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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Earl Hamner Jr., creator of 'Waltons' TV show, dies at 92

Earl Hamner Jr
Earl Hamner Jr. in Richmond, Va., on April 3, 2013. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown / AP)
John C. Rogers, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Earl Hamner Jr., the versatile and prolific writer who drew upon his Depression-era upbringing in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to create one of television's most beloved family shows, "The Waltons," has died. He was 92.

Hamner died in Los Angeles and had recently been battling pneumonia, said Ray Castro Jr., a friend of Hamner's who produced a documentary, "Earl Hamner Storyteller," about the writer. Castro said he learned about Hamner's death from the writer's daughter, Caroline. A Facebook post by Hamner's son, Scott, stated his father died surrounded by family at Cedars Sinai Hospital while John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was playing.

Although best remembered for "The Waltons," which aired for nine seasons and won more than a dozen Emmys, that show barely scratched the surface of Hamner's literary accomplishments.

He was a bestselling novelist ("Spencer's Mountain"), the author of eight episodes of the classic 1960s TV show "The Twilight Zone" and, as a screenwriter, adapted the popular children's tale "Charlotte's Web," into a hit 2006 film. He also created the popular, long-running TV drama "Falcon Crest" and wrote for such other TV shows as "Wagon Train," "Gentle Ben" and "The Wild Thornberrys."

Castro said Hamner remained busy in recent years, and had recently sold a play. "He was a great Southern gentleman, a great friend, a great father," Castro said. "He was my mentor. America has truly lost a great icon."

Hamner published nearly a dozen books and wrote hundreds of TV scripts. He continued to write into his 90s, once noting proudly that the same month he turned 90 he had two stories published in separate collections.

One, "Come Down to the Store, Minerva," appeared in the horror anthology "Shadow Masters: An Anthology From the Horror Zone" and was inspired by an idea Hamner said he had stashed away decades before when he was writing for "The Twilight Zone." The other, on fishing, was published in "Gray's Sporting Journal."

"The Twilight Zone" episodes Hamner did finish included several of the best the classic TV series aired. Among them were "The Hunt," in which a recently deceased backwoodsman is saved by his beloved hunting dog from accidentally wandering into Hell. Another, "Ring-a-Ding Girl," tells the story of a young Hollywood movie star who returns to her hometown hours before her death and tricks family and friends into staying away from the site where her plane will crash.

Hamner and the show's creator, Rod Serling, had been friends since their college days, and when Serling launched the show in 1959 he invited Hamner to submit scripts. Hamner said he drew inspiration for most of them from folk tales he had heard as a child.

"Looking back," he once said, "I realize that if I made any unique contribution to the series, it was to introduce the American folklore element into it."

That element was something he would draw on repeatedly over the next 50 years, first in books like "The Homecoming" and "Fifty Roads To Town" and later in television's "The Walton's."

Like John Boy (played by Richard Thomas), the show's character he modeled on himself, Hamner was born in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, on July 10, 1923. Also like John Boy, he was the eldest of eight children and named after his father.

It was there that Earl Henry Hamner Jr. grew up in such modest circumstances that his family owned few books other than the Bible and had no telephone. It wasn't until a high school field trip to the World's Fair in New York City in 1939, Hamner once said, that he actually learned how to use a phone. Until that trip, he said, he had never been more than 40 miles from home.

--more at CTV.ca

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