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THE WALTONS Creator Reveals Inspiration Behind Iconic TV Show

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THE WALTONS Creator Reveals Inspiration Behind Iconic TV Show

By Movieguide® Contributor 

Author, television writer and producer Earl Hamner Jr. based the hit TV series THE WALTONS on his own experiences growing up in a large family during the Great Depression and World War II.

“THE WALTONS revolves around a Depression-era family in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. John Walton Jr. lives with his parents John and Olivia Walton, his grandparents Zebulon ‘Zeb’ and Esther Walton, and his six siblings. The series chronicles the day-to-day lives of the Waltons as they manage their lumber mill and go through life’s ups and downs within their small community,” The Cinemaholic wrote,

In addition to his own experiences, Hamner based the characters on his family. 

MeTV reported, “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,” MeTV reported of Hamner. “The Waltons have the kind of pioneer virtues this country has stood for in past years.”

The values Hamner talked about include family, traditions and economic conservation. 

In an interview with Television Academy Foundation, Hamner recalled how he would receive letters from his family members about the series. 

“I thought some of the nicest things and the most reassuring things [at the time] was a note that I got from my sister Nancy which said ‘Thank you Earl for letting us relive our youth,’” Hamner expressed.

To the fans, the characters were iconic, but for the actors, they were even more memorable. 

Richard Thomas, who played John Walton Jr. or John Boy, reflected on the impact the role had on him and the culture. 

“I felt very privileged to play John Boy because I felt [that] this is attributed to Earl (Hamner Jr.) not to me — I just have the opportunity to play the part,” he said. 

John Boy Walton was based on Hamner himself. In fact, Hamner provided the voiceover narration for the show as the adult John Boy, which added a personal touch to the storytelling.

“To have a hand in creating a kind of leading actor role for a male in an American television series that ran counter to almost every other model; a feeling, sensitive — sometimes too sensitive — a delicate natured person who was neither, you know, a whiz kid or a doctor, a lawyer…you know all those role models, male role models. Nor was he, you know, the oldest son who’s a football star. I think there was a sort of subversive quality to Johnny Boy that I was very much aware of,” Thomas added.  

THE WALTONS aired from 1972 to 1981, set in the fictional rural town of Walton’s Mountain during the Great Depression and World War II. The show followed the Walton family, depicting their struggles, triumphs and the strong sense of community and family values that bound them together.

“Though not a true story, THE WALTONS cultural impact on American television and the role it played in presenting an average American family without any exaggerations is something that is not easily replaced,” the Cinemaholic concluded. “The television series, set during World War II as well, also touched upon the theme of war and trauma and how it might affect not just those who fought in the war but their families as well after their return.”

Movieguide® previously reported on Thomas:

The Walton Family will return to CW for the upcoming THE WALTONS: HOMECOMING on Nov. 28.

Richard Thomas, who played the original John Boy Walton in the 1972 show, will narrate the TV movie as Logan Shroyer continues THE WALTONS’ legacy as 2021’s John Boy.

The series, which ran for nine seasons, follows the Walton family during the Great Depression era. They exercise faith, despite financial trouble and the terrors of World War II.

“When we did the series originally, this country, we were very split because of all the issues going on.” Thomas said in a recent press conference. “The line went right down the middle of the dinner table, a lot of the time. It was the beginning of a sort of balkanization where the demographic was split within the household. There were more televisions. So one of the great things about the show was that it brought people together.


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