Biography: Life of Earl Hamner revealed
The creator of The Waltons, Earl Hamner usually finds his name under "author" in card catalogs. Now he can be found on the "subject" line. A new biography, Earl Hamner: From Walton's Mountain to Tomorrow, has just been released by a Nashville publishing house.
Hamner's biographer is Jim Person, who– while writing a scholarly article for the now-defunct Sherwood Anderson Review– wanted to find out more about the author of Spencer's Mountain, Hamner's book that served as the basis for The Waltons.
"I can't get used to saying the words, 'my biographer,'" says Hamner from his home in Studio City, California.
Hamner was amazed at the interest, but Person was quick to recognize Hamner's role in the history of television.
"I was surprised there were no books on Earl Hamner," says Person.
While best known for the earnest family drama that made "John-Boy" a household name, Hamner also wrote sci-fi for another venerated series, The Twilight Zone. And some fans may be surprised to learn that he created that steamy 1980s California soap, Falcon Crest. And it was his screenplay for Heidi that enraged football fans across the nation in 1968 when NBC decided to preempt the final minutes of a close Oakland Raiders/New York Jets game to air the story of the little Swiss miss.
"People think all I am is Mr. Walton," says Hamner. "I've done books and movies and radio. My life has covered the entire span of commercial TV."
"He did so much more than The Waltons," agrees Person. "He's quite a man of many parts."
Appropriately, Schuyler, the setting for Hamner's childhood with seven brothers and sisters that became the basis for the enduring Waltons series, is the first stop on the book tour with Person.
The biographer and his subject will sign at Polly and Jim Bob's Bed and Breakfast on August 13. The next day, he visits Charlottesville's New Dominion bookshop. Then it's on to Roanoke, Williamsburg, and Chesapeake.
The Schuyler visit promises to be bittersweet. His baby brother, James– Jim Bob in the series and the last Hamner to live in the family homeplace– died April 1, 2004, at 67. And their sister, Marion Hamner Hawkes, 74, who inspired the character Mary Ellen, died November 22.
"I think I can go to Schuyler," says Hamner. "Some feelings of sadness have melted away."
Author Person emphasizes that the new book isn't just a biography. "It's a fairly in-depth look at his works," he says. Person has written over 100 essays and reviews, as well as Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind.
So in interviewing people for the book, did he turn up any skeletons in Hamner's closet?
"I looked high and low to find someone to say something negative about him," admits Person– to no avail. "Everyone who worked with him said Earl is a gentleman in a world where we frequently find ourselves surrounded by barbarians."
And those who speak highly of Hamner in book jacket blurbs include To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, crooner Andy Williams, with whom Hamner worked at NBC Radio in New York, and radio commentator Paul Harvey, who credits Hamner with making family values respected again.
"I'm very impressed with myself and getting a swelled head," says Hamner, who just celebrated his 81st birthday.
Person spoke to Hamner after the book came out. "Earl was ecstatic," says Person. "For the first time since I've known him, this garrulous man was speechless."
The first biography on Schuyler native son Earl Hamner is out, and he's as wholesome as you suspected.
COURTESY CUMBERLAND HOUSE PUBLISHING