Saturday, March 26, 2016

Goodnight Earl

My wife Kate and I have been watching a DVD of the first season of The Waltons.

For those too young to know, The Waltons was a US television series set in rural Virginia that first aired in 1971. It lasted for 9 seasons and followed the fortunes of the Walton family during the Great Depression and World War 11.

Kate and I both recall watching the show when we were younger and yesterday we discussed how much of the show was based on truth. I googled the information and found that the series creator, American television writer and producer Earl Hamner, had died only 2 days ago, on 24 March 2016, aged 92.

Earl Hamner with actor Richard Thomas (John Boy Walton) who portrayed him in the series

Some facts:
  • Hamner (1923 – 2016) grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia at a place called Schuyler, the oldest of eight children (five boys, three girls, all red-headed). All of the Walton children are based on Hamner and his siblings. He also based the characters of The Waltons' grandparents on composites of both sides of his and his wife’s parents.
  • Hamner’s novel, Spencer’s Mountain, was turned into a 1963 movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara.
  • During the Depression years his father worked as a machinist at the DuPont factory 50 kilometres (30 miles) away so lived in a boarding house during the week. For the weekends he travelled back to the family by bus and walked the last 10 kilometres (6 miles).
  • One such trek home, on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1933, became the inspiration for Hamner’s 1970 novella, The Homecoming, which in turn became a Christmas special that starred Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal (modeled after Hamner and his mother). This effectively served as the pilot for The Waltons.
  • In Hamner’s house, the kids said good night to one another from their respective rooms, just as on the show.
  • Each of The Waltons episodes opened and closed with narration by Hamner himself, as John, now older and looking back.

  • In a 2000 interview he commented:
“I became the narrator in an odd way. When we were producing The Homecoming, we auditioned just about every professional narrator in town. Finally, Fielder Cook, the director, said, ‘We need somebody who sounds as homespun as Earl.’ He thrust a microphone in front of my face and told me to read the copy. It was a particularly moving segment about my feelings for my family, and I felt very deeply about what I was reading. When I looked over at Fielder, I could see that he was moved and that I had the job!”

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