The Waltons (TV Series 1972–1981)

TVSeries


The Waltons (TV Series 1972–1981)

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, during the Great Depression, the Walton family makes its small income from its sawmill on Walton's Mountain. The story is told through the eyes of eldest son John-Boy, who wants to be a novelist, goes to college, and eventually fulfills his dream. The saga follows the family through economic depression and World War II; and through growing up, school, courtship, marriage, employment, birth, aging, illness, and death.
IMDb   7.6 /10
TheMovieDb    6.8 /10
RottenTomatoes
FilmAffinity   5.7 /10
Creators
Creator Earl Hamner Jr.
Information
Release Date1972-09-14
Runtime1h 0mins
GenreDrama, Family, Romance
Content RatingTV-G (TV-G)
AwardsWon 2 Golden Globes. Another 18 wins & 53 nominations.
CompanyLorimar Productions
Country
Language
Jason Walton 212 episodes, 1972-1981
Erin Walton 212 episodes, 1972-1981
Ben Walton 212 episodes, 1972-1981
Elizabeth Walton 212 episodes, 1972-1981
Mary Ellen Walton 211 episodes, 1972-1981
Jim-Bob Walton 211 episodes, 1972-1981
The Narrator 210 episodes, 1972-1981
John Walton, Sr. 196 episodes, 1972-1981
Ike Godsey 172 episodes, 1972-1981
Olivia Walton 168 episodes, 1972-1979
Esther Walton 148 episodes, 1972-1980
The Grandfather 143 episodes, 1972-1979
John-Boy Walton / ... 124 episodes, 1972-1978
Ronnie Claire Edwards
Ronnie Claire Edwards
Corabeth Godsey 107 episodes, 1975-1981

The Waltons

The Waltons is an American historical drama television series about a family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. It was created by Earl Hamner Jr., based on his 1961 book Spencer's Mountain the 1963 film of the same name and the 1971 television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

The TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story was broadcast on December 19, 1971. Based on its success, the CBS television network ordered one season of episodes based on the same characters and that became the television series The Waltons. Beginning in September 1972, the series subsequently was broadcast on CBS for nine seasons. After the series was canceled in 1981, NBC broadcast three television film sequels in 1982, with three more following in the 1990s on CBS. The Waltons was produced by Lorimar Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in syndication.

The show's end sequence featured the family saying goodnight to one another before drifting off to sleep, and according to the BBC (which also broadcast the series in the U.K.) "Goodnight, John Boy" was one of the most common catchphrases of the 1970s.


Premise

Setting

The main story is set in Walton's Mountain, a fictional mountain-area community in fictitious Jefferson County, Virginia.

The real place upon which the stories are based is the community of Schuyler in Nelson County, Virginia.

The series' time period is from 1933 to 1946, during the Great Depression and World War II, and the presidential administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman. The Homecoming pilot film takes place on Christmas Eve, 1933. The year 1933 for the subsequent series is suggested by a reference to the opening of the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago, a brief shot of an automobile registration, and it is divulged in episode 5 that the date is in the spring of 1933. The last episode of season one, "An Easter Story," is set in February – April 1934. The year 1934 takes two seasons to cover, while some successive years are covered over the course of a few months.

The series finale, "The Revel," revolves around a party and the invitation date is given as June 4, 1946. A span of 13 years is therefore covered in nine seasons. There are some chronological and continuity inconsistencies, most of which do not hinder the storyline.

The first 3 reunion movies (A Wedding on Walton's Mountain, Mother's Day on Walton's Mountain, and A Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain), all produced in 1982, are set in 1947. Of the later reunions, A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, filmed in 1993, is set in 1963, and revolves around President John F. Kennedy's assassination. A Walton Wedding, made in 1995, is set in 1964, and A Walton Easter, filmed in 1997, is set in 1969.

The series began relating stories that occurred 39 years in the past and ended with its last reunion show set 28 years in the past.

Story

The story is about the family of John Walton Jr. (known as John-Boy): his six siblings, his parents John and Olivia Walton, and paternal grandparents Zebulon "Zeb" and Esther Walton. John-Boy is the oldest of the seven children (15 years old in The Homecoming pilot film; 17 years old in the series), who becomes a journalist and novelist. Each episode is narrated at the opening and closing by a middle-aged John Jr. (voiced by author Earl Hamner on whom John-Boy is based). John Sr. manages to eke out a living for his family by operating a lumber mill with the help of his sons as they grow older. The family income is augmented by some small-scale farming, and John occasionally hunts to put meat on the table. In the simpler days of their country youth, all of the children are rambunctious and curious, but as times grow tough, the children slowly depart from the innocent, carefree days of walking everywhere barefoot while clad in overalls and hand-sewn pinafores, and into the harsh, demanding world of adulthood and responsibility.

The family shares hospitality with relatives and strangers as they are able. The small community named after their property is also home to folk of various income levels, ranging from the well-to-do Baldwin sisters, two elderly spinsters who distill moonshine that they call "Papa's recipe;" Ike Godsey, postmaster and owner of the general store who later marries a somewhat snooty and priggish woman Corabeth (a Walton cousin; she very formally calls her husband "Mr. Godsey"); an African-American couple, Verdie and Harley Foster; Maude Gormley, a sassy octogenarian artist who paints on wood; Flossie Brimmer, a friendly though somewhat gossipy widow who runs a nearby boarding house; and Yancy Tucker, a good-hearted handyman with big plans but little motivation. Jefferson County sheriff Ep Bridges, who fought alongside John in World War I, keeps law and order in Walton's Mountain. The entire family (except for John) attends a Baptist church, of which Olivia and Grandma Esther are the most regular attendees.

In the signature scene that closes almost every episode, the family house is enveloped in darkness, save for 1, 2 or 3 lights in the upstairs bedroom windows. Through voice-overs, two or more characters make some brief comments related to that episode's events, and then bid each other goodnight, after which the lights go out.

After completing high school, John-Boy attends fictional Boatwright University in the fictional nearby town of Westham. He later goes to New York City to work as a journalist.

During the latter half of the 1976–77 season, Grandma Esther Walton suffers a stroke and returns home shortly before the death of her husband, Grandpa Zeb Walton (reflecting Ellen Corby's real-life stroke and the death of Will Geer; they were the actors who portrayed those characters).

During the series' last few years, Mary Ellen and Ben start their own families; Erin, Jason and John-Boy are married in later television movie sequels. Younger children Jim-Bob and Elizabeth struggle to find and cement true love.

World War II deeply affects the family. All four 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. She divorces him and later remarries.

John-Boy's military plane is shot down, while Olivia becomes a volunteer at the VA hospital and is seen less and less. She eventually develops tuberculosis and enters an Arizona sanatorium. Olivia's cousin, Rose Burton, moves in at the Walton house to look after the family. Two years later, John Sr. moves to Arizona to be with Olivia. Grandma appears in only a handful of episodes during the eighth season. She was usually said to be visiting relatives in nearby Buckingham County. Consistent with the effects of Ellen Corby's actual stroke, Grandma rarely speaks during the remainder of the series, usually limited to uttering brief one-or two-word lines such as "No!" or "Oh, boy!"

Six feature-length movies were made after the series run. Set from 1947 to 1969, they aired between 1982 and 1997.

Episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
PilotDecember 19, 1971N/AN/A
125September 14, 1972April 19, 19731920.6
225September 13, 1973March 14, 1974228.1
325September 12, 1974March 6, 1975825.5
425September 11, 1975March 4, 19761422.9
525September 23, 1976March 17, 19771522.3
626September 15, 1977March 30, 19782020.8
724September 21, 1978March 22, 19793719.0
824September 20, 1979March 13, 1980N/AN/A
922November 27, 1980June 4, 19813018.6
TV Movies6February 22, 1982April 27, 1997N/AN/A

Characters

The following is a brief summary of the main characters. See List of The Waltons characters for a more complete list.

  • John "John-Boy" Walton Jr. (Richard Thomas, seasons 1–5, guest season 6, three movie sequels; Robert Wightman, seasons 8–9 and one movie sequel), the eldest of the 7 children
  • John Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite, seasons 1–8, 8 episodes of season 9 and all movie sequels), the family patriarch (Andrew Duggan starred as John Sr. in The Homecoming movie only)
  • Olivia Walton (Michael Learned, seasons 1–7, guest season 8, and 4 movies), the matriarch (Patricia Neal, starred as Olivia in The Homecoming movie only)
  • Zebulon "Grandpa" Walton (Will Geer, seasons 1–6), John's father (Edgar Bergen starred as Zebulon in The Homecoming movie only)
  • Esther "Grandma" Walton (Ellen Corby, seasons 1–5 & 7, 2 episodes in seasons 6 and 8, and in 5 movies), John's mother
  • Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley, entire series and 6 movies), second-oldest brother; musically talented
  • Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton Taylor, entire series and 6 movies), headstrong oldest daughter; becomes a nurse
  • Erin Walton (Mary Elizabeth McDonough, entire series and 6 movies), second Walton daughter; works as a telephone operator and as manufacturing supervisor
  • Benjamin "Ben” Walton (Eric Scott, entire series and 6 movies), third Walton son; has an entrepreneurial spirit
  • James Robert "Jim-Bob" Walton (David W. Harper, entire series and 6 movies), youngest Walton son; mechanically inclined
  • Joseph Zebulon Walton, twin to "Jim Bob", died at birth (reference Season 4, episode 16 The Secret)
  • Elizabeth Walton (Kami Cotler, entire series and 6 movies), youngest of the 7 children
  • Ike Godsey Joe Conley, entire series, proprietor of the general mercantile
  • Corabeth Walton Godsey (Ronnie Claire Edwards), seasons 3–9, John Walton's cousin
  • Curtis Willard (Tom Bower, seasons 5–7, and 1 episode in season 9), Mary Ellen's husband
  • Cindy Walton (Leslie Winston, seasons 7-9 and 4 of the reunion movies), Ben's wife
  • Rose Burton (Peggy Rea, seasons 8–9 and 1 sequel), Olivia's matronly cousin who fills in as matriarch during Olivia's absence

Production

Inspiration

Earl Hamner's rural childhood growing up in the unincorporated community of Schuyler, Virginia, provided the basis for the setting and many of the storylines of The Waltons. 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. Hamner provided the voice-over of the older John-Boy, usually heard at the beginning and end of each episode.

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.

Television film

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971) was not made as a pilot for a series, but it was so popular that it led to CBS initially commissioning one season of episodes based on the same characters, and the result was The Waltons. Except for the Walton children and Grandma Esther Walton, the characters were all recast for the TV series. The musical score was by Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith and was later released on an album by Film Score Monthly paired with James Horner's score for the 1982 TV movie Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. (Goldsmith also scored several episodes of the first season, but the producers believed his TV movie theme was too gentle and requested he write a new theme for the series.)

Patricia Neal (as Olivia) won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama. The movie was also nominated for 3 Emmys: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Neal), Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation (Earl Hamner), and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama - A Single Program (Fielder Cook).

Filming

The town of Walton's Mountain was built in the rear area of the main lot at Warner Bros. Studios, bordering the Los Angeles River, but the mountain itself was part of the Hollywood Hills range opposite Warner studios in Burbank, California, the reverse side of which, and slightly to the east, is Mount Lee and the Hollywood Sign. The Waltons house façade was built in the back of the Warner Brothers lot. After the series concluded, the set was destroyed. For the reunion shows, a replica Waltons' house façade was built on the Here Come the Brides set on the Columbia Ranch studio, now part of the Warner Brothers studios. The Waltons' house is still used as scenery at Warner Brothers. For example, it served as the Dragonfly Inn on Gilmore Girls.


Broadcast and release

Some sources indicate CBS put the show on its fall 1972 schedule in response to congressional hearings on the quality of television. Backlash from a 1971 decision to purge most rural-oriented shows from the network lineup may have also been a factor. The network gave The Waltons an undesirable timeslot – Thursdays at 8 p.m – opposite 2 popular programs: The Flip Wilson Show on NBC and The Mod Squad on ABC. "The rumor was that they put it against Flip Wilson and The Mod Squad because they didn't think it would survive. They thought, 'We can just tell Congress America doesn't want to see this'," Kami Cotler, who played Elizabeth Walton, said in a 2012 interview. However, CBS had enough faith in the show to devise a full-page newspaper ad flanked with the show's positive reviews, urging people to watch the show. Radically increased ratings were attributed to this ad, saving The Waltons.

Ralph Waite was reluctant to audition for the part of John Walton because he didn't want to be tied to a long-running TV series, but his agent persuaded him by saying, "It will never sell. You do the pilot. You pick up a couple of bucks and then you go back to New York."


Reception

Accolades

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 3 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. Veteran actress Beulah Bondi won an Emmy in 1977 for Lead Actress in a Single Performance for her guest appearance as Martha Corrine Walton in the episode "The Pony Cart" (Episode #111). She first appeared in The Waltons episode "The Conflict" (Episode #51) as the widow of Zeb Walton's brother.

The series itself earned a Peabody Award for its first season. In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Waltons No. 34 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time.

In 2017, from March 20 to March 24 INSP network remembered the life of Earl Hamner Jr. (who had died in 2016) by featuring clips of interviews (once per episode) with him about his time involved with The Waltons during the breaks while its syndicated reruns aired from 3-5pm and again at 7pm.

Cultural significance

On January 27, 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush said, "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." In response, The Simpsons made a short animated segment for a repeat showing of the episode "Stark Raving Dad", where the family watches the speech, and Bart remarks, "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're prayin' for an end to the Depression, too."


Reunion movies

The Walton's Reunion Movie Collection:


Home media

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

DVD releases

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

German-release DVDs provide German or English soundtrack options, with dubbed German voices, or the original English soundtrack, although episode titles, in German, are not always either literal or precise translations of the original English-language titles.

DVD nameEpisodes
Region 1Region 2 (UK)Region 4 (AU)
The Homecoming: A Christmas StoryN/ASeptember 23, 2003N/AN/A
The Complete 1st Season24May 11, 2004November 1, 2004November 11, 2015
The Complete 2nd Season24April 26, 2005July 3, 2006March 9, 2016
The Complete 3rd Season24April 25, 2006September 11, 2006May 11, 2016
The Complete 4th Season24January 23, 2007March 5, 2007July 13, 2016
The Complete 5th Season24May 8, 2007September 12, 2007March 15, 2017
The Complete 6th Season22January 8, 2008March 20, 2008August 9, 2017
The Complete 7th Season23April 29, 2008N/ANovember 8, 2017
The Complete 8th Season24January 6, 2009N/AMarch 7, 2018
The Complete 9th Season22April 28, 2009N/AMarch 7, 2018
TV Movie Collection (not including the original movie)6January 26, 2010N/AN/A

Streaming

Seasons 1–9 are available via streaming in standard-definition as well as high-definition video through services such as Amazon Prime Video.


Syndication

Lorimar sold the distribution rights of The Waltons to Warner Bros. Television to avoid a lawsuit owing to the similarities between the series and the film Spencer's Mountain (1963), which Warner owned. Warner Bros. acquired Lorimar in 1989, and has continued to syndicate the series ever since.

Reruns have aired in the U.S. on MeTV since January 1, 2020, and also on INSP and Hallmark Drama, and formerly aired on Hallmark Channel. In Canada, The Waltons airs on Vision TV and BookTelevision.

In the UK, the series was broadcast on BBC 2 and BBC 1 and during the 1970s/1980s – the first 3 seasons were broadcast on BBC 2 from February 18, 1974 to May 17, 1976, on Mondays at 20.00 GMT, and seasons 4 and 5 were shown on BBC 1 from September 5, 1976 to August 30, 1977, on Sundays at 16.10 in 1976 and Tuesdays at 19.00 through 1977. After that, seasons 6-9 would be broadcast on BBC 2 again, starting on April 30, 1979 and concluding in April 1983. The 3 reunion TV movies filmed in 1982 were also shown on BBC 2 from December 21 to December 28, 1983. The show was repeated on Channel 4 in the 1990s. It last aired on Sony Channel until March 31, 2020, in the UK.