Synopsis of TV Show
“Good night, John Boy…”
The Waltons is the granddaddy of all the family-themed dramas of the 70’s. Unlike other 70’s television hits, it did not try to challenge societal taboos or push the envelope in terms of exploitable content. The Waltons simply contented itself with chronicling the life of a family and the changes they experienced over time. The success of this low-key, anti-counterculture approach paved the way for shows like Little House On the Prairie, Family and Eight is Enough.
The genesis of the future Waltons came in a 1971 television special entitled The Homecoming, which won a strong critical and audience response. CBS hired screenwriter Earl Hamner, Jr., to develop his story into a full-fledged series, and The Waltons debuted in September of 1972.
Like the special that preceded it, The Waltons was inspired by the life of its author. It chronicled the life of the Walton clan, a family of ten living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression. John and Olivia were the father and mother of this large brood, which John supported via the lumber mill he ran with his own father, Grandpa Zeb. Grandma Walton, a sternly religious but kind old lady, also lived with the family. The show was initially seen through the eyes of John Boy, the eldest Walton child and an aspiring writer. John Boy actor Richard Thomas left the show in 1977, and his departure was explained by having John Boy move to New York to pursue his writing career. The prodigal son returned home after two more seasons, but he came back as actor Robert Wightman.
John Boy also had a variety of siblings to interact with. Jason was the next oldest brother, a musically inclined kid who often felt like he was in John Boy’s shadow. There was also Ben, a money-minded lad who always had some sort of scheme on tap, and Jim-Bob, an aviation-obsessed boy who eventually became a mechanic. Mary Ellen was the eldest daughter, a former tomboy who became a nurse and eventually a doctor. Erin was the middle daughter—the family’s “pretty one”—and she had her fair share of romantic courtships. Finally there was Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, who shared John Boy’s love for the written word.
The Waltons became a surrogate family for many during the often-turbulent 70’s. The show was a long-running success, and the key to its popularity, surprisingly, was time. The Waltons actually grew up before our eyes, and as they did so, time passed in the world around them. In the 1977-78 season, the show moved from the Depression into World War II. Jason, John Boy, Jim-Bob, and Ben all served in the war, while back home, material shortages caused John to briefly close his mill. When actor Will Geer died around this time, the Waltons had to cope with the loss of their beloved Grandpa Walton.
The show ended its formal run in 1981, closing out as John sold his mill to Ben and moved to Arizona. However, three made-for-TV Waltons specials were telecast on NBC in 1982: A Wedding On Walton’s Mountain, Mother’s Day On Walton’s Mountain, and A Day Of Thanks On Walton’s Mountain. In the 1990’s, three additional specials were telecast on the show’s original network, CBS: A Walton Thanksgiving (1993), A Walton Wedding (1995), and A Walton Easter (1997). TV families come and go every season, but more than twenty-five years after we first met them, we still cared about the Waltons.
Release History of Prime Time Show9/14/72 - 8/20/81 CBS
TV Sub Categoriesdrama
Television StudioLorimar Television
TV CastNarrator Earl Hamner Jr.
John Walton Ralph Waite
Olivia Walton (1972-80) Michael Learned
Grandpa (Zeb) Walton (1972-78) Will Geer
Grandma (Esther) Walton (1972-76, 1978-79) Ellen Corby
John Boy Walton (1972-77) Richard Thomas
John Boy Walton (1979-81) Robert Wightman
Mary Ellen Walton Willard Judy Norton-Taylor
Jim-Bob Walton David W. Harper
Jason Walton Jon Walmsley
Erin Walton Mary Beth McDonough
Ben Walton Eric Scott
Elizabeth Walton Kami Colter
Ike Godsey Joe Conley
Sheriff Ep Bridges John Crawford
Mamie Baldwin Helen Kleeb
Emily Baldwin Mary Jackson
Verdie Foster Lynn Hamilton
Vernon Rutley George Tobias
Rosemary Hunter Fordwick (1972-77) Mariclare Costello
Yancy Tucker (1972-79) Robert Donner
G.W. Haines (1972-77) David Doremus
Maude Gormley (1972-79) Merie Earle
Flossie Brimmer (1972-77) Nora Marlowe
Rev. Matthew Fordwick (1972-77) John Ritter
Corabeth Godsey (1974-81) Ronnie Claire Edwards
Dr. Curtis Willard (1976-78) Tom Bower
Rev. Hank Buchanan (1977-78) Peter Fox
J.D. Pickett (1978-81) Lewis Arquette
John Curtis Willard (1978-81) Marshall Reed
John Curtis Willard (1978-81) Michael Reed
Jeffrey Burton (1979-80) Keith Coogan
Serena Burton (1979-80) Martha Nix
Rose Burton (1979-81) Peggy Rea
Cindy Branson Walton (1979-81) Leslie Winston
Arlington Wescott "Jonesy" Jones (1981) Richard Gilliland
Toni Hazleton (1981) Lisa Harrison
Rev. Tom Marshall (1981) Kip Niven