I have often wondered what makes an enduring television show. One of my all-time favorite shows was “The Waltons.” Growing up, that show reflected most closely the South of my parents and grandparents. I related to John and Olivia, John-Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Ben, Erin, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth, Esther and Zeb as if they were part of my own family. Earl Hamner Jr. created this masterpiece of Americana based on his life growing up during the Depression and World War II.
I remember mourning the passing of Will Geer (Grandpa Zeb Walton) as if I had lost my own grandfather. I struggled along with Ellen Colby (Grandma Esther Walton) as she performed through her real-life stroke.
I know that it was a drama and the participants were actors but the characters seemed real to me and made me feel that, the first chance I got, I should move to Walton’s Mountain.
I always enjoyed the characters that gave the show a bit of the out-of-the-ordinary — characters such as the Baldwin Sisters, who brewed up The Recipe, not realizing it was illegal; or Corabeth Walton Godsey, the always-starched well-educated cousin who tried to bring a bit of class and culture to the mountain at Godsey’s General Store.
I had the pleasure of working with Ronnie Claire Edwards, who portrayed Corabeth, while working on “In the Heat of The Night” in an episode titled “Perversion of Justice” and directed by Harry Harris, who also directed “The Waltons.”
For me, getting to spend a few days visiting with her took me back to all those nights waiting to hear that mountain-style theme music emanating from the television speaker.
Like a good Mark Twain story where you just want to pull off your shoes and jump the next raft down the Mississippi, I wanted to pull off my shoes and walk down the old dirt road with all the Walton kids.
Harry Harris and I discussed the Waltons on a couple of occasions. At one point he was trying to get Richard Thomas to return to do a reunion show. Harris gave me the impression that Thomas was reluctant. To my delight, just in time for Thanksgiving 1993, the cast once again gathered around the big table on Walton’s Mountain, held hands and said grace. The success of the show brought other reunions — “A Walton’s Wedding” and “A Walton’s Easter.”
In the back of my mind I still wished I had been there. Already being an actor, the wish was even stronger.
When I ran across the CD “A Walton Christmas,” I could not resist getting a copy and listening to it from beginning to end.
I have never had the pleasure of meeting any of the other regular cast members, although I was briefly around Peggy Rea, who played “Rose,” while Alan Autry and I both worked on “Grace Under Fire.” Unfortunately, I never got to meet her.
I wish that we would again see a positive show like that one makes its way to main stream networks. The closest I have seen of late are the two films that Dolly Parton produced centered around her childhood – “Coat of Many Colors” and its sequel.
If you have never seen “The Waltons” before, or even if your have, I encourage you to pull up a chair and take a trip to a place where life is not always simple, but no matter what comes their way, the family and the community survive together on the solid morale ground of Walton’s Mountain.