The beloved Virginia mountain family captured the hearts and minds of Americans and the world over from 1972 to 1981. But “The Waltons” journey to the screen was a long one. And it may surprise fans to learn that creator Earl Hamner Jr. based many of the fictional family’s experiences on what he saw in his own life.
Of course, there were too many episodes for Hamner to draw every single storyline from his personal life. But the ones with the real stuff behind them were always the most memorable. The prime example of this came in a Season 2 episode of “The Waltons” titled “The Graduation.”
Iconic character John-Boy was a proxy for Earl Hamner himself. So when it came to time for the Richard Thomas character’s high school graduation in the show, Hamner remembered his own experience from that time in his life.
The Walton family all pitched in a bought John-Boy a brand new suit for his graduation ceremony. But being the upstanding young man that he was, John-Boy couldn’t justify the cost. Instead, they sold the suit after Chance, the family cow, died.
John-Boy was more than ready to walk across the graduation stage in his everyday clothes. But Grandpa wasn’t having any of that. In a heartwarming moment, Grandpa gave John-Boy his best suit. The one that he planned on wearing to his grave.
As it happens, a situation exactly like this one took place in “The Waltons” creator Earl Hamner Junior’s real life. But according to the biography written by James E. Person, it was Hamner Jr.’s dad that let him have the suit.
The situation served to demonstrate the sacrifices made by the Walton family to support John-Boy’s dreams. The very same dreams Earl Hamner Jr. himself had and subsequently fulfilled.
‘The Waltons’ Star Will Geer Pretty Much Played Grandpa Zeb as Himself
According to Mary Ellen Walton actor Judy Norton, Will Geer’s personality as a regular person rivaled any fictional TV character.
“Will Geer was quite a character in his own right. And I loved everything that he brought to the character of Grandpa. I’ve often heard it said that this character, of all the characters he played over the years, was the most like Will in real life,” said Norton.
Will Geer’s personality showed through Grandpa Zeb to such a degree that many “The Waltons” fans wanted him as their grandpa.
“He was also larger than life and a grandfather that so many have told me they wished was theirs. Or, that they had a grandfather like him. I feel like they were very lucky to have a grandfather like Zeb Walton,” Norton continued.