Earl Hamner

What’s the connection between Walton’s Mountain and the Twilight Zone?

Earl Hamner, who wrote for both of them.

Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling, wrote 92 of the 156 episodes of the original series, so of course, he needed other writers had to contribute stories for the show. One of the well know writers who wrote stories was Earl Hamner.

Early Life

If you’ve seen “The Waltons,” you know about Hamner’s boyhood. He grew up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. His father’s family immigrated from Italy and his mother’s family immigrated from Wales. At first, Hamner’s family worked as tobacco farmers. Then they moved to Schuyler, Virginia, for the soapstone mining industry, which was put out of business with the Depression. Earl, Sr. could only find work at a factory 30 miles away. He lived there all during the week and was home only on the weekends. One snowy walk home from the bus station on Christmas Eve in 1933 inspired Hamner’s novel “The Homecoming” in 1970 which would later be developed into a TV movie and eventually into the TV series, “The Waltons.”

Hamner’s early writing career closely parallels that of Rod Serling. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Hamner returned home and started writing for radio at WLW in Cincinnati. It was there that he met fellow writer, Rod Serling, a precipitous meeting that would later lead to his big break in television writing on “The Twilight Zone.”

The Twilight Zone Episodes

Hamner contributed eight episodes to the series. Most have a country, down-home air combined with the supernatural flare of the Twilight Zone. These “countrified” stories are frequently labeled as the weakest of the episodes. Of course, that’s always a matter of opinion. For me, they’re a mixed bag of interesting stories to “I don’t think I’ll watch that one again.”

“The Hunt” (1962) Season 3
This is my favorite of the Hamner stories and one of my favorite overall. It’s an interesting tale of a man, Hyder Simpson, and his hunting dog, Rip, who unfortunately drown one night while chasing a raccoon. When Hyder figures out the next day that they have joined the dearly departed, he sets out for the pearly gates, and he sure is glad that Rip is along with him. I like the summation that “a man will walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!” Homespun wisdom to be sure, but lovable all the same. Folksy Quotient: 10

“A Piano in the House” (1962) Season 3
This story really doesn’t have a connection to the country at all. A snooty theater critic buys a player piano for his wife’s birthday and takes great delight in the fact that when playing, people become their true selves. He’s delighted, that is, until he’s on the receiving end of things. Folksy Quotient: 0

“Jess-Belle” (1963) Season 4
This story is definitely set in the back woods somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains and features superstitions and hexes, jealousy, and good versus evil. Pretty hoky stuff, in my opinion. This wouldn’t have even been worth watching for 30 minutes, let alone a whole hour. This is on my Do Not Watch list. Folksy Quotient: 10

“Ring-a-Ding Girl” (1963) Season 5
Small town girl makes it in Hollywood and returns home for one last visit. It’s got that Hamner touch along with the Twilight Zone twist that her plane has crashed before she was seen throughout the town. Foksy Quotient: 3

“You Drive” (1964) Season 5
Oliver Pope hits a little boy while driving his car and speeds off without stopping to help him. Later the boy dies. Since there were no witnesses, Pope thinks he is in the clear. The car, however, “saw” the whole thing and won’t rest until Pope is brought to justice. A little heavy handed for my taste. Folksy Quotient: 2

“Black Leather Jackets” (1964) Season 5
The aliens are coming, the aliens are coming! Fortunately, one of them falls in love with Shelley Fabares, fresh off the “Donna Reed Show.” Folksy Quotient: 2

“Stopover in a Quiet Town” (1964) Season 5
A couple wakes up one morning and don’t know where they are. They assume they went to the wrong house after drinking too much the night before. They soon learn that they aren’t even on the right planet. Folksy Quotient: 9

“The Bewitchin’ Pool” (1964) Season 5
Earl Hamner had the dubious honor of writing the final episode of the original Twilight Zone series. Hamner apparently was appalled at the way parents cast aside their children through divorce. Bringing this to the forefront was a noble effort, but the story was fraught with so many annoyances that it remains toward the top of my Do Not Watch list. Why do the children have a hillbilly twang to their voices when they live in a beautiful mansion with a huge inground pool? The voice of Sport, the little girl, had to be dubbed in by an adult actress due to backlot noise covering the voice of the original child actress. The result is difficult to listen to. The Tom Sawyer land that the children swim to at the bottom of their pool is particularly ridiculous, including Aunt T. Folksy Quotient: 10

Television Writing After Twilight Zone

Hamner wrote for the “Gentle Ben” from 1967–1969 and wrote four episodes of the “Nanny and the Professor” in 1970.

The Waltons “The Waltons” ran 9 seasons from 1971 until 1981. Three reunion movies were made later, including A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion, A Walton Wedding and A Walton Easter.

Hamner created two more television series, “Apple’s Way” (1974–1975) and “Boone” (1983–1984), but each lasted just one season.

 

Awards

Christopher Award (five times)
George Foster Peabody Award – 1972
Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama in 1973 for “The Waltons”

Earl Hamner was a gentle soul who wrote fondly of his close family ties and the values he learned while growing up poor in material goods, but rich in love and human kindness. Perhaps “The Twilight Zone” was a bit out of the genre he would come to be so closely associated with. But his well-honed craft served him well, both on Walton’s Mountain and in “The Twilight Zone. On Hamner’s web site it states:

Until the end of his life, Hamner held to a personal vision of television and motion pictures as media for affirming the better angels of human nature, reminding his audience that the past is never dead; it’s not even past. His world of wondering boyhood and moral imagination can never stale. In Depression-era Walton’s Mountain, in the opulence of Falcon Crest, even in the unnerving alternative worlds of The Twilight Zone, he created worlds to delight in and revisit time and again.

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