In the early 1970s, there was one family we spent time with weekly: The Waltons.
Based on the book Spencer’s Mountain written by Earl Hamner Jr, the series (also created by Hamner) focused on the life of a rural Virginia family through the Depression and World War II.
A 1963 film, Spencer’s Mountain was produced and directed by Delmer Davies, and starred Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara.
The television series debuted as a tv movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, airing December 19, 1971. The hour long drama debuted on CBS TV in September 1972, although with different actors playing John and Olivia Walton – Andrew Duggan and Patricia Neal. They were replaced by Ralph Waite and Michael Learned for the series. Grandpa and Grandma Walton were played by Edgar Bergen and Ellen Corby.
Told from the point of view of the eldest son John-boy Walton, the series showed what is was like for families surviving the depression, and the changes that occurred from 1933 and during the war years of the 1940s.
Each episode would be narrated by John-boy, who was 17 when the series starts, played by Richard Thomas. His six siblings were Jason, Mary Ellen, Erin, Ben, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth.
Showing a wholesome family with traditional American values in the early 1970s, CBS put the series opposite tough opponents in the same 8pm timeslot, The Flip Wilson Show and The Mod Squad.
At the time the US Government had criticized televison and held congressional hearings into the current state of television. Many of the actors thought the series would be ignored by the viewing public, and created to appease the government.
Although it didn’t get the top 10 ratings in the first season, the series was recognized for the amazing acting, awarding Richard Thomas and Michael Learned repeated Emmy nominations and awards.
After its first year, the series earned a Peabody Award, for its showcase of issues. The series may not have fixated on the extremes of life, but it did show the despair, poverty, alcoholism and hardship that came from surviving that period of American history.
Viewers were enamored of the life the Waltons led, as much as the folksy camradererie of three generations of family that lived under the same roof – and the learned to deal with the changing world.
And as dedicated viewers know, for 10 seasons, every night, the bedtime chatter always ended with evening greetings – Good night John-boy.