‘The Waltons’ Star Judy Norton Reveals if Episodes Were Actually Based on Creator Earl Hamner Jr.’s Life

by Taylor Cunningham

Is the classic TV series The Waltons really based on creator Earl Hamner Jr.’s life? As Mary Ellen actress Judy Norton explains, not entirely.

What is true is that Hamner Jr. crafted his tales from a book he wrote in 1961 called Spencer’s Mountain. In the pages, he wrote a fictional story that was born from his real experience growing up in Schuyler, VA, during the Great Depression.

While the general plot didn’t detail actual adventures from Hamner Jr.’s life, all of the characters were written from the personalities of his actual family. And the loving but tough lifestyle was also exactly as he remembered.

As Norton explained in episode 38 of Behind the Scenes with Judy Norton, when Earl Hamner Jr. adapted the novel to The Waltons on the small screen, he followed the same pattern.

“Some things were maybe loosely based on things that happened in Earl’s life. But for the most part, it was all fiction,” the actress said in the video. “They were all just crafted stories. And it was not really biographical other than it was about his family, but not necessarily specific events of his family or the people that he had met or had come through the family’s life.

Despite What Judy Norton Said, a Season 2 Episode of ‘The Waltons’ Did Come From a Real Experience

While Judy Norton shared that most of the episodes of The Waltons were purely fictional, there were a few that came from Earl Hamner Jr.’s memory bank. And one of the most notable stories was a season 2 installment called The Graduation.

In the series, John-Boy represents Hamner Jr. as a teenager. And as the title suggests, the episode highlights the nearing of John-Boy’s graduation day.

Because his family is so proud of his accomplishment, they all pitch in to buy him a suit to wear as he crosses the stage. But before he has a chance to wear the new duds, the family cow dies. And John-Boy sells the suit to replace her.

While the ever-humble Walton is perfectly content wearing his normal clothes for graduation day, his grandfather won’t stand for that. So during an emotional moment, he gifts John-Boy his best suit, which he planned to be buried in.

According to a biography written by James E. Person, Earl Hamner Jr. actually lived those events. However, instead of his grandfather handing over the suit, it was his dad who did.

“Earl borrowed a white dress shirt his father set aside with own (and only) suit,” a passage reads. “And Earl Sr. jokingly wondered aloud about how he could be properly “laid out” if he should die while his son was away at college.”

In the show, John-Boy ended up being one of the best-dressed graduates on Walton Mountain. And luckily neither Hamner Jr.’s fictional grandfather nor his real-life father died before the boy returned from college.