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Walton's in the Media.
Unknown source

the Waltons
makes mountain into mecca


Corn is a commodity that has become a staple in our TV diet of late. It is also one ingredient that Earl Hamner, creator and executive story editor of CBS's The Waltons works overtime to exclude from his show.

Fans of the series offer him plenty of help in his task with volumnous letters that contain as many suggestions and criticisms as they do praise.


Hamner, a Virginia-born author whose own childhood experiences are the basis of the show, willingly reads all the comments, and even heeds them when they seem appropriate.


The following for The Waltons is proving one of TV's most ardent. Fans have gone so far as to travel to the hill country around Schuyler, Virginia, in search of the REAL Walton Mountain - scene of Hamner's own childhood years.


"The mountain does exist," Hamner explains. "It's not nearly as big as some folks imagine it to be, but it's there." And at the base of the hill, in a tin-roofed house lives Doris Hamner, mother of the author who is the narrator of the series.


She is a hospitable hostess to everyone - even the tourists interested only in snapping a quick Brownie shot of the homestead after which the Walton home was patterned. "She invites the people in for tea," Hamner says, "and asks only that they identify themselves when they arrive. She doesn't like people wandering around with cameras, stepping on her flowers."


A nearby university has received hundreds of inquiries from all over the nation as to the whereabouts of the now famous mountain.


Such an impressive following has developed, Hamner believes, because viewers can easily identify with the earthy dilemmas that confront the Walton clan - their simple pleasures and woes.


"The Lifestyle is reassuring," he says. "The qualities we see are those most of us today would like to include in our own home lives.


"They are very liberated, very open. They feel free to criticize when the spirit moves them. They discuss the shows with their school friends, and they were the ones who told us in the initial episodes that the Walton children were too perfect. They never got spankings."


The sandy-haired writer left his birthplace in Virginia to pursue university studies and become a successful New York TV writer. Later he authored the best-selling Spencer's Mountain, which was made into a Warner Brothers movie and was the first Hamner portrait of the humble country family.


Hamner returns to Virginia for visits frequently now. "My roots are there," he explains. "I like to go back and touch them. I don't believe I could ever live permanently in the country again, because I like city living, but there is still something about Schuyler that rekindles my spirit.


"I like to see the dogwood trees, and my father's grave. . ."


The struggle for survival during the Depression was a way of life for the Hamner family, just as it has become for the TV Walton family, but, as country folk, their lot was never so stark as it was for many city dwellers.


"We owned our own house and grew our food," Hamner points out. "My mother canned and my father hunted. We had no money, we were poor, but we could live. City families didn't have that luxury."


It is a point he makes often in the face of frequent criticism from viewers who remember too well the harshness of the Depression.


"They say that the Waltons aren't really suffering enough," Hamner recounts, and he claims the shows will stress more vividly the austerity of the times in next season's shows.


The story of the series's survival is almost as dramatic as the story of the family's survival. When the show debuted last fall, few TV prophets would have predicted we'd see the family come spring.


But the fans - and the ratings - have increased and persisted - so much so that CBS is presenting a special two-hour Easter installment. It will demonstrate vividly what Hamner means when he talks of the series' precarious emotional balance.


In it Olivia Walton (Michael Learned) gets polio and is partially paralyzed. With the help and support of her family she is able to find the strength to relearn to walk.


"We were depending heavily on the ability of the writers and the actors to handle the script with great subtlety," says Hamner.


The Easter special was developed from Hamner's own story line, but written by John McGreevy. Network sources are touting it as the kind of quality offering comparable to The Homecoming, the Christmas special two years ago, that was the beginning of the Walton series.

"Some people are saying it's better than Homecoming," says Hamner. "But I can't admit that. After all, I wrote The Homecoming."


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