Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Earl Hamner, Jr. Passes On

Earl Hamner, Jr., the creator of the TV show The Waltons, who also wrote several episodes of The Twilight Zone, died on March 24 2016 at the age of 92. The cause was bladder cancer.

Earl Hamner, Jr. was born on July 10 1923 in Schuyler, Virginia. He was the eldest of eight children. Earl Hamner, Jr. was first published when he was only six years old. His poem, "My Dog", was published in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Earl Hamner, Jr. was in his sophomore year at the University of Richmond when he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II. He was trained to defuse mines and sent to France after the invasion of Normandy. He was later transferred to the Quartermaster Corps. It was while he was stationed in Paris that he began writing fiction, inspired by the works of such authors as Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner. It was while he was in Paris that he began what would become his novel Spencer's Mountain.

Following World War II Mr. Hamner earned a degree in broadcast communications from the University of Cincinnati in 1948. He worked for a time at the Cincinnati radito station WLW. His first novel, Fifty Roads to Town, was published in 1953.  At the same time he broke into television with a script for The Kate Smith Hour. In the Fifties he wrote scripts for the shows The United States Steel Hour, Justice, and Tactic.

Earl Hamner, Jr.'s novel, Spencer's Mountain, was published in 1961. The novel would be adapted as the 1963 film of the same name. The novel would also lead to the 1971 television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which in turn would lead to the TV series The Waltons. It was the year 1962 that saw the first episode of The Twilight Zone written by Earl Hamner, Jr. "A Piano in the House" centred on a hated theatre critic who buys a piano that unmasks those listen to it. Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote several more episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Ring-A-Ding Girl", "You Drive", "Stopover in a Quiet Town", and "The Bewitchin' Pool".

In the Sixties he also wrote episodes of the TV shows Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; It's a Man's WorldThe Long, Hot Summer; Wagon Train; The Invaders, and CBS Playhouse. He wrote several episodes of the shows Gentle Ben and Nanny and the Professor. He also wrote the teleplay for the 1968 TV movie Heidi, which notoriously pre-empted a game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. He also wrote the TV movie Tiger, Tiger. He wrote the screenplay for the movie Palm Springs Weekend (1963). In 1965 his novel You Can't Get There From Here was published. The year 1970 saw the publication of his novel The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain, which provided the basis for the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

While for the most part The Homecoming: A Christmas Story was loyal to novel, there were some major changes. The names of the characters were changed and the Spencers became the Waltons. The TV movie proved very successful in the ratings, enough that it led to the TV show The Waltons. Scheduled against the hit Flip Wilson Show on NBC, no one, not even CBS executives, expected the show to survive. It ultimately became one of the biggest hit shows of the Seventies. The Waltons, on which Earl Hamner, Jr. served as producer and narrator, ran for nine seasons and 210 episodes. After the show went off the air it would be followed by several reunion movies.

In the Seventies Earl Hamner, Jr. also created the short-lived series Apple's Way. He wrote the teleplays for the TV movies Aesop's Fables, Pomroy's People, Lassie: A New Beginning, and Joshua's World.  He wrote the screenplays for the films The Last Generation (1971), Charlotte's Web (1973), and Where the Lilies Bloom (1974).

In the Eighties Earl Hamner, Jr. created the prime time soap opera Falcon Crest. It ran for nine seasons and 227 episodes. He also created the short lived shows Boone and Morningstar/Eveningstar. He wrote the TV movie The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story. In the Nineties he wrote the teleplays for the TV movies The Magic Paintbrush, A Mother's Gift, and The Education of Little Tree. He also wrote an episode of The Wild Thornberrys. In the Naughts he wrote and episode of Night Visions as well as the teleplay for the TV movie The Night Before Christmas: A Mouse Tale .

There can be no doubt that Earl Hamner, Jr. is best known as the creator of The Waltons and he will probably always be remembered as such. The show proved to be a hit in the Seventies and has persisted in syndication ever since. There are also many who remember him for the many episodes of The Twilight Zone  he wrote. That having been said, Earl Hamner, Jr. was actually quite versatile. He did not simply write family dramas such as The Waltons and Apple's Way, and he delved into the realm of fantasy on more occasions than just The Twilight Zone. He wrote episodes for shows as diverse as The Invaders and Nanny and the Professor. He created a prime time soap opera (Falcon's Crest) and a period piece set in the Fifties centred on an aspiring rock and roll singer (Boone). Mr. Hamner also wrote several successful novels, some of which would lead to success on television. While Earl Hamner, Jr. will always be best remembered as the creator of The Waltons, he actually did a good deal more.

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