Earl Hamner Jr., writer and creator of the iconic 1970s TV show The Waltons has died. He was 92.
Hamner drew on his Depression-era upbringing in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and from those stories of his childhood created one of America’s most beloved family TV shows. The show came from his best-selling novel, Spencer’s Mountain.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hamner died of cancer Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, as confirmed by a Facebook post by Hamner’s son, Scott.
“I am very sorry to be the bearer of sad news. My father, Earl Hamner, passed away today at 12:20 PM Pacific time. Dad died peacefully in his sleep at Cedar Sinai Hospital. He was surrounded by family, and we were playing his favorite music, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Collection. Dad took his last breath half way through Rocky Mountain High. I am sure many of you know Dad was ill, but his amazing tenacity and fight masked how seriously ill he has been over the last year and a half.”
While his most memorable work came from The Waltons, which aired for nine seasons and won more than a dozen Emmys, it was just one piece of an incredibly prolific body of work.
In addition to The Waltons, Hamner wrote eight episodes of the classic 1960s TV show The Twilight Zone. Other accomplishments include the adaptation of the popular children’s story Charlotte’s Web into a hit 2006 film. He also created the popular, long-running prime time soap Falcon Crest and wrote for such other TV shows, including Wagon Train, Gentle Ben, and The Wild Thornberrys.
His longtime friend, Ray Castro Jr., said Hamner never stopped working in his later years and sold a play not long ago.
“He was a great Southern gentleman, a great friend, a great father. He was my mentor. America has truly lost a great icon.”
— Will McKinley (@willmckinley) March 25, 2016
In The Waltons, the character of John Boy (played by Richard Thomas) was modeled after Hamner. Like John Boy, Hamner was born in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, was the eldest of eight children, and was named after his father.
Hamner and his siblings grew up with little money, possessed few books other than the Bible, and had no telephone, according to ABC News. It was on a high school field trip to the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939 — the first time he had traveled farther than 40 miles from his home on Spencer’s Mountain — that Hamner learned how to use a telephone.
He decided to become a writer after a poem he had written was published on the children’s page of a Richmond, Virginia newspaper. He never gave up on that early dream.
RIP Earl Hamner Jr.! We’ve poked fun at his episodes, but he will be missed! pic.twitter.com/4hWEeiUu7L
— The Twilight Pwn (@twilightpwn) March 25, 2016
Graduating from Schuyler High School at the top of his class, Hamner went on to attend the University of Richmond on a scholarship but left early after being drafted into the Army during World War II.
Spencer’s Mountain, which was the basis for The Waltons, was written while in France during the last days of the war. It would take 15 years before it was finished.
“The battle front was a few miles away and the sounds of gunfire were incessant. I was scared and young and homesick, and as I wrote in my journal I began to remember a promise my father made to my mother on the day they were married. He promised that one day he would build her a house of her own on the top of a mountain.”
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) March 25, 2016
After being discharged from the Army, he completed his degree in broadcasting at the University of Cincinnati.
Hamner’s first novel, Fifty Roads To Town, was published in 1953, followed by the completion of Spencer’s Mountain, which became a best-seller in 1961 and was made into a popular movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara two years later.
Spencer’s Mountain not only established Hamner as writer, it led to the creation of one of television’s most beloved families.
The Waltons, which premiered in 1972, aired more than 200 episodes, with Hamner himself providing voiceover narration in each one at the beginning and end of each show.
— Variety (@Variety) March 25, 2016
Baby boomer children across America in the 1970s often echoed the final words “Goodnight, John Boy” with their own families each evening as they went to bed.
When the show ended in 1981, the show continued in periodic special TV movies with the original cast for another 16 years. These included A Walton Wedding, A Walton Easter, and A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion.
Earl Hamner Jr. is survived by his wife, Jane; son, Scott; and daughter, Caroline.
Goodnight, Mr. Hamner.
(Image via Facebook/Earl Hamner)