The Waltons is a drama television series set in the United States during the Great Depression and World War II. It focuses on the Walton family, who lives in rural virginia where they operate a lumber mill and also carries out small-scale farming and hunting to supplement their income. The are a part of a small mountain community and many different characters are featured in the episodes.
The show premiered in the United States in December 1971 as a television movie, and continued for a total of nine seasons as a tv-series. The last episode aired in the United States in June 1981. The tv series has so far been followed by six tv-movies, and a remake of the 1971 tv-movie.
The foundation for the tv-series is the 1961 book Spencer´s Mountain and the 1963 film of the same name. The book was written by the novelist, television writer and producer Earl Hamner Jr., who also co-produced the tv-series and provided voice-over narration for it.
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Streaming on Amazon
All nine seasons of The Waltons are now available through the Amazon Prime streaming service.
Where is The Waltons set?
The main story of The Waltons takes place on Walton´s Mountain in Jefferson County, Virginia. This mountain, and the county, are fictional, but the setting was inspired by the community Schuyler in Nelson County, Virginia.
The writer Earl Hammer Jr. was born and raised in Schuyler, and his book (upon which the tv-show is based) was largely based on his experiences of growing up in a large family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression. Schuyler was a small industrial centre in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when native soapstone was cut here for the Alberene Stone Company. During the Great Depression, this industry suffered greatly and the economy in the area never fully recovered from this.
What´s the time period for The Waltons?
The events in the tv-show The Waltons spans 13 years in nine season: from 1933 to 1946. It thus covers both the Great Depression and World War II.
Early in the first season, a reference is made to the opening of the Century of Progress – also known as the Chicago World´s Fair – which was held in 1933-1934. The last episode of the first season (“An Easter Story”) takes place in February – April 1934.
The final episode of the 9th season (“The Revel”) revolves around a party, and the invitation date for this party is June 4, 1946.
The tv-show was followed by six television film sequels. The first three of them are set in the year 1947,while the next three are set in 1963, 1964 and 1969, respectively.
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The basic concept
The Waltons centres on the Walton family, who live in mountain community in rural Virginia. The main character is John Walton Jr. who is called John-Boy. He lives with his parents John Walton Sr. and Olivia Walton, his six younger sibblings, and his paternal grandparents Zebulon “Zeb” Walton and Esther Walton.
John-Boy is 15 years old in the television movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” (broadcast in December 1971) and 17 years old when the tv-series starts. Each episode of The Waltons starts and ends with a voice-over narration by the adult John-Boy, who is a journalist and novelist and remembers the joys and challenges of his youth on Walton´s Mountain.
John Walton Sr. operates a lumber mill with the help of his sons, and the family also do small-scale farming and some hunting. The family – except for John – attends a local Baptist church, where Grandmother Esther and mother Olivia are two of the most ardent atendees.
The typical ending for an episode shows the Walton house enveloped in darkness, but with a few lights shining in the upstairs bedroom windows. A voice-over provides a few comments linked to the episode, and then characters bid each other goodnight before the lights go out. In the 1970s, when The Waltons aired on BBC, “Goodnight, John-Boy” became a common catchphrase in the UK.
The small community where the family lives is home to people of various professions, income levels and lifestyles, and the Waltons often share their home and table with friends, relatives and even strangers in need.
Examples of recurring characters in the show that are not a part of the Walton family but live in the same rural community:
- The comparatively well-to-do Baldwin sisters; two elderly unmarried women who distill moonshine.
- Ike Godsey and his somewhat snobbish wife Corabeth (a Walton cousin). Ike is the postmaster and the family also own the general store in the community.
- The African-American couple Verdie and Harley Foster
- The elderly artist Maude Gormley
- Flossie Brimmer, a widow who runs a boarding house
- Yancy Tucker, a handyman
- County sheriff Ep Bridges, who fought alongside John Sr. in WWI
The Waltons was filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, where the set was built in the rear area of the main lot, adjacent to the Los Angeles River.
- Part of the Hollywood Hills range opposite Warner Studios was used to depict the mountain.
- During the first few seasons, many outdoor scenes were filmed in Frazier Park, one of the Mountain Communities of the Tejon Pass in California. Franklin Canyon Park in Beverly Hills was also utilized for some outdoor scenes.
As the original set had been destroyed, a replica of the Walton´s house façade had to be created for the reunion shows. It was built on the set for the Western comedy TV-show “Here Come the Brides” , on the Columbia Ranch studio (now part of Warner Bros.)
The Walton´s house can be seen in the TV-show Gilmore Girls, where it is the Dragonfly Inn.
Over its nine seasons, the tv-show covered 13 years in the life of the Walton family and their neighboors. Characters who started the show as children therefore had time to grow up, and adult characters also faced various changes in their lives and circumstances.
The main character John-Boy eventually attended Boatwright University in the nearby town Westham (both fictional), before moving to New York City to work as a journalist. Boatwright University was patterned after Richmond College, Virginia.
When Ellen Corby, the actress playing Grandmother Esther Walton, suffered the consequences of a stroke, the script writers worked around this by having the character Esther have a stroke as well in the latter half of the 1976-1977 season.
Will Geer, the actor portraying Grandfather Zeb Walton, died of respiratory failure in 1978, shortly after completing the sixth season of the show. The death of Zeb Walton was written into the script, and the last episode of the 1977-1978 season showed Zeb being reunited with Esther shortly before passing away. (The actress Ellen Corby had been absent from that season due to her stroke.) The mourning of grandfather Zeb was showed in the first episode of the 1978-1979 season.
Ellen Corby contiuned working with the show in a handful of episodes during the eight season. Due to the effects of Corby´s stroke she had very few lines, and they were typically limited to brief interjections such as “Oh boy!” or “No!”. In episodes when she was not present, grandmother Esther was usually said to be visiting relatives in nearby Buckingham County.
During the last few years of the show, Mary Ellen (the family´s oldest daughter) and Ben (the second-oldest son) start their own families. Despite being the eldest son, John-Boy does not get married during the nine seasons of the show. (He does get married in a later television movie.)
As the Great Depression gives way to World War II, the Waltons and their neighboors are impacted in various ways. All the Walton brothers enlist in the military, and Mary Ellen´s husband – who is a physician – is sent to Pearl Harbor. Mother Olivia Walton becomes a volunteer at the VA hospital, before developing symptoms of turberculosis that require her to move to a sanatorium in Arizona. To care for the family, Olivia´s cousin Rose Burton moves into the Walton house. After two years, John Sr. moves to Arizona to be with his wife Olivia.