• July 19, 2024

The Waltons was a reflection of Earl Hamner Jr.’s family in real life

If you’re a fan of The Waltons, then you know Earl Hamner Jr.’s whole family by now. Throughout nine seasons, fans became like family to The Waltons. They even considered Ellen Corby the quintessential American grandma and John-Boy as the brother we all wanted.

Each week an increasingly large amount of TV viewers would tune in to CBS to watch The Waltons. For creator, writer, story narrator and editor, Earl Hamner Jr., The Waltons represented an entire time period and way of thinking.

According to a 1973 interview with Detroit Free Press, Hamner said each of The Waltons’ family members was based on the real Hamner household in Virginia.

“We stress values that are unique in a medium where violence has reigned supreme,” Hamner said. “The Waltons have the kind of pioneer virtues this country has stood for in past years.”

Those values included: Frugality, the meaning of family and continuity of tradition. Hamner said those values weren’t just made up for the show. They were part of his everyday life growing up during the Great Depression era.

They are also values that he had passed down to his own kids and kids across the country as they tuned in each week.

“Every one of my brothers and sisters are secure people,” Hamner said. “My parents loved each other and passed that on.”

The Waltons had seven children, and Hamner’s real-life family had eight; Earl was the oldest.

The character John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, was created by Hamner to portray himself onscreen. No, he was never called John-Boy or Earl-Boy in real life. Although, his uncle did call him Clay-Boy.

Much like John-Boy, Hamner aspired to be a writer. In his early days, Hamner mostly wrote scripts about “people in the cities who were romantic and dashing.” As time moved, so did Hamner’s focus. “Then I found my own family just as exciting.”

Hamner broke into writing by selling scripts for the Dr. Christian radio show in the ’50s and by writing for the Ma Perkins radio soap opera. Hamner was also an author. His first book, Fifty Roads to Town, was published in 1953.

Despite his success in various projects, Hamner said he found writing The Waltons to be the most rewarding project he had ever worked on.

“They’re all autobiographical in that we’re anchored to a real family,” Hamner said.

During the first season, several episodes were based on real people and events, including the episodes about carnival workers and the episode called “The Calf.” (Season one, episode three).

Earl’s mother, Doris Marion Hamner, said she never minded or cared about how their family was portrayed on TV. She didn’t mind the fans either; however, she did have one request: Stop taking pictures of the Hamner house.

According to the interview, Mrs. Hamner was shocked when she saw how much The Waltons’ house looked like theirs.

“Some critics said the house looked too good,” Hamner said. “But my father always fixed things. If the walls got dirty, he painted. My mother washed every day. They were vigorous, hard-working people.”

Hamner said he owed the show’s success to the feeling many American families had while watching his series. Many of them longed for a kind of close-knit family with secure futures.

“My children have had a chance to know the life I had as a boy,” Hamner said. “I think they have the best of it: A beach house in California, a grandmother in Iowa and a grandmother in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have made an effort to give them the sense of continuity, family and tradition.”

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