No. of seasons 9 / No. of episodes 221 + 7 TV movies
Original channel CBS
Original run September 14, 1972 – June 4, 1981
The Waltons is an American television series created by Earl Hamner, Jr., based on his book Spencer's Mountain, and a 1963 film of the same name, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. The show centered on the titular family growing up in a rural Virginia community during the Great Depression and World War II. The series pilot was a television movie entitled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, broadcast in 1971. The show originally aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981. After the series left the air, three television movie sequels were broadcast in 1982, with three more following in the 1990s.
The Waltons was produced by Lorimar Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in syndication.
Earl Hamner's rural childhood growing up in the unincorporated community of Schuyler, Virginia, provided the basis for many of the storylines of The Waltons. The setting of the series was referred to as Walton's Mountain. The closest town, Rockfish, Virginia, is frequently mentioned on the show, as is Charlottesville, Virginia.
The show takes place in Walton's Mountain, a fictional town in Virginia. Walton's Mountain was based upon creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s hometown of Schuyler in Nelson County south of Charlottesville, Virginia. His family and the community provided many life experiences which aided in the characters, values, area, and human-interest stories of his books, movies, and television series. While Walton's Mountain itself is fictional, Walton's Mountain and surrounding area bear a striking resemblance to Schuyler. A small museum is located in a former school building at Schuyler, not far from State Route 6.
The Walton Mountain Country Store in Nelson County, VirginiaJohn-Boy Walton's fictional alma mater, Boatwright University, is patterned after Richmond College, which became part of the University of Richmond on Boatwright Drive, near Westham Station in The West End of Richmond, Virginia, about 70 miles east of Schuyler. The University of Richmond also has a Boatwright Library and is also located not far from State Route 6.
The Walton family, consisting of John and Olivia, their seven children, and John's parents Zebulon "Zeb" Tyler and Esther Walton, struggle to make a decent life during the Great Depression and World War II. The family's story is seen primarily through the eyes of John-Boy, the eldest son and an aspiring journalist and novelist, who serves as narrator. John Walton and his father operate a lumber mill, with the Walton sons helping out in the business as they grow older. Occasional strangers needing temporary shelter for various reasons periodically stay with the hospitable Walton family. The mountain also sustains the livelihoods of a handful of colorful townsfolk, including the Baldwin sisters (two elderly spinsters who distill moonshine that they call "Papa's recipe" or "the recipe", in total innocence of its alcoholic content); general store owners/postmen Ike and Cora Beth Godsey (a distant Walton cousin); Sheriff Ep Bridges; Verdie Foster (a hardworking black woman); and Yancy Tucker (a chicken thief and handyman with big plans but little motivation).
In the signature scene that closes every episode, the family house is enveloped in darkness, save for a light in an upstairs window. Through voice-overs, two or more characters have a very brief conversation, often humorous and related to the episode, and then bid each other goodnight (e.g., "Goodnight, Mary Ellen." "Goodnight, John-Boy.")
After completing high school, John-Boy attends (fictional) Boatwright University in Westham (also fictional). He later goes to New York City to work as a journalist. Richard Thomas, the original actor to play John-Boy, left the series in 1976 to seek other roles (his farewell episode aired March 17, 1977). He would make two guest appearances before the role was recast with actor Robert Wightman.
During the latter half of the 1976-77 season, Grandma Esther Walton suffers a stroke (reflecting actress Ellen Corby's own stroke and absence from the program), returning home shortly before the death of her husband, Grandpa Zeb Walton (reflecting actor Will Geer's death during the 1978 summer hiatus), and continuing to deal with her diminished ability to move and speak.
During the later years of the series, several of the Walton children marry and begin having families of their own.
World War II deeply affects the family. All four of the Walton boys enlist in the military. Mary Ellen's physician husband, Curtis "Curt" Willard, is sent to Pearl Harbor and is reported to have perished in the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Years later, Mary Ellen hears of sightings of her "late" husband, investigates and finds him alive (played by another actor), but brooding over his war wounds and living under an assumed name.
John-Boy's (played by Robert Wightman) military plane is shot down, while Olivia becomes a volunteer at the VA hospital and is seen less and less (reflecting actress Michael Learned's reduced involvement), eventually developing tuberculosis and entering an Arizona sanitarium. Olivia's cousin, Rose Burton (Peggy Rea), moves into the Walton house to watch over the brood. Two years later, John, Sr. moves to Arizona to be near Olivia. In 1981, the writers anticipated season ten without the paternal John Sr. Creating a defacto dad, Rose was wedded to her salesman beau (played by William Schallert). Nonetheless, with five of the original actors gone, the series was not renewed for another season.
The Waltons won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1973. Also in 1973 Richard Thomas won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Michael Learned won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series three times (1973, 1974, and 1976). Ellen Corby was also a three-time winner in the Supporting Actress category, winning in 1973, 1975, and 1976. Will Geer was awarded the Supporting Actor Emmy in 1975. Beulah Bondi also won an Emmy in 1977 for Lead Actress in a Single Performance for a guest appearance on the series.
John "John Boy" Walton, Jr. (Richard Thomas, seasons 1–6; Robert Wightman, seasons 8-9), better known throughout the series as "John Boy," is the oldest of seven children. John Boy is a prolific writer and serious thinker, often committing to paper his thoughts about his family, friends and circumstances. While normally a calm, quiet sort, John Boy does occasionally display a touch of his father's fiery temper, and can become very defensive and indignant when the situation warrants. The character is based on author Earl Hamner, Jr., who narrates the opening and closing of each episode in character. In later years, he moves to New York and enlists in the military.
John Walton, Sr.
The family patriarch, John (Ralph Waite), is a hard-working, industrious man who runs a small family sawmill on his acreage at the base of Walton's Mountain. He is normally very good-natured and wise, and is fearless, ready to stand up to a challenge and tell it like it is. These personality traits sometimes cause him to be very brash, even towards his children and wife on occasion, and he is prone to falling into the mindset of a workaholic when greatly stressed. He is a World War I veteran. Despite his Baptist upbringing, John is somewhat non-religious (the main point of contention in a few episodes) in contrast to his wife, Olivia. The pilot episode indicates that he dies in the year 1969 (the same year in which Earl Hamner's father died), although the final reunion movie indicates he is still alive and apparently healthy in 1970.
While John is the tough-skinned, opinionated husband, Olivia (Michael Learned) is his soft-spoken, patient and loving wife. She is gentle by nature, but firm and unafraid to speak up or administer discipline when needed. Like Grandma, she is a devout Baptist who is often immersed in activities involving the church. This element of her character is probably one reason Olivia is usually the first person to take in a friend or stranger in need. Although the series never examined her roots or heritage, John's family and background were often observed in great detail, providing a plot element on a number of occasions.
Zebulon Tyler "Zeb/Grandpa" Walton
The eldest Walton patriarch, Grandpa Walton (Will Geer), addressed as "Zeb" by his wife Esther, "Pa" by his son John, and "Grandpa" by the rest of the family, including Olivia, likes to spend his time working with John in the sawmill, fishing, teaching and playing with his grandkids. While he is still a hard worker like his son, Grandpa is much more easy-going in general and has a mischievous yet wise and vibrant personality. He especially cherishes his wife (and vice versa), although he can often be found alone relaxing with the Baldwin sisters, happily sipping their "recipe" (moonshine). He is a Spanish-American War veteran and, like Will Geer himself, an amateur botanist. In the beginning of Season 7, owing to actor Will Geer's death, Grandpa's character passes away as a result of a heart attack. Along with G.W. Haines, Boone Walton (a backwoods moonshining cousin of Zebulon) and Martha Corrinne, he was one of the few characters to die on the show.
Esther "Grandma" Walton
Grandma (Ellen Corby) is an old and practical but feisty and quick-tempered woman who makes a strong effort to stick to the straight and narrow, and get done what needs to get done. Despite (and often because of) this element of her personality, Grandma, like her husband, has lots of wisdom to dole out among her family and friends. Throughout the series' long run, she was known for often uttering two exclamations: "Good Lord!" (mainly said when surprised, indignant, or both) and "You old fool!" (spoken as a cheekily loving remark towards Grandpa). She is the church organist. In 1977, actress Ellen Corby suffered a stroke, a situation that was incorporated into Grandma's character. This meant her missing the latter half of the 5th Season. During the final two seasons, Corby's health forced her to all but forego the role; Grandma was usually said to be visiting relatives in nearby Buckingham County.
Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley) is slightly younger than John-Boy, and the somewhat introverted musician of the family who is exceedingly good-natured and likes to spend time composing music for the harmonica, guitar, and piano, some of which are performed during the show. Beginning in Season 3, Jason attends the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music to learn music theory and composition, and in Season 4 he lands a job as the honkey tonk piano player at a local tavern called the Dew Drop Inn, much to Grandma's and Olivia's chagrin. In Season 5, after an internal struggle which led him to consider becoming a conscientious objector, Jason joins the National Guard. By season 9 he joined the army and met Tony, a Jewish girl. He later marries her and has several children, all named after Country music singers of the time.
Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton Taylor) is the third oldest of the children and the oldest daughter. Throughout the first few seasons, she is mostly a whiny and rebellious tomboy, often vain and typically girlish. In the early seasons, David Doremus plays her boyfriend, the awkward G.W. Haines. In later seasons (likely because of her marriage to Curt and her nursing career), Mary Ellen loses some of this childishness and matures into a wiser woman. It should also be mentioned that a rather important part of her character, particularly in Seasons 1 and 2, involves her rivalry with the rich girl of the town, Martharose Coverdale, over her part-time love interest, G.W. In Season 5, Mary Ellen marries the aforementioned Curt Willard, who becomes the town's new physician. They have one child together, John Curtis, born in Season 6. In Season 7, Mary Ellen receives word of Curt's death at Pearl Harbor. However, she discovers later on, in Season 9, that he is still living under an assumed name. After at trip to see him, she finds that he has changed a lot and no longer loves her. Mary Ellen remarries in the second of six reunion movies, Mother's Day on Walton's Mountain to Jonesy, her boyfriend from Season 9. By the fourth reunion movie, Mary Ellen is a practicing doctor and has two children, Clay and Katy, with Jonesy (who does not appear). The character of John Curtis is not mentioned in the final three movies. The final movie does, however, mention that she had three children so we are to assume that they are John-Curtis, Clay, and Katie.
Erin Esther Walton (Mary Elizabeth McDonough) is very close to her sister Mary Ellen, though they often fight. Erin is considered the pretty one in the family, not the scholar, and she falls in love many times throughout her teenage years. She goes to work for Mrs. Fanny Tatum as a telephone operator early in Season 5 and soon finishes high school. Later, she becomes a secretary and eventually meets Paul Northridge, whom she marries and has three children with, Susan, Amanda, and a son Peter. It is disclosed that years later Paul and Erin filed for divorce.
Benjamin "Ben" Walton (Eric Scott) can always be relied upon to make mischief at precisely the wrong time. He often falls for get-rich-quick schemes and has to be bailed out by his father or John-Boy. Even as an adult, running the mill in partnership with his father, he makes deals that often don't work out well. He elopes with the pretty Cindy, and together they have two children, Ginny (Virginia) and Charlie, to whom Ben is devoted. In Season 8, Ben joins the Sea-Bees. An assortment of people help Ben run the mill, including his father, Paul Northridge and Elizabeth's boyfriend, Drew.
James Robert "Jim-Bob" Walton (David W. Harper ) is the youngest Walton boy and is better known as Jim-Bob. He is a young man who is fascinated by aeroplanes and aspires to become a pilot; however, increasingly poor eyesight forces him to give up his dream. He eventually becomes a mechanic and opens his own business just opposite Ike's general store. He has a particularly close bond with his sister Elizabeth. Jim-Bob has several girlfriends as the series progresses, including Ike and Cora Beth's adopted daughter (and Elizabeth's friend) Aimee Godsey. Jim-Bob had a twin brother, Joseph Zebulon Walton, who died at birth.
Elizabeth Walton (Kami Cotler) is the youngest of John's and Olivia's seven children. We see Elizabeth grow from a very young child into a young woman during the course of the series. She is very outspoken and sensitive, and seems to share John-Boy's love of reading and knack for writing. Her best friend is Aimee Godsey. Elizabeth is often given the chore of babysitting for her young nephews and nieces. Tony Becker portrayed Elizabeth's boyfriend Drew. She travels in Europe, and later joins the Peace Corps. In the final Walton movie, she and Drew get engaged.
In the third season, John's second cousin Corabeth Walton (Ronnie Claire Edwards) arrives on the mountain following the death of her mother. She eventually marries storekeeper and family friend Ike Godsey, and they later adopt a daughter, Aimee Louise ("Amy"). Whether they actually married for love or because of a bond stemming from mutual loneliness is an issue that is explored throughout the series. Corabeth is an eccentric, self-refined, aspiring socialite. In addition to being the town busybody, Corabeth deals with several private battles throughout the series, such as alcoholism, depression, temptations of infidelity, and her never-ending desire to leave the rural backwater behind and lead a cultured, cosmopolitan life. However, despite her desire to live some place other than Walton's Mountain, Corabeth does seem to genuinely like and care for the Walton family. She regards Olivia as a friend, and, at one point, attempts to help Jim Bob with his studies, encouraging him to follow his dreams. Later in the series she becomes a real estate agent for the area.
Ike Godsey Actor: Joe Conley
A close friend of the Walton family, Ike Godsey is the proprietor of Ike Godsey General Mercantile. He eventually marries into the Walton family when he and Corabeth (John's distant cousin) are wed. Ike and Corabeth later adopt a daughter, Aimee.
Emily Baldwin (Mary Jackson)
Emily Baldwin is one half of the Baldwin Sisters, a pair of somewhat well-off elderly Southern belles who happen to quietly manufacture moonshine whiskey. Slightly more eccentric than her sister Mamie, Emily had been in love as a young girl with handsome Ashley Longworth, who disappeared due to her father's interference, of which Emily had no knowledge until her sixties. Though she never again heard from Ashley, Emily remains convinced, even some fifty years later, that he would someday return to her.
Mamie Baldwin (Helen Kleeb)
The older of the Baldwin sisters, Mamie is somewhat more sensible and grounded than her sister Emily. She and Emily carry on their father's legacy of making and distributing a product they refer to as "the recipe," or sometimes "Papa's recipe," a good deal of which they consume themselves. Those who know of this situation never seem to discuss it with the sisters—rather, it's kept as sort of a well-known secret, and nobody takes these actions of two elderly sisters very seriously. In fact, most of the citizenry of Walton's Mountain are quite fond of the Baldwin sisters, with the possible exception of Olivia and Grandma, both of whom disapprove of their illegal manufacture and distribution of alcohol.
It's a bit unclear as to whether the two sisters are aware that their "recipe" is actually illegal hootch as they sometimes emote wholehearted belief in its being "their daddy's" legitimate medicinal folk remedy. It could be demand for the product in the area has them convinced it cannot be an illegal commodity. In season 2 however, we find out that whiskey is 'no longer illegal' (The Prize)
Rev. Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter)
First appearing in "The Sinner," Rev. Matthew Fordwick came to the community as an hardline Biblical legalist, until he accidentally got himself drunk at a visit with his relatives, the Baldwin sisters. At that humbling experience, he adapted a more forgiving nature and served as the community's religious leader. Appeared in 18 episodes between 1973 and 1975. His character would later marry the character Miss Rosemary Hunter.
Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello)
Miss Hunter is Walton's Mountain's schoolteacher, teaching all ages from first grade through high school. As such, she taught nearly all the county's children, including all of the Walton kids. She was one of the first people to encourage John Boy to pursue his writing, later suggesting he submit his essays to various competitions. She later married Rev. Matthew Fordwick.
In first episode of the series the family assembles around their new radio and listens to The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. This was a homage to Bergen who had played Zeb Walton in the pilot (The Homecoming: A Christmas Story).
In a 1999 Archive of American Television interview, Hamner stated that, when transitioning to from the film to the TV series, he chose to recast the role of Olivia because he did not think that Patricia Neal's health would allow her to commit to the grind of a weekly television series. In her 1979 memoire, Neal suggested that she would have accepted the role, had it been offered to her.
When the show first started, Ben was the middle child, but later Erin became the middle child.
During a speech in January 1992, then-president George H. W. Bush mentioned that he wanted to "make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". Later, in a commercial, Bart Simpson responded to the comment, quipping, "We're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression, too."
The town of Waltons' Mountain was built in the rear area of the Warner Brothers Studios, but the mountain itself was part of the range opposite Warner studios in Burbank, California. The Waltons' house is still used as scenery at Warner Brothers. For example, it served as the Dragonfly Inn on Gilmore Girls.
Both Mary-Ellen and Ben had a son and daughter, respectively. The first three TV movies that aired in the 1980s, after the series ended, Mary-Ellen was in a serious accident that left her at risk if she were to have more children and Ben's second child (a son) was born. In the first of three movies that reunited the family nearly twenty years later, it is shown that Mary-Ellen had two more children, and Ben's daughter had died, and no mention is made of the two other Walton grandchildren, who would have been adults in their early twenties at the time these last three movies were set.
The most recent made-for-TV movie, 1997's A Walton Easter, was set in 1970. However, the depiction of John and Olivia celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary which would have put their wedding in 1930. However the setting of the series having begun in the early 1930s, with their eldest child in his mid-teens, they would have been married around 1920. Another inconsistency is that in the pilot episode, the narrator states that their father died in 1969.