The Waltons December 29, 2005 4:00 AM
September 14, 1972 - August 20, 1981
The Waltons is the story of a large close-knit family
living in rural Virginia during the Depression. Creator
Earl Hamner Jr. based the series on his own childhood,
which he previously fictionalized in his novel, Spencer's
Mountain. That book was made into a feature film in
1963 starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as the
parents and James MacArthur as Clay-Boy.
In 1971, Hamner's second book about the Spencer family,
The Homecoming, was made into a TV movie. The family
name was changed to Walton and Patricia Neal and Andrew
Duggan played the parents. Clay-Boy became John-Boy and
young Richard Thomas was cast in the role. Ellen Corby
and Edger Bergen were cast as the grandparents. The
children were played by a talented array of newcomers.
The film was broadcast on CBS by December 19, 1971.
The positive response by viewers to The Homecoming prompted
CBS to create a series based on the Walton family. The
Waltons debuted on September 14, 1972 with Richard Thomas,
Ellen Corby and all of the children returning to their roles.
Miss Michael Learned was cast as the mother (Olivia), Ralph
Waite was cast as the father (John) and veteran actor Will
Geer was given the role of the grandfather. Other original
characters included Joe Conley as general store owner, Ike
Godsey, John Crawford as Sheriff Ep Bridges, Mariclare Costello
as schoolteacher Miss Rosemary Hunter and Helen Kleeb and
Mary Jackson as eccentric sisters--Mamie and Emily Baldwin.
John and Olivia Walton and their seven children all lived
together on Walton's Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountains
of rural Jefferson County, Virginia. The family's modest
income came from the lumber mill run by John and Grandpa Zeb.
Everything was seen through the eyes of John Boy, the
oldest son, who had wanted to be a novelist for
as long as he could remember.
The Waltons' first season brought critical acclaim and several
awards. Both Richard Thomas and Michael Learned took home Best
Actor Emmys, Ellen Corby was awarded the Best Supporting
Actress honor and the series was given the Emmy for Outstanding
Drama Series. The show also earned Emmys for writing and
editing in addition to receiving the prestigious Peabody award.
The series entered the top ten in its second season and
finished second that year to All in the Family. The show remained
in the top twenty for the next few seasons and received several
more Emmys, including two more for both Michael Learned and Ellen
Corby and a Best Supporting Actor award for Will Geer. In all,
The Waltons received 37 Emmy nominations and took
home 13 of the golden statuettes.
During the show's nine-year run, the series underwent several
cast changes and additions. John Ritter (1973-1975) was featured
as Reverend Fordwick. His character would later marry Miss Emily
Hunter. Ronnie Claire Edwards (1975-1981) joined the show to
play Cora Beth, a distant cousin of John Walton. She soon
married Ike Godsey and they later adopted young Aimee,
played by Rachel Longaker (1976-1979).
At the end of the fifth season, Richard Thomas left the series
with the character of John-Boy heading for New York City to
pursue a writing career. (John-Boy's character would later
return in the eighth season played by Robert Wightman). Tom
Bower (1976-1979) portrayed Mary Ellen's husband, Dr. Curtis
Willard. They had a baby, John Curtis. In the fall of 1976,
Ellen Corby suffered a serious stroke and did not return to
the series until the last episode of the 1977-1978 season.
Before production resumed for the 1978-1979 season, Will Geer
passed away. His character was never to be recast. Also in that
seventh season, Michael Learned announced that she would no
longer appear in the series as a regular. So by mid-season,
Olivia Walton had left for a sanitarium to recover from
tuberculosis. She would later return for occasional
guest appearances during the following season.
Other characters were added as the show neared the end of
its run. Leslie Winston (1979-1981) played Cindy, Ben's wife,
and Lisa Harrison (1979-1981) portrayed Jason's girlfriend,
Toni. Peggy Rea (1979-1981) joined the show as Olivia's cousin,
Rose Burton, to help care for the Walton household. She brought
along her granddaughter, Serena, played by Martha Nix, and her
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December 29, 2005 4:02 AM
Serena, played by Martha Nix, and her
grandson, Jeffrey, played by Keith Coogan. William Schallert
(1980-1981) played Rose's husband-to-be, Stanley Perkins.
The last regularly scheduled episode of The Waltons was
broadcast on August 20, 1981. Three specials were broadcast
on NBC in 1982 without Michael Learned and Richard Thomas.
Three reunion movies have been produced in the 1990s for CBS.
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