‘The Waltons’: Mary Ellen Actress Judy Norton Opens Up About Visiting the Real Home of Show Creator Earl Hamner Jr.

by Suzanne Halliburton
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The Waltons filmed on the back lot of Warner Brothers Studio outside Los Angeles. It was far away from rural Virginia.

But years after the beloved series went off the air, Judy Norton, who spent 10 seasons playing Mary Ellen Walton, finally saw where the show started. The town was Schuyler, Virginia, which is 20 miles from Charlottesville.

It was called the Hamner House. It was where Earl Hamner Jr, who created The Waltons, grew up. Hamner wrote Spencer’s Mountain, a novel based on his life, in 1961. The book inspired a movie by the same name. It starred Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. Hamner then changed the names for a TV Christmas movie called The Homecoming. And that kicked off The Waltons.

Norton does a weekly online show about The Waltons. It’s a current analysis and look back at the family drama, which was set in the Great Depression. On Thursday’s episode, Norton said she never visited Schuyler while the show was on the air. Rather, she traveled there in the 1990s. The occasion was the opening of a museum honoring the show.

The Hamner House Was Turned into Waltons Museum

“When Earl was growing up,” Norton said, “the building across the street right in front of the Hamner house was at one point the school he went to. Later, it became a community center. And as Schuyler fell on harder economic times, someone in the community to do more to bring more attention and more funds in the area.”

A resident of Schuyler “decided because of the notoriety of The Waltons and the love of the Hamner family … that he turned that community center into a Waltons museum. When it opened, pretty much all the cast flew back for that opening. It was quite the event. The crowds were amazing … people came from everywhere.”

Norton said the opening of The Waltons museum felt like “I was at a rock concert or a political rally.”

Hamner Introduced His Real Family to Cast in 1980

Hamner tweaked his family story for TV. He had seven brothers and sisters. On The Waltons, John and Olivia had seven children. Another son died at birth. Hamner based John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, on himself.

In 1980, the series morphed into a two-hour movie called “A Decade of the Waltons.” The movie featured clips from past episodes. And it also showed Hamner introducing his real family to their characters on the show.

“They did split screens,” Norton said of the movie. “So they filmed all of Earl’s family members back in Virginia, and I think where they were all living at the time (filming) their half of the conversation. Then, all the cast filmed on our sound stage, and we spoke to them via a double screen.

“We did not actually see them as we were filming our side of it,” Norton said. “We just shot our half of the conversation, so that was all pretty well scripted. It was a nice opportunity to have that interaction on screen that the audience could see.”

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