her nursing career), Mary Ellen loses some of this childishness and matures into a wiser woman. It should also be mentioned that a rather important part of her character, particularly in Seasons 1 and 2, involves her rivalry with the rich girl of the town, Martharose Coverdale, over her part-time love interest, G.W. In Season 5, Mary Ellen marries the aforementioned Curt Willard, who becomes the town's new physician. They have one child together, John Curtis, born in Season 6. In Season 7, Mary Ellen receives word of Curt's death at Pearl Harbor. However, she discovers later on, in Season 9, that he is still living under an assumed name. After at trip to see him, she finds that he has changed a lot and no longer loves her. Mary Ellen remarries in the second of six reunion movies, Mother's Day on Walton's Mountain to Jonesy, her boyfriend from Season 9. By the third reunion movie, Mary Ellen is a practicing doctor and has two children, Clay and Katy, with Jonesy (who does not appear).

Erin Walton

    • Actress: Mary Elizabeth McDonough
    • Profile: Erin is very close to her sister Mary Ellen, though they often fight. Erin is considered the pretty one in the family, not the scholar, and she falls in love many times throughout her teenage years. She goes to work for Mrs. Fanny Tatum as a telephone operator early in Season 5 and soon finishes high school. Later, she becomes a secretary and eventually meets Paul Northridge, whom she marries and two children with. It is disclosed that years later Paul and Erin filed for divorce.

Benjamin "Ben" Walton

    • Actor: Eric Scott
    • Profile: Ben can always be relied upon to make mischief at precisely the wrong time. He often falls for get-rich-quick schemes and has to be bailed out by his father or John-Boy. Even as an adult, running the mill in partnership with his father, he makes deals that often don't work out well. He elopes with the pretty Cindy, and together they have two children, Ginny and Charlie, to whom Ben is devoted. In Season 8, Ben joins the Sea-Bees. An assortment of people help Ben run the mill, including his father, Paul Northridge and Elizabeth's boyfriend, Drew.

James Robert "Jim-Bob" Walton

    • Actor: David W. Harper
    • Profile: James Robert is the youngest Walton boy and is better known as Jim-Bob. He is a young man who is fascinated by aeroplanes and aspires to become a pilot; however, increasingly poor eyesight forces him to give up his dream. He eventually becomes a mechanic and opens his own business just opposite Ike's general store. He has a particularly close bond with his sister Elizabeth. Jim-Bob has several girlfriends as the series progresses, including Ike and Cora Beth's adopted daughter (and Elizabeth's friend) Aimee Godsey. Jim-Bob had a twin brother, Joseph Zebulon Walton, who died at birth.

Elizabeth Walton

    • Actress: Kami Cotler
    • Profile: Elizabeth is the youngest of John's and Olivia's seven children. We see Elizabeth grow from a very young child into a young woman during the course of the series. She is very outspoken and sensitive, and seems to share John-Boy's love of reading and knack for writing. Her best friend is Aimee Godsey. Elizabeth is often given the chore of babysitting for her young nephews and nieces. Like Harper, and perhaps for the same reason, in that both were literally raised on the show's set, Kami Cotler repeatedly proves herself a gifted and versatile young actress in nearly every episode she appears in. Tony Becker portrayed Elizabeth's boyfriend Drew.

Recurring stars

Corabeth Walton Godsey

    • Actress: Ronnie Claire Edwards (seasons 3-9)
    • Profile: In the third season, John's distant cousin Corabeth Walton arrives on the mountain following the death of her mother. She eventually marries storekeeper and family friend Ike Godsey, and they later adopt a daughter, Aimee. Whether they actually married for love or because of a bond stemming from mutual loneliness is an issue that is explored throughout the series. Corabeth is an eccentric, self-refined, aspiring socialite. In addition to being the town busybody, Corabeth deals with several private battles throughout the series, such as alcoholism, depression, temptations of infidelity, and her never-ending desire to leave the rural backwater behind and lead a cultured, cosmopolitan life. However, despite her desire to live some place other than Walton's Mountain, Corabeth does seem to genuinely like and care for the Walton family. She regards Olivia as a friend, and, at one point, attempts to help Jim Bob with his studies, encouraging him to follow his dreams.

Ike Godsey

    • Actor: Joe Conley
    • Profile: A close friend of the Walton family, Ike Godsey is the proprieter of Ike Godsey General Merchandise. He eventually marries into the Walton family when he and Corabeth (John's distant cousin) are wed. Ike and Corabeth later adopt a daughter, Aimee.

Emily Baldwin

    • Actress: Mary Jackson
    • Emily Baldwin is one half of the Baldwin Sisters, a pair of somewhat well-off elderly Southern belles who happen to quietly manufacture moonshine whiskey. Slightly more eccentric than her sister Mamie, Emily had been engaged as a young girl to handsome Ashley Longworth, who disappeared shortly before their wedding day. Though she never again heard from Ashley, Emily remains convinced, even some fifty years later, that he would someday return to her.

Mamie Baldwin

    • Actress: Helen Kleeb
    • The older of the Baldwin sisters, Mamie is somewhat more sensible and grounded than her sister Emily. She and Emily carry on their father's legacy of making and distributing a product they refer to as "the recipe," or sometimes "Father's recipe," a good deal of which they consume themselves. Those who know of this situation never seem to discuss it with the sisters—rather, it's kept as sort of a well-known secret, and nobody takes these actions of two elderly sisters very seriously. In fact, most of the citizenry of Walton's Mountain are quite fond of the Baldwin sisters, with the possible exception of Olivia and Esther Walton, both of whom disapprove of their illegal manufacture and distribution of alcohol.

It's a bit unclear as to whether the two sisters are aware that their "recipe" is actually illegal hootch as they sometimes emote wholehearted belief in its being "their daddy's" legitimate medicinal folk remedy. It could be demand for the product in the area has them convinced it cannot be an illegal commodity. In season 2 however, we find out that whiskey is 'no longer illegal' (The Prize)

Rev. Matthew Fordwick

    • Actor: John Ritter
    • Appeared in 18 episodes between 1973 and 1975. His character would later marry the character Miss Rosemary Hunter.

Rosemary Hunter

Miss Hunter was Walton's Mountain schoolteacher, teaching all all ages from first grade through high school. As such, she taught nearly all the county's children, including all of the Walton kids. She was one of the first people to encourage John Boy to pursue his writing, later suggesting he submit his essays to various competitions. She later married Walton's Mountain minister Rev. Matthew Fordwick.

Episodes

One of the most widely remembered episodes is "Grandma Comes Home" (Original Airdate: March 30, 1978) in the sixth season because, Ellen Corby, who played the role of "Grandma Walton" returns after suffering a stroke in 1977; and this is the last episode in which Will Geer, who played the role of "Grandpa Walton", appears because he died on April 22, 1978, of respiratory failure at the age of 76.

Ratings

  • 1972–1973: #20[1]
  • 1973–1974: #2[2]
  • 1974–1975: #8[3]
  • 1975–1976: #14[4]
  • 1976–1977: #15[5]
  • 1977–1978: #21[6]

DVD releases

Warner Home Video has released all nine seasons and six TV moviesof 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.

DVD Name Ep #
Region 1 Region 2 (UK)
The Homecoming - A Christmas Story 1 September 23, 2003 N/A
The Complete 1st Season 25 May 11, 2004 November 1, 2004
The Complete 2nd Season 25 April 26, 2005 July 3, 2006
The Complete 3rd Season 25 April 25, 2006 September 11, 2006
The Complete 4th Season 25 January 23, 2007 March 5, 2007
The Complete 5th Season 25 May 8, 2007 N/A
The Complete 6th Season 25 January 8, 2008 N/A
The Complete 7th Season 23 April 29, 2008 N/A
The Complete 8th Season 23 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

Current status

The Waltons was on the air in US and the UK on Hallmark Channel. It airs in Canada on VisionTV weekdays at 5:00 pm ET. TV Land aired the show from 2001 to 2004.

Notable facts

  • In the German dubbing version, the name of Zebulon "Zeb" Walton was changed to Samuel "Sam" Walton. The television network ZDF which first aired The Waltons in Germany was worried that the name "Zeb" could be mistaken with "Sepp" which is a Bavarian short form of the name Joseph and could be seen as being cliché. Also, a few minutes were cut from each episode in the German version so that the show would fit into its designated time slot. There were further cuts when the show was rerun on Pro 7.
  • Though all seven of the child actors playing the Walton offspring in The Homecoming continued their roles when The Waltons became a series, Ellen Corby as Grandma was the only adult actor who made the transition. In the very first episode of the series (apart from the pilot) the family assembles around their new radio and listens to The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. This was a homage to Bergen who had played Zeb Walton in the pilot (The Homecoming: A Christmas Story). Edgar Bergen was a famous ventriloquist who had vicious dialogues with W. C. Fields in that radio show.
  • In a 1999 Archive of American Television interview, Hamner stated that, when transitioning to from the film to the TV series, he chose to recast the role of Olivia because he did not think that Patricia Neal's health would allow her to commit to the grind of a weekly television series; however, in her 1979 memoire, Neal suggested that she would have accepted the role, had it been offered to her.
  • When the show first started, Ben was the middle child, but later on Erin became the middle child.
  • The Baldwin Sisters were modeled on a living mother and daughter. In a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, two elderly sisters also made moonshine.
  • During a speech in January 1992, then-president George H. W. Bush mentioned that he wanted to "make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". Later, in a commercial, Bart Simpson responded to the comment, quipping, "We're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression, too".
  • The town of Waltons' Mountain was built in the rear area of the Warner Brothers Studios, but the mountain itself was part of the range opposite Warner studios in Burbank, California. No attempt was made to camouflage the fact that it was a Pacific coast mountain rather than a Nelson County, Virginia one. The Waltons' house is still used as scenery at Warner Brothers. For example, it served as the Dragonfly Inn on Gilmore Girls.
  • Later on in the series, both Mary-Ellen and Ben had a son and daughter, respectively. The first three TV movies that aired in the 1980s, after the series ended, Mary-Ellen was in a serious accident that left her at risk if she were to have more children and Ben's second child (a son) was born. The first of three movies that reunited the family twenty years later, it is shown that Mary-Ellen had two more children and Ben's daughter had died (hinting she died as a baby). No mention is made of the two oldest Walton grandchildren, who would have been adults in their early twenties at the time these last three movies were set.
  • "Waltons - A Thanksgiving Reunion [1993]" is set in late November 1963 - during President John F. Kennedy's ill-fated trip to Dallas, Texas. John Boy is working as a journalist in New York, and Elizabeth is traveling through Europe, with the rest of the now grown Walton children living within a few miles of home; A very frail but still sharp Grandma is living with Mary Ellen and her children. With all the children living their own lives, John and Olivia are considering selling the Walton house and building a smaller home on the actual mountain in which to spend their retirement together (the characters had periodically referred to this "dream home" throughout The Waltons' series run). John does not want to spend money on replacing the family sawmill's worn-out truck, while Ben battles him over that issue. All this plays with the drama of JFK's assassination affecting each family member in a variety of ways. John-Boy and his fiancee visit the family, but she stays with them while he is called away to cover the events surrounding the death of the young President. Elizabeth is the young idealist in the family by this time, and she chooses to join the Peace Corps. Later, after John-Boy returns home on Thanksgiving, he and his fiancee sit on a bench outside the house, listening to the family saying good night to each other, as they turn out the lights. John-Boy then announces that she has asked him to marry her, and that he said "yes". The lights all start coming back on.
  • The most recent made-for-TV movie, 1997's A Walton Easter, was set in 1970 (ironically set only a year before the first Waltons film, The Homecoming, actually appeared on TV). However, the depiction of John and Olivia celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary is inaccurate, since it would have put their wedding in 1930; when The Waltons debuted, it was set in the early years of the Depression, roughly 1934, and John and Olivia were depicted as having been married for several years at that point, with seven children (the oldest, John Boy in his mid teens), suggesting they'd been married somewhere around 1918. Also, in the pilot episode, John Boy states his father died in 1969.

References

Further reading

Ike Godsey of Walton's Mountain, by Joe Conley. Albany, BearManor Media 2010. ISBN 978-1-59393-508-5.

External links








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