Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

The Waltons

Considering that I totally missed The Waltons when it was originally broadcast by CBS from 1972 to 1981, it seems ironic that through watching TV movies spun off from it and reruns of it in the intervening years that I've come to regard it as most likely the best and most important TV show, generally speaking, that has ever come over the tube. In the past four months I've been having an accelerated recapitulation of the whole series, on Inspiration Channel which has been running the whole series from the first episode on, two back-to-back episodes per day (and the Hallmark Channel is rerunning three episodes of it every day). The fact that the show ran for ten seasons contributes to its significance—it had time to mature and make an impact—though some of its weak points can also be attributed to its longevity. The most apparent of these is the loss of three of its principal players, Richard Thomas (John-Boy, the narrator of the stories and the alter ego of the series creator, Earl Hamner), Michael Learned (mother), and eventually even Ralph Waite (father). The grandfather (played by Will Geer) actually died while the series was still being created and the grandmother (played by Ellen Corby) suffered a debilitating stroke, though the writers were able to work both the death of one and the stroke of the other into the storylines. Of the principals who quit the series for other opportunities, only Richard Thomas was replaced by a substitute actor in the latter seasons of the show's run; the Learned and Waite characters were written out of the story.

Though the loss of principal actors was somewhat detrimetal to the series' quality, to me the greatest failing of The Waltons is its second-rate production values. Most of the scenes are filmed on a movie lot in Hollywood rather than "on location," and when there is real use of the natural substitutes for the Blue Ridge Mountains which are the stories' setting, it is obvious to anyone who has ever been in the Blue Ridge area (or even the Allegheny Mountains farther north, for that matter) that the filming was done in California rather than any place east of the Mississippi. The preponderance of pine trees and lots of bare spots on the mountains is unacceptable. Even mountains that have been logged (as Waltons' Mountain has been in the story) begin looking overgrown rather than bare in short order, the deciduous foliage of the East being so prolific and lush. And the close-up scenes—all of the house, yard, mill, and general store and school scenes—were filmed in a movie lot, which is apparent by the fact that backgrounds of all of those "outdoor" scenes fade to black rather than suggesting that there is more of the world out there beyond the Waltons' yard.

I have looked in vain for a scene showing the layout of the village of Waltons' Mountain (the story's substitute for Schuyler, Virginia, where Earl Hamner grew up), but the producers substituted desired and desirable long shots of the village with close ups that almost never get more than one house or place of business in the scene, in the interests of budgetary economies. Once one of the characters describes the village as little more than two churches—a Baptist and a Methodist, by far the two largest denominations in the South in the story's time line—the general store and houses scattered about.

But this is about the extent of my negative criticisms of The Waltons. These "nits" are greatly offset by my positive impressions and lessons learned through the story that traces a family's coming of age—eleven people living in the same modest house—in the Great Depression and World War II. I'll begin discussing those aspects of the series next time.

Meanwhile, let me know your thoughts. What show is your all-time favorite (or shows/favorites)? Maybe you thought of The Waltons as corny (I do remember seeing and laughing along with Carol Burnett's sendups of the show as "The Walnuts") or maybe you now think I'm around the bend or slipping into sentimental senility (no arguing that).

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Today's chuckle

You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, "Gosh, you're right! I never would've thought of that!"

— Dave Barry

Thought for today

The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. .

— John Stott

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Jon Kennedy's recent book, The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, from Adams Media, F&W Publications, is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and can be ordered here. It is also available on Amazon.