The cast of The Waltons referred to the show’s creator as “Uncle Earl.” Earl Hamner Jr. was involved in all aspects of the show, which he based on his own life. Specifically, the character John Boy was Hamner.
Fans of the show recognize that he narrated most of the episodes. The site IMDB listed him as narrator 211 times.
However, Judy Norton, who played oldest Walton daughter Mary Ellen, recalled an episode where Hamner actually showed his face on camera. Norton brought up Hamner, Thursday, during her weekly online, behind-the-scenes series on The Waltons.
Fans of ‘The Waltons,’ Do You Remember ‘The Journey?’
Here’s the synopsis of the episode. John Boy drove his grandmother to visit her friend, Maggie MacKenzie, who also was a neighbor of the Waltons family. MacKenzie was old and in poor health. John Boy fixed her car and Maggie asked him to drive her to the beach. She was a widow but wanted to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Chances were, she wouldn’t be alive the next year to acknowledge the date. John Boy canceled his date to the school dance and gave an old woman a nice evening away from home.
Norton explained “It’s a journey that she’s wanted to do before she passes away. And as they have dinner and they dance, she remembers her husband. And as she dances, it flashes back from her dancing with Richard (Thomas, aka John Boy) to dancing with Earl Hamner. He has mutton chops. He’s dressed from that earlier era. We get a chance to see him on camera.”
John Boy narrated the close of “The Journey” with these words:
“Growing up in a family as large and as close as mine made it hard to realize that there were many people who lived in loneliness and solitude. However, the realization of that sad truth also brought me close to a remarkable woman and sent me on a journey that I was to remember for the rest of my life.”
Hamner also appeared in a 1980 Waltons movie. In it, he introduced the cast to their real-life counterparts.
Hamner Did Everything on the Series
Norton said Hamner worked on The Waltons set most every day. He worked as a story editor and a creative consultant. He produced the show and helped select the cast.
“It was lovely to have all those years getting to know him,” Norton said, “not just through the recreation of his family, but him as a person. (He was an) absolutely lovely man. I adored him.”
Hamner based The Waltons on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. He wrote the book, which was a fictional account, in the early 1960s. He pulled from his life growing up in Schuyler, Va. And he once said that Richard Thomas played a more perfect version of himself.
Richard Thomas, in an interview with Archives of American Television, said he adored Hamner’s work.
“This was auteurism,” Thomas said. “This was an autobiographical experience that was turned into fiction, first in his novels and then in the movie and then the series. So we were dealing with source material that came from a place of great integrity and authenticity.”
Hamner lived an incredible life. He died in 2016 at the age of 92.
Check out Judy Norton’s newest episode on The Waltons: