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"Goodnight John-Boy!" - "Goodnight Elizabeth!" ~ 'The Waltons' was Originally A Christmas Film: 'The Homecoming'.

Christmas Movie: 'The Homecoming' - Walton's Pilot


December 2011: A Walton's Anniversary: 40 Years of The Walton Family - Starting With their Christmas Story

December 2011 marked an important anniversary in the history of television ~ the 40th birthday of the fictional TV family ~ 'The Waltons'.

This large, happy, extended, close-knit, American family survived 'the depression' in a quiet backwater of Virginia ~ on Waltons Mountain ~ and they survived the Second World War, too.

'The Waltons' was genuine family viewing; good clean entertainment, suitable for all ages. And it was educational too. We learned about a different time and a different place ~ history lessons unlike any that we received in school!

And it all started with a Christmas movie: 'The Homecoming'.

** ** ** **

But, how far were the members of this family ~ apparently invented by Earl Hamner ~ fictional characters, and how far were they based upon real people?

And why has this family proved to be so enduringly popular?

Let us take a closer look at this phenomenon.

** ** ** **

Copyright Tricia Mason.

I apologise in advance for any errors that I may have made,

My sources include Wikipedia, Imdb, Amazon, books and interviews by / with cast and writer, etc.

Earl Hamner becomes John Boy Walton


The Homecoming - A Christmas Story (Waltons Pilot)


December 19th 1971

Christmas Films and Memories

In December 2011, I was reminded of a teenage crush, when I watched a seasonal film on TV. It was called 'The Christmas Box' and it starred Richard Thomas.

To me, Richard Thomas will always be the lovely 'John-Boy Walton'.

And it seems that I am not alone, when it comes to Mr Thomas. Apparently, fans still call out 'Good night John Boy!' to him, in the street!

* * *

* * *

Here in the UK, 'The Waltons' series was aired on a Monday evening ~ the same night as 'youth club' ~ and, though I loved meeting up with friends, I would not leave the house until I had watched my weekly 'Waltons' treat ~ John Boy, in particular!

I decided to check out just how long ago it was, since Thomas played the eldest of the Walton children and, coincidentally, I discovered that that December ~ December 2011 ~ was the 40th anniversary of the arrival of this famous family onto our TV screens.

The pilot was aired on December 19th 1971 and ~ coincidentally again ~ it was a Christmas story. All of the well-known Walton children, from the long-running series, were in it ~ but the adult cast was not identical.

* * *

Another Richard Thomas Christmas Movie

  • The Christmas Box (TV 1995) - IMDb
    Another Christmas movie, featuring 'John Boy' of 'The Waltons' fame ~ Starring Richard Thomas, Maureen O'Hara, Annette O'Toole, Kelsey Mulrooney and directed by Marcus Cole.

'The Waltons' - TV Series


The Homecoming - Walton's Pilot - With Patricia Neal


Season One


Season Two


Season 3


Season 4


The Cast - The 'Children'

There were seven children in the Walton household; the eldest being John Boy. After him came Mary Ellen, then Jason, Erin, Ben, Jim Bob and little Elizabeth, the baby of the family.

The young people:

John Boy

John Boy was played ~ as already noted ~ by Richard Thomas. Thomas was born in New York ~ son of the owners of the New York School of Ballet ~ in June 1951. His first appearance on the Broadway stage was in 1958 and his TV debut occurred in 1959. Other pre-Walton roles included work on operas and parts in the films 'Winning' and 'Last Summer' and he has continued his stage and screen work, post 'Waltons'.

In the 8th season, the role was taken over by Robert Wightman.

Mary Ellen

Judy Norton (also known as Judy Norton Taylor), who was born in January 1958, in California's Santa Monica, played the eldest Walton daughter ~ Mary Ellen. Judy has been involved in other projects, but remains best known for her role in 'The Waltons'. They actually brought out a 'Mary Ellen Walton' doll in the mid '70s.

Judy also sings well ~ there is an amateur video towards the end of this item: 'Judy Norton Performing in With Love From Judy'.


Jason was the family's musician. and he was played by real-life musician, Jon Walmsley. Walmsley was born in 1956 ~ in the English northern county of Lancashire, surprisingly enough! He has worked with a number of well-known artistes, including The Doobie Brothers, Roger Daltry and several others. See video, below, 'Jon Walmsley Live'.


This is what Earl Hamner Jnr says, in the foreword to Mary McDonough's book, 'Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton' (by Mary McDonough & Beverly Nault)

'Mary Bath McDonough was a pretty little girl of ten when she was first cast. She had taken dance lessons, but had never acted professionally. ... Mary Beth was to play Erin, a character based on my sister Audrey. I was especially pleased by the casting because, like Audrey, Mary Beth was very beautiful, and had a winning smile.'


Benjamin Walton ~ known as Ben, after his late paternal uncle, killed in the First World War ~ was played by Eric Scott. This is the son, who, as he grows up, seems to be most involved ~ with his father ~ in the family lumbar mill. As an adult, he marries Cindy, played by Leslie Winston.

Jim Bob

Jim Bob was the little boy of the family ~ only a bit bigger than Elizabeth. His full name was James Robert and we learn that he had had a twin brother ~ Joseph Zebulon ~ who died soon after being born. 'Zebulon' would have been after his Grandpa 'Zeb' Walton. Jim Bob was played by David W Harper, who was born in Texas, in 1961.


Kami Cotler was born in June, 1965, and was only 6 years old when she first played Elizabeth in 'The Waltons' pilot film 'The Homecoming: A Christmas Story'. She was the tiny girl, with the big personality, and those long auburn braids.

Though born in Long Beach, California, Kami seemed perfectly at home in the Blue Ridge mountains. Perhaps this is less surperising, when we consider that the Waltons' TV homestead was actually situated in Burbank, California ~ the site if Warner Brothers!

Ms Cotler continued the role through the TV series, and also in follow-up 'reunion' films. As well as being an actress, she is also a school-teacher.


Season 5


Series 6


Season 7


Season 8


Season 9


The Cast - The Adults

The Adults:


(Grandpa) ~ Zebulon (Zeb) Walton: Played by Will Geer in the series and Edgar Bergen in the pilot. Will Geer was a very popular 'Grandpa' and it was with great sorrow that viewers learned that he had died in 1978. His death was written into the script. Geer was born in Indiana in 1902. His original name ~ taking both of his parents' names ~ was 'William Aughe Ghere'.


(Grandma) ~ Esther Walton

Ellen Corby, nee Hansen, who played Grandma Esther Walton, was born in Wisconsin, the American daighter of Danish parents, in 1911 ~ but was brought up in Pennsylvania.
She won three Emmys for her portrayal of Grandma Walton. After suffering a stroke in 1976, she returned to The Waltons and her illness was written into the storyline. Her last role as a 'Walton' was in 1997, in 'A Walton Easter'. She died in 1999.


(Daddy) ~ John Walton senior: Ralph Waite (Andrew Duggan in the pilot)

According to, Ralph Waite, who played the strong, but gentle and hardworking John senior, and also directed some episodes, was born in White Plains, New York, in June, 1928. The most recent credit the site has for Waite is as Hank Booth in the 2009-2011 TV series, 'Bones'. He has been in a number of TV series, various stage productions and several films, including 'Cool Hand Luke' , in1967, and 'Last Summer', in1969, which also featured Richard Thomas.

Andrew Duggan, the father in the pilot episode, was born in December 1923, in Franklin Indiana and he died in May 1988 in Westwood, California.


(Mama)~ Olivia Walton: Michael Learned (Patricia Neal in the pilot)

Michael Learned was born in April 1939, in Washington, D.C. and lived on the family farm, in Connecticut, until she was eleven, when her family moved to Austria. She attended an English boarding school, during which time she caught the acting bug! Ms Learned took over the part of Olivia Walton, after Patricia Neal had played the role in the pilot. According to Judy Norton, who played eldest daughter Mary Ellen, 'Learned's warm yet tough portrayal of Olivia Walton found its roots in Neal's portrayal' (as noted on


John's second cousin, Corabeth Walton ~ later Corabeth Godsey, was played by Ronnie Claire Edwards. After settling into the Walton's Mountain community, she fell in love with Ike, and became Mrs Godsey.

Ike Godsey

Joe Conley became well-known for playing Ike Godsey, in the series, but, in the original pilot, the role went to Woodrow Parfrey. Ike was a friend of the Waltons, and a local businessman, but not a relative ~ not until he married Cora Beth.

Conley has witten a book recalling life as Ike: 'Ike Godsey of Walton's Mountain'.

Several Others

Including the Baldwyn sisters, the Godsey's adoptive daughter Aimee, the local minister (played by John Ritter), a series of love interests for the 'children', as they grow up, and various guest actors

Mary Ellen Marries


Ike Godsey's Story


Some Awards

Season One:

Peabody Award


Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series

Richard Thomas won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Ellen Corby won the Emmy for Supporting Actress.


Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series


Ellen Corby won the Emmy for Supporting Actress.

Will Geer won the Emmy for Supporting Actor.


Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Ellen Corby won the Emmy for Supporting Actress.


Beulah Bondi won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Single Performance


Ralph Waite was nominated for an Emmy for his part as John Walton.

Boxed Series Avaiable


The Townie


The Story

'The Waltons' tells the story of a good, caring, ordinary, hardworking, loving, moral, Christian family in 1930s America, as they faced the elements and enjoyed family life in their home on Waltons Mountain.

The stories are based upon the novel, 'Spencers Mountain', by Earl Hamner junior and upon his own familia experiences.

Indeed, in the TV series, Earl Hamner narrates the Waltons' story, himself, as the voice of an older John Boy, remembering his earlier life ~ as if it were an autobiography.


Spencer's Mountain Audio Book


Spencer's Mountain

Earl Hamner

James MacArthur was Clay Boy

The original 'John Boy'

The original 'John Boy'

Spencers Mountain

The movie film, 'Spencer's Mountain', was released well before the Waltons was ever viewed on TV. It came out in 1963 and starred Henry Fonda, as a father-of-nine, with Maureen O'Hara (who, coincidentally, was in 'The Christmas Box' with Richard Thomas) as his wife.

Clay Boy ~ the film's equivalent of John Boy ~ is played by James MacArthur (of 'Swiss Family Robinson', 'In search of the Castaways' and 'Hawaii Five O' fame).

According to, 'Fonda plays Clay Spencer, a fiercely independent, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Wyoming laborer'. Apart from the hard work, that doesn't sound too much like John Walton ~ but his devotion to his family does!

'Spencers Mountain' is set in a different part of America from 'Walton's Mountain', but both stories are based on the same book, so there are similarities as well as differences. It could be described as a semi-autobiographical novel.

Apparently, the name 'Spencer' comes from Hamner's grandmother and the name 'Waltons' comes from his two grandfathers, named 'Walt'.



There are 72 reviews of the film 'Spencers Mountain', on, and 44 of them give it five stars out of five. There are 16 four star reviews; 6 three stars, 2 two stars and 4 one star reviews.

Season 9


Season 7 and World War 2


Season 9

In Wartime, it is not all sweetness and light

In Wartime, it is not all sweetness and light

All Sweetness and Light?

Although, in some ways, life on Waltons' Mountain may seem to have been so perfect that it was almost too sugary sweet, the series did deal with some serious issues.

It dealt with poverty, war, illness, bereavement, divorce, political ideas, etc, etc.

Olivia's niece and namesake suffered the distress of bereavement very soon after celebrating her marriage. Olivia, herself, became ill with tuberculosis.

Grandma had a stroke ~ which was written to coincide Ellen Corby's stroke ~ and, when Will Geer died, the family mourned Grandpa's death.

And I particularly remember John Boy witnessing the horror of the Hindenberg burning.

The reason it may have seemed so perfect could have been because of the loving devotion shown to kith and kin ~ and, indeed, to anyone in need. They valued goodness above money and it shone through.

The Waltons set a good example in family values ~ and people loved that.


Mary McDonough's Story


Lessons From The Mountain' by Mary McDonough - aka 'Erin'

Excerpt from the Amazon 'Book description':

'In this strikingly honest book, McDonough shares the story of her overnight transformation from a normal kid in a working class, Irish Catholic family, to a Hollywood child star'.

'She reveals intimate memories of life in and around that idyllic Virginia farmhouse (really a Warner Brothers back lot in Burbank)'

Mary McDonough - Erin Walton


Mary McDonough - aka Erin Walton


The Homecoming - Spencers Mountain


In Schuyler - Waltons Remembered


Earl Hamner Jr. by M. Karen Brewer

Mountain Memories: An Interview with Earl Hamner, Jr., Creator of The Waltons by M. Karen Brewer

Mountain Memories: An Interview with Earl Hamner, Jr., Creator of The Waltons by M. Karen Brewer

'Walton's Mountain' - Schuyler - and Earl Henry Hamner, Jr.

Schuyler (formerly known as “Walker’s Mill”) is a community in the state of Virginia, USA. It was named after Schuyler George Walker, who was the first postmaster for the area, and also the local mill owner.

Schuyler was the home of the author, Earl Hamner, Jr, who wrote various novels and screen- / tele-plays, as well as works of non-fiction. Hamner was born, in Schuyler, in July 1923.

Some of his better-known projects include 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Falcon Crest', but Hamner is probably most famous for 'The Waltons'.

One of his novels, Spencer's Mountain, was based upon his own life, as the eldest son in a large family, and 'The Waltons' is based upon this book and on his own memories. The title name is also family-related ~ Hamner's paternal grandmother was Susan Henry Hamner, nee Spencer!

Quote from: 'Earl Hamner: From Walton's Mountain To Tomorrow' by James E. Person Jr.:

'In his novel "You Can't Get There From Here", Hamner has his young hero describe the route a person takes to get to a specific village in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. He describes it as a journey "to a place where the road just stops". That place is Schuyler, Virginia, where Earl Hamner, himself, along with his seven brothers and sisters, was born and reared.'

Quote from M. Karen Brewer, introducing her 'Interview with Earl Hamner'.

"In describing the land of his fathers in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the words of Earl Hamner Jnr have created, for many, a sense of home. The Hamners were poor monetarily, but rich in love ... "

Hamner's love for his family and his home shine through in his work and are abundantly clear. He is the real, original John Boy Walton. He has written his family's story ~ albeit slightly fictionalised. He narrates 'The Waltons'.

"I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers." wrote Earl Hamner jnr. in 1979.

Waltons on YouTube


Walton Family - With Robert Wightman as John Boy


Waltons Opening Scene

The Walton's Home apparently became the Gilmore Girls' Inn!

The Walton's Home apparently became the Gilmore Girls' Inn!


Waltons Movie Collection


John Boy with Daddy and Mama


TV Series and TV Movie Follow-Ups

After 'The Waltons' pilot, 'A Christmas Story', was first broadcast in December 1971, the series continued to grace TV screens until 1981 ~ a decade of Walton adventures.

Over nine seasons, the viewers saw Walton family progress through the years of the great depression and the second world war ~ from 1933 to 1946

In 1980, a special semi-documentary, with Earl Hamner, was televised: 'A Decade of the Waltons' (Grandma's Birthday).

After the series left TV screens ~ apart from regular repeats and re-runs ~ a number of 'reunion' TV movies were made in the 1980s (actually 1982) and 1990s, following the later exploits of the Walton family, from 1947 through to 1969.

'A Wedding on Walton's Mountain' (1982)

'Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain' (1982)

'A Day for Thanks on Walton's Mountain' (1982)


'A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion' ~ 1963 (1993)

'A Walton Wedding' (1995)

'A Walton Easter' ~ 1969 (1997)


Grandma and John Boy


Grandpa and Grandma


Hey Day

As something of a fan of the Waltons, I loved to watch the TV series in its heyday.

However, I have never even seen the pilot. I didn't know that Patricia Neal, my one-time namesake (before I married), ever played Olivia Walton and I certainly didn't know that John Boy's role had been taken on by someone other than Richard Thomas

Maybe it's time to remedy this. I like to watch repeats of the early shows, but perhaps I should watch the DVDs of those series and films that I missed. Hopefully I won't be disappointed.


I don't think that I was the only, one who had ceased to follow 'The Waltons' series, towards its end.

I noticed an entry about the ninth, and last, season, on, which included these lines:

'It’s time to say “Good night, John Boy” for one last time — even if it’s not really John-Boy" ~ because, of course, by this time the iconic John Boy had left, presumably in search of greener pastures [Richard Thomas had been replaced by Robert Wightman].

Luigi, the blog author claims: 'the show’s writing had taken such a turn for the worse that I doubt most of the original fans were still watching'.

It saddens me to read such comments, so I was pleased to note that the writer felt that 'later reunion movies would prove to be much better fare'.

Blog quotes from here:'

Goodnight Waltons

The Gift


The Love Story


The Triangle


The Scholar


Spencers Mountain


Spencers Mountain


Footsteps of My Fathers


Biography of Earl Hamner by James E Person


'Spencer's Mountain' by Earl Hamner Jr - Always a Family Affair

The first paragraphs, of the first chapter, of the story that would evolve into 'The Waltons':

'On the day before Thanksgiving the Spencer clan began to gather. It was a custom that at this time during the year the nine sons would come together in New Domion. On Thanksgiving Eve they would celebrate their reunion with food and drink and talk. On the day itself the men would leave at dawn to hunt for deer.

'All day cars had been arriving at Clay Spencer's house. Each car was greeted by Clay-Boy, a thin boy of fifteen with a serious frecked face topped by an unruly shock of darkening corn-colored hair. Now the day was drawing toward evening, but still the boy lingered at the back gate waiting for the one uncle who had not yet arrived, the one he wanted most to see.'

John Boy, Writer - Like Earl Hamner


The Thanksgiving Story


The Christmas Box - DVD / Video


The Children Carol


The Christmas Box - Book


The Hunt




The Homecoming - The Inspiration For The Waltons


A Day of Thanks


A Walton's Christmas: Together Again

More Walton's' Christmas:

In 1999, following the Christmas theme, which began with 'The Homecoming', the original pilot episode, 'A Walton's Christmas: Together Again' was released.

It contained festive songs and narratives and was a seasonal cast recording.

Since Jon Walmsley ~ aka Jason Walton ~ is a genuinely talented musician, it is not surprising to note his input.

* * *

These are the tracks:

Walton's Theme
Earl Hamner's Narrative
Christmas Times A Comin'
Intro To Mama's Applesauce Cake
Mama's Applesauce Cake
Sleigh Ride
Follow That Star
That's What Christmas Means To Me
Intro To Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Intro To Snowman Land
Snowman Land
'Twas The Night Before Christmas
Little Drummer Boy
Home For The Holidays
Santa's Big Parade
Intro To All I Want For Christmas
All I Want For Christmas
Good Night (With Dialogue)

A Walton Christmas


Celebrating The Waltons


Jon Walmsley Live

Judy Norton Performing in With Love From Judy

Walton's Mountain Reunion Nov 2009

Waltons TV Magazine Cover



John on September 16, 2016:

The Waltons was a good show, and we all watched it growing up. Here is what bothers me, if Earl Hamner went on to write and produce "Falcon'

s Crest" one would think he would have been able to make sure all the actors (The Waltons) could get jobs instead of struggling for work?

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on April 14, 2012:

Hi RetailRich :0

thanks for reading.

Yes, it was very easy to get drawm into these stories, wasn't it?

RetailRich on April 14, 2012:

Great hub! I got started watching this show in it's first seasons while sitting with the father and mother of my girlfriend. She was never ready and so I sat there and watched the Waltons. I didn't mind, though as I was quickly drawn into the story, the people and the times. Today, I even seem to appreciate it more.

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on April 13, 2012:

Thanks Peggy :)

Yes, I agree ~ lovely old shows.

I still like to watch the repeats, too!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 12, 2012:

Hi Trish,

Loved this! On one of our cable channels they replay The Waltons and I catch an episode here and there. I really like that show and like the values that were taught. I also liked the other shows you mentioned in your comment section like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Bonanza" and so many more from that era. Votes up!

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on February 25, 2012:

Thank you James :)

Yes, I love watching the repeats, too.

Was society ever so gentle and naïve? It would be nice to think that it was and still could be.

America; 'a cesspool of filth'? ~ Wow! Is it really that bad? I hope not :) Where your country goes; ours usually follows.

James A Watkins from Chicago on February 24, 2012:

I very much enjoyed your excellent article on the Waltons. I recently discovered that they are once again on cable television over here on the Hallmark Network. I watched a few episodes and they brought tears to my eyes. They made me remember the love, the sense of family, the respect for honor and virtue that have nearly disappeared in today's America, which has been transformed into a cesspool of filth.

Your Hub is excellent and thorough. Voted up and awesome! :)

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on January 02, 2012:

Hi Sweetie :)

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, take a look. It may be a bit old-fashioned, but it is enjoyable, I think. :)

sweetie1 from India on January 02, 2012:

Hi Trish. Thanks for giving such a nice view about waltons. Since this show has never been aired in India nor we have heard about it, i am going to watch some of the episodes on youtube.

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on December 31, 2011:

Hi John000 :)

I know! 40 years! Hard to believe.

Thanks for reading :)

When strong family ties and good family values survive, that's got to be a good thing :)

John R Wilsdon from Superior, Arizona on December 31, 2011:

What an interesting hub! EE GADS, 40 years! I can remember sitting down to watch TV in the evening and enjoying the Waltons.

Some folks might believe that the Walton myth is out of place today. Family in America is just as tight, to be sure. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on December 31, 2011:

Hello Diogenes, good to 'see' you :)

Yes, 'The Waltons' wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but they were part of my teenage years and I enjoyed watching them. I loved 'Bonanza', too, and 'Little House on the Prairie'. All part of my childhood.

I enjoy pleasant escapism. Reality is all around us. Not for me the misery of 'Eastenders' or the violence and bad language that seem to litter our screens nowadays.

I think that 'The Waltons' reflected a version of reality ~ similar to life for the agricultural workers on my family tree ~ now, as you say, long gone and probably viewed through rose-tinted lenses.

I had hoped to do the subject a little more justice, but I only discovered the anniversary in December ~ and it's been a busy time of year!!!

Thank you for your kind comments ~ I hope that you had a good Christmas and wish you a happy new year!

Tricia Mason (author) from The English Midlands on December 31, 2011:

Hello A.A. Zavala :)

I was a teenager, when I fell in love with the Waltons and, when I catch a repeat episode, it still gives me a warm feeling and takes me back to my youth. I hadn't realised that it was a special anniversary until this month. So many years have gone by ~ where did they go?!

Thank you for reading and commenting :)

diogenes from UK and Mexico on December 31, 2011:

One of your magisterial articles my dear. Unfortunately, on a subject which leaves me cold. I spent quite a bit of thought dodging programs like this on TV (Bonanza soured me!). The USA. however, believed in "Walton's World" and all it stood for. They didn't come of age until 9/11 when they realized the Walton way of life was lost for ever.

Super article...more power to ya


Augustine A Zavala from Texas on December 30, 2011:

I was pondering writing a hub about the show, and here you just did! I love the show still, and it's one of mine all time favorites. Thank you for sharing!

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