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Creator of ''The Waltons'' returns to Berea

Earl Hamner, at age 83, is still exemplifying and espousing the same traditional values that have been his trademark since he became known in the 1970’s as the writer and producer of “The Waltons,” the most-viewed television program of that decade.

Earl Hamner with Appalachian Heritage Editor George Brosi and featured artist Elizabeth Ellison

As the featured author of the Spring 2007 issue of Appalachian Heritage, published by Berea College, he gave a reading on campus on the 22nd of June.

Despite a horrific traffic snarl occasioned by the closure of I-75, Hamner enjoyed an audience of approximately 100 guests. They included his biographer, Jim Person, who drove in from Michigan with his wife and daughter, the widow of the best man in Hamner’s wedding who came in from Louisville, other out-of-town fans, as well as Berea College staff, faculty and students.

The audience listened eagerly as Mr. Hamner shared his remarks, reminding this observer of the Walton children listening to Grandpa share stories from his past. And, like Grandpa, Mr. Hamner twinkled with good humor as he spoke in that softly accented gentle voice instantly recognized as the narrator of the 1970’s TV hit. Mr. Hamner’s story-telling is quite simply the audible equivalent of a Norman Rockwell Painting.

The basic message of the address concerned the importance of the continuity between writing generations. He singled out the role of the novel, The Time of Man by Elizabeth Maddox Roberts (1881-1941) of Springfield, Kentucky, in encouraging him to write about his own people. Then he cited the work of the young novelist, Silas House of Lily, Kentucky, who had been inspired by John-Boy of the Waltons to dream of becoming a writer.

Following his prepared remarks, Mr. Hamner responded to several questions, informing his audience that his future plans included crafting an Appalachian version of the story “Heidi” as a gift to his hometown, Schuyler, Virginia, on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, to be performed at the local theatre named in his honor. Hamner quipped with a smile that at his age he had to write fast.

In closing, Hamner observed that he still holds with his life-long belief that “ . . . people are more good than evil—the values which sustained our ancestors through troubled times are still worthy, and we should think of ourselves as custodians of the values.”

George Brosi, editor of Appalachian Heritage magazine, hosted Mr. Hamner’s Berea visit which, at his request, lasted almost a week. Brosi commented, “The thing about Earl is he has lived up to his image—he is a genuine kind of hero. He has not disappointed his fans; he really does epitomize the values he writes about.”

One of the side trips that Hamner requested during his visit was to the Pine Mountain Settlement School, an affiliate of Berea College located in Harlan County, Kentucky. Hamner’s first assignment as a young journalist was to write about William Creech who had donated the land where the school was built.

Although Hamner’s name is not widely known, his work as a whole clearly shows his iconic stature in Appalachian literature. Said Brosi “I can’t think of any other work in or on the Appalachian region that has the incredible name recognition of 'The Waltons.'”

Hamner is the author of six novels. Spencer’s Mountain and The Homecoming were both made into movies and became the basis for the long-running television series “The Waltons.” In addition to his books and TV series, Hamner has written extensively for films and television.

Hamner’s diverse television credits include reporting for The Today Show. He has written for shows that include The Twilight Zone and CBS Playhouse, and is the creator and producer of the long-running television drama Falcon Crest. His other movie credits include Where the Lilies Bloom, Palm Springs Weekend and the first animated feature based on E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

For his writing, Hamner has been honored by the Television Academy with an Emmy. He has also received the Peabody Award for Distinguished Journalism, The Man of the Year Award from the State of Virginia, and has received honorary degrees from several institutions of higher education, including Berea College (1979).

This event was co-sponsored by the Berea College Appalachian Center and the Department of English, Theatre and Speech Communication.

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