Earl Henry Hamner Jr. (born July 10, 1923), is an American television writer and producer (sometimes credited as Earl Hamner), best known for his work in the 1970s and 1980s on the long-running CBS series The Waltons and Falcon Crest. As a novelist, he is best known for Spencer's Mountain, which was inspired by his own childhood and formed the basis for both the film of the same name and the television series The Waltons, for which he provided voiceover narration.
Earl Hamner, Jr. was born July 10, 1923 in Schuyler, Virginia to parents Doris Marion (née Giannini) and Earl Henry Hamner, Sr. The oldest of eight children, Hamner's family siblings consisted of five boys and three girls. After Hamner, the boys, from oldest to youngest, were James Edmund, Paul Louis, Clifton Anderson, and Willard Harold. The girls, from oldest to youngest were Audrey Jane, Nancy Alice, and Marion Lee.
The family of Hamner's mother, the Gianninis, were immigrants who came to the United States from Lucca, Italy in the 1700s. His father's family came to Virginia from Wales, where his ancestors, the Spencers and the Hamners, had been for more than a thousand years before immigrating. Until the 1900s, the Hamners were tobacco farmers near James River, Virginia when they moved to Schuyler located on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A company town where the economy was based in soapstone mining by New Alberene Stone, Schuyler was hit hard by the Great Depression and the company and its mines were forced to close. Hamner's father worked in the mines from the time his oldest son was born until the company's closing. After losing his job, Earl, Sr. could only find work as a machinist at the DuPont factory in Waynesboro, Virginia, about 30 miles away. Because of the distance between home and work, Earl, Sr. lived at a boarding house in Waynesboro during the week and travelled back to Schuyler and his family on the weekend. Taking a bus from Waynesboro to Charlottesville, Virginia and another stop along the way, Hamner's father would walk six miles to the family home at the end of his weekly journey. Taking that walk in on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1933 was the inspiration for "The Homecoming", Hamner's 1970 novel which became a Christmas special and the pilot for The Waltons in 1971.
In 1954, Hamner wrote “Hit and Run”, an episode of the NBC legal drama Justice in which guest star E.G. Marshall played a man haunted by his crime of striking a newsboy on a bicycle and fleeing the scene of the accident. He reprised the theme in the 1964 “You Drive” episode of The Twilight Zone.
Hamner also contributed eight episodes in the early 1960s to the CBS science fiction series The Twilight Zone. His first script acceptance for the series was his big writing break in Hollywood.
He created two less successful series, Apple's Way (1974-1975) on CBS starring Ronny Cox, and Boone on NBC (1983–1984), with Tom Byrd and Barry Corbin.
Hamner used family names to title his projects: Spencer (Spencers Mountain) is the maiden name of his paternal grandmother Susan Henry Spencer Hamner. The Waltons comes from his paternal grandfather Walter Clifton Hamner and great-grandfather Walter Leland Hamner.
List of works
- Fifty Roads to Town (1953)
- Spencer's Mountain (1961)
- You Can't Get There From Here (1965)
- The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer's Mountain (1970)
- The Avocado Drive Zoo (a memoir) (1999)
- Good Night, John Boy (reminiscences of making The Waltons TV series) (2002)
- Generous Women (collection of memoirs) (2006)
- Spencer's Mountain (1963)
- Palm Springs Weekend (1963)
- Charlottes Web (1973)
- Highway (1954)
for The Twilight Zone :
- "The Hunt" (1962)
- "A Piano in the House" (1962)
- "Jess-Belle" (1963)
- "Ring-a-Ding Girl" (1963)
- "You Drive" (1964)
- "Black Leather Jackets" (1964)
- "Stopover in a Quiet Town" (1964)
- "The Bewitchin' Pool" (1964)
- Heidi (1969)
- Appalachian Autumn (1969)
- Aesop's Fables (1971)
- The Homecoming (for CBS, 1971)
- Where the Lilies Bloom (1972)
- The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story (1983)