The Real Story Behind The Waltons TV Show And What Went Into Making It Such A Beloved Classic

The Waltons TV show

It's been almost 40 years since The Waltons TV show, one of the most beloved programs of all time, faded from our screens. The family drama debuted September 14, 1971 and ran until 1981. Spanning nine seasons, it was initially thought to flop by the top executives of Hollywood. However producers of the show had no idea viewers of that time were craving Godly family values.

At the time, the country was dealing with the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the breakdown of traditional family values. In fact, Kami Cotler, who played the youngest Walton sibling, Elizabeth, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times said the show was a direct reaction to congressional hearings questioning the moral quality of television at the time!

The Waltons TV Show

So how did The Waltons TV show become a sensation? Let's talk about little known facts of what went on behind the scenes.

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The beloved show was set in the mountains of Virginia during World War II and the Great Depression even though it was filmed in Hollywood. It actually began as a Christmas film, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story based on Earl Hamner's book, "Spencer's Mountain."

CBS decided to take a gamble on the book but they requested Earl to rename the characters and he chose "Walton," instead. “I thought the name Walton sounded sturdy and Virginian, and American," he shared. Despite some of the network's reservations, viewers were craving wholesome shows that reflected simpler times and traditional family values. In fact, the show helped inspire Little House On the Prairie.

The Waltons Mary Ellen and John Boy

The Emmy award-winning show depicted a large close-knit family experiencing the ebbs and flows of life was based on Earl's own family. Each Walton child was based on his real-life siblings. He had six siblings Jason, Mary Ellen, Erin, Benjamin (“Ben”), James Robert “Jim Bob” and Elizabeth.

Earl revealed in a 2013 interview that the actual bedtime tradition on The Waltons TV show was inspired by his actual bedtime tradition with his own family. "Sometimes we would get carried away and say so many goodnights that my father, who had to get up early in the morning, would say, ‘Alright. That's enough!'" he commented in a 2013 interview published by the Archive of American Television.

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Several parts of The Waltons TV show were based on real-life events too. Grandma Esther's stroke in season five was based on Ellen Corby's real-life health complication. Actor Will Geer who played Grandpa Zeb grew concerned when Ellen didn't know up for work one morning. Because they all spent so much time together, he knew this was out of character and sensed something was wrong. He then found her passed out after a stroke and rushed her to the hospital to save her life. Later, after Will passed away in 1978, Grandpa Zeb's death was written into the show as well.

The Waltons TV Show Cast

Life behind the scenes wasn't always easy. Some of the actors struggled with alcohol abuse. Yet, God used the show to help Ralph Waite get sober. Judy Nortan said the kids helped him get over his alcoholism. "He credited the show for being the reason he got sober," she said. "He said, ‘I sat there one day at the kitchen table with all you kids and I felt like such a fake.' He took himself to AA and got sober."

Despite the ups and downs behind the scenes, the show became a home staple! Throughout the years the family dreamed, grew in their faith, learned lessons, prayed, suffered disappointments and grew up. But no matter the episode, everyone felt like a part of the family up on Walton's mountain.

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The show is also proof God's family values still reign. You can catch all 200 episodes streaming on Amazon Prime. G'night John Boy!

WATCH: The Waltons Say Goodnight

WATCH: The Waltons TV Show Final Goodnight


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"But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

h/t: AmoMama

Featured Image: Facebook/TV Show of The Waltons