Earl Hamner was born and raised in Schuyler, Virginia. He was one of eight children and the son of a stone quarry worker. Although they were poor, education was extremely important in their family. His father used to say, “You will go to school until you can whip me.” All eight children graduated from high school. Each succeeding Hamner would help the others financially, and that is how six Hamners were able to obtain college educations.
Hamner attended the University of Richmond and later transferred to North Western University. He worked as a census-taker, a truck driver, a dispatcher for a transfer company, a typewriter for civil war diaries, and a radio actor. He worked as a writer for WLW in Cincinnati and a staff writer for NBC New York. In 1962 he moved out west and began writing works for Rod Sterling’s “Twilight Zone.” After that he wrote for nearly every major television series during that time period and did film adaptations for “Charlotte’s Web” and “Where the Lilies Bloom.”
Hamner’s biggest success was The Waltons, a television series concerned with a poor but upright family of three generations living together during the Depression era. He poured many of his childhood memories and stories told to him by his grandparents into this show. The series won six Emmys. The Waltons first originated from Hamner’s book Spencer’s Mountain, which was made into a movie in 1961 starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. The first eighteen chapters of this book were taken to comprise a novel called The Homecoming. This was made into a two-hour television special presented by CBS during Christmas time in 1971 and 1974. From this stemmed the growth of the The Waltons.
Earl Hamner had a very positive outlook on people. He once said, “I used to think I didn’t have a message, but I realize every writer does. Whatever mine is, it’s something affirmative about people.” On another occasion he said about his TV shows The Waltons and Apple’s Way “[They] affirm the positive side of man….rather than concerning [themselves] with murder and violence and rape and the shadowy kind of people you see on television so much. People are hungry for a sense of security – and family relationships. What may seem as parental indulgence today is a new kind of respect for young people. The values by which we lived as children must not be watered down, because they are the kind which keep people strong.”
Earl Hamner’s home community Charlettesville-Schuyler, Virginia honored him with a county-wide celebration of “Earl Hamner Day.” In 1973 the University of Richmond awarded him with an Honorary Degree of Letters and in that same year he was named “Virginian of the Year” by the Virginia Press Association. Berea College awarded him with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1975.
Hovey, Rolf. “Earl Hamner, JR.—Dr. of Human Letters.” January 15, 1975. Print.