The angler: Hamner makes fishy contribution

news-earl-hamner-coverEarl Hamner is mum about who gets his papers.

Let's be clear: Earl Hamner, the creator of the TV classic, The Waltons, quipped this story's "fishy contribution" headline during a telephone interview about where his scripts, manuscripts, and memorabilia from more than half a century as a film and television writer would go.

Last week, Virginia's Explore Park announced it had offered to house Hamner's library as a way to draw people to the struggling 1,100-acre living history museum, much of which has been closed for almost three years because its developer ran into funding problems.

Getting the full Hamner archive is not going to happen, according to Hamner, who wrote episodes for Twilight Zone and Falcon Crest and whose Spencer's Mountain novel became a movie and The Waltons TV series, about a Blue Ridge family during the Depression.  Hamner says he has plans for his memorabilia, but he's not ready to announce them.

What he has offered to bequeath to Explore Park–- located along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke–- is the collection that stems from his love of fishing. From his office in Studio City, he describes his books-on-fish library, which includes works by Canadian conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown, fishing fiction by Zane Grey, and other objets de poisson: carved, metal, glass-blown, ceramic, and stuffed.

"One I'll hate to give up is a 60-pound Chinook salmon that I caught in British Columbia," sighs Hamner, who seems resigned to letting that one get away if Explore Park wants it. A spokesperson for Explore Park says the facility is considering the offer.

While Hamner won't reveal where his 35 boxes of memorabilia are going, one place they're unlikely to end up is in his native Nelson County.

"Originally they were to be at the Walton Museum in Schuyler, but because of their shabby treatment of me and my family, I removed them," says Hamner. "I get calls from them, but they were so cruel to my brother, how could they make amends?"

In 2002, ten years after helping launch the Walton's Mountain Museum in the old Schuyler school that the eight Hamner children attended, Hamner severed ties after the Museum's board ousted his baby brother, Jim, known as "Jim Bob" in the television series.

According to its website and telephone recording, the Walton Mountain Museum still operates, but a reporter's telephone calls were not returned. Jim Hamner died in 2004 at age 67.

After Earl Hamner removed his Emmys and scripts from the Museum, he asked friend and historian Woody Greenberg (who'd first come up with the idea for the Museum in the old school) to find a new place to house his papers. For awhile, it looked as if  the trove might go to Oakland, Nelson's rural-celebrating "museum-in-the-making," which opened in 2006.

"The problem with Oakland," says Greenberg, a founding member of Oakland, "is we don't have climate control."

Currently, teleplays and draft teleplays from the beloved series, as well as Hamner's movie scripts, are stored in acid-free boxes at Lynchburg College, from which Greenberg just retired as dean of communications and arts.

"Earl called me about his remaining scripts," says Greenberg. "I said we'd be interested if we had the facilities."

And while space for the Hamner library may be a problem at Oakland, Greenberg isn't too keen on seeing the papers of the man who put Nelson County on the map go over the mountains to Explore Park. He says the Oakland board will discuss the matter at a July 28 meeting.

"Obviously, I'd prefer to see something in Nelson County," says Greenberg. "It's where he was raised, his writing reflects this area, and he's probably the most famous person to come from Nelson."

Meanwhile, Hamner, who turned 87 on July 10, keeps on writing.

"I just finished Odette: A Goose of Toulouse, A Celebration of Life and Music," says the author, who says tale was inspired by a boat trip through France. The character Odette, he says, is reminiscent of the spider in Charlotte's Web, but she "learns she's to be made into foie gras."

Good thing she can sing opera.