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Earl Hamner, Jr.

Earl Hamner Touched Hearts With Tales of His Life

His voice is familiar, comforting, reminiscent, and inviting—the voice of the older, wiser John-Boy at the beginning and end of each episode of The Waltons. His words draw us into the story that is about to unfold, a story of love, family, adventure, passions and lessons learned—It is the voice of Earl Hamner, the creator and writer of the beloved series he based on his own family and life.

With The Waltons, Earl Hamner touched the hearts of generations who became captivated by his stories of life growing up during the Great Depression, the insightful tales of family adventures, and the misadventures, the lessons and laughter, all with an abundance of love. The beloved characters of The Waltons, and the stories of their growth through the years are his legacy.

The Hamner family grew up poor, and though Earl’s parents had little formal education they encouraged young Earl, who showed a talent for writing and a love for school. Determined to complete his studies, Earl graduated from Schuyler High School and earned a tuition scholarship to the University of Richmond, living with nearby relatives and working part time to make enough money for books and other expenses.

In 1943, in the middle of his sophomore year, Earl received the letter from “Uncle Sam.” He was drafted into the U.S. Army. A fellow soldier introduced him to the world of great literature, and he read books by Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and others.

After his discharge in 1946, Earl returned to Richmond from France where he had been stationed. Through his Aunt Nora’s connections, he landed an apprenticeship with a local radio station, and he found his life’s passion. This single move led him to study broadcasting at the University of Cincinnati, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. But it was in his first year that an event occurred that would launch him on a career in television. Earl won a script writing contest and one of the other recipients of the award was Rod Serling, the future creator of the hit TV series, The Twilight Zone. The two met and became lifelong friends, with Earl writing several episodes of the spooky series.

After finishing his first novel, Earl headed to New York and landed a job as a writer at NBC. As television became more and more popular, Earl eventually left radio to work in this new, intriguing medium. In February 1954, Earl met Jane Martin, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and was immediately smitten. They married the following October. They were living a charmed life in New York, now with two children, Scott born in 1956 and Caroline born in 1958.

In 1961, Earl’s novel, Spencer’s Mountain was published, and his life was about to take yet another turn. That same year, it was clear the television industry was shifting to the west coast, and the young family made the move to California. During this time, Warner Brothers studio bought the film rights to Spencer’s Mountain.

Then in 1972, when the television movie adaptation of his book, The Homecoming, hit the screen, the world got a little glimpse of what would one day become the hit series The Waltons.  

He sought to lift people up with his stories and by his everyday actions. In a 2014 interview with INSP, he said,

“I had such a good life. With the exception of the loss of friends and family, I’ve had no real sadness, and I’ve been an affirmative person. I think if I had any great contribution to [The Waltons] it has been an affirmative, loving positive approach to life.”

Earl Hamner died, with his family by his side, on March 24, 2016. He was 92. And we, his INSP family, are ever grateful for the joy he brought to fans with his stories. His memory lives on with every episode of The Waltons.


Want More? Read the INSP Interview with Earl Hamner.


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