Earl Hammer and Ralph Griffin. Goodnight John-Boy. A Celebration of an American Family and the Values That Have Sustained Us Through Good Times and Bad. Nashville, Tn.: Cumberland House, 2002.
The television show “The Waltons” demonstrated how a family that stuck together survived the Depression. It was shown during the cynical era of the 1970s when the public faced disillusionment from Watergate and the Vietnam War. The show tackled sensitive subjects such as prejudice, poverty, abuse, censorship, and education.
Earl Hammer grew up in Schuyler, Virginia, where hw was born in 1923. His writings about his “familyism”, where family is the most important social group, inspired the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” followed by the TV series “The Waltons”.
Hammer knew from childhood he wanted to write. He was a writer on the “Today Show” and for NBC documentaries. He published a novel “Spencer’s Mountain” in 1951. The movie was based on the novel. Hammer was upset over the addition of some sexually suggestive dialogue.
Hammer wrote TV scripts for shows such as “Wagon Train” and “Nanny and the Professor”. He also wrote a sequel novel “The Homecoming”.
“The Waltons” premiered in 1972 to critical acclaim yet was 57th in the Nielsen ratings. The network believed the series would fail and didn’t spend much effort on publicizing the show. “The Waltons” rose to the top of the ratings and won the 1975 Emmy for Best Series along with five other Emmys.
Hammer advised on “The Waltons” storyline. As he notes in working with the show’s writers, “most of television is written from the groin. We wrote stories from the heart.”