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Shortly after I moved to California I discovered that one's neighbors were often people of note. A famous director lived just around the corner. One of the actors from Desperate Housewives lived directly across the street. One of the more gratifying discoveries was that the distinguished novelist Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey lived nearby. When my book Generous Women was about to be published, I asked her for a comment. Her comment (which appears on the book's back cover) was generous and gracious, and it fills me with pride to read it:

"A reader often falls in love with a writer through his work but can sometimes fall out of love with him on learning about his life. Not so with Earl Hamner.

The wise and tender creator of The Waltons, who so memorably lent his story and his voice to his fictional counter-part, John-Boy, now, in a book of enormous charm, leads us through the further adventures of the aspiring writer from a small town in the South by way of the 'generous women' who helped him along the way.

What an original and delightful way to disguise an autobiography, beginning with his rooted-to-the-earth-mother, who was equally at home making biscuits for her family, or, years later, entertaining the tourists and fans of her famous son. But the chapters in this book are not just sentimental bouquets. They are like the colorful pieces of a mosaic, sharp-edged, each one distinct, yet together forming a memorable portrait of the artist as a young man transformed by time and experience into the older and wiser husband and father who is my neighbor today.

Reading this book a chapter a night is like finding a chocolate on your pillow." -- Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of A Woman of Independent Means


We fell in love with the house on Avocado Drive the first time we saw it. We were house hunting and had become lost in the Hollywood hills. Eventually, we came to a pretty winding country road. When we saw the For Sale sign, we parked the car and peered through the tall windows of the empty house. From the outside we could see the tall ceilings, a generous-sized living room with fireplace, and a view that encompassed the entire San Fernando Valley.

Jane and I agreed on the spot that this was the house we had been searching for. This is the house that became "home" with all the warmth and comfort the word implies. It was here we raised our two children and an enormous number of household pets as well as wildlife that occasionally became part of our lives.

And it is still home today for the house has sheltered us well. The street has changed and many of our friends have died or moved away, but we still love the house and the street and we do not plan ever to leave.

The Avocado Drive Zoo is a comical account of the colorful cast of animals who have lived with my family on Avocado Drive. Among them have been Jane's possessive cocker spaniel pup, Clementine, who bit Earl as he proposed marriage, twelve box turtles from Virginia, bantam hens and roosters, a baby chick named Blackie, and Tallmadge the mouse, whose gluttony ended an unusual relationship with the family. And then there was Gus the dog, whose amorous inclinations brought on his early demise, Willie the family rat, Yarrow the white Labrador, and a family of coyotes. Also, Surprise the cat, which nearly decimated the family of pet rats, Raymond the rabbit and George the guinea pig, who were soul and crate mates, the alligator who lived in the bathtub, and a host of other unnamed pets and critters.

As time goes by, stories about each of these creatures and my family will be read aloud by me for you right here on the website.



WITH INTRODUCTION AND COMMENTARY BY TONY ALBARELLA

Writing scripts for The Twilight Zone was one of the greatest pleasures of my writing career. I will forever be grateful to my friend, Rod Serling, for the opportunity he gave me.

How I came to be a "Twilight Zone writer" is as twisted and complicated a story as one of the scripts for the show itself.

Prior to 1960, I had been a successful novelist. I had supported my family and myself by writing radio scripts at NBC during the day and writing my novels by night. Television had sneaked its way into the public awareness and had so gradually established itself that to be a radio writer was considered to be about the same as being a pterodactyl. I had written some scripts during what has become known as the Golden Age of Television, but the body of my work remained in my novels or in my radio scripts.

In 1960, the script department at NBC where I had worked as a radio writer was dissolved.
Television, its Golden Age now only a memory, had become a major advertising medium. What was worse -- it had moved to Hollywood; and rather than the innovative live dramas created by a remarkable group of young writers, directors and producers, it was now produced almost entirely on film. Consequently the goal became not to entertain, to elevate, or to educate, which the medium was so well equipped to do, but to make as much money as possible.

By that time I had a wife and two small children to support. I was tempted to move to a farm in Connecticut and write novels. While that was an appealing idea, it was a highly impractical one. Finally when the market for my work in New York went west, my family and I were forced to go west with it. Back in those days writers in Hollywood were quickly pigeonholed. You were designated a particular kind of writer and it was difficult to move beyond that designation. In spite of the fact that I had written two novels and several television scripts were produced before live audiences, the powerful Hollywood establishment designated me a radio writer. It almost proved fateful.

With my severance pay from NBC, Jane and I moved our little family as far west as her parents' home in Davenport, Iowa. She and the children were to wait there until I found work on the West Coast. Almost immediately I found that I was unemployable. I HAD NOT WRITTEN FOR FILM!

It was the kiss of death. The prevailing notion at that time was that if you had not written for film there was no place for you in Hollywood.

Still, I went ahead and rented a modest little house in Studio City and was shortly joined by Jane, Scott, Caroline, and two neurotic cocker spaniels, Clementine and Chloe. Swiftly the NBC severance pay slipped away. What saved us was the generosity of Jane's Aunt Minnie back in Davenport, Iowa. Checks arrived along with suggestions that perhaps Earl should look into another line of work.

Was there anyone I could turn to?

Back in 1949 when I was a student at the University of Cincinnati, I had submitted a script in a contest under the auspices of a radio show called Dr. Christian. Dr. Christian was a kindly old family doctor who tended the citizens of a small town called River's End. My script won high honors, and I was invited to come to New York to appear on a special broadcast featuring the winning writers. Rod Serling was one of the other winners. We met. He and Carol were both students at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, but not yet married. It was the first of a haphazard relationship that was to prove most beneficial to me, and one that I hope was rewarding to Rod.

Our paths were almost to cross a few years later when I resigned my job as a writer at WLW in Cincinnati to devote full time to writing a novel. Rod took the job that I had left and whenever we would meet in Hollywood, years later, he would introduce me as "the man who gave him his first job." As it turned out, it was Rod who gave me my first job in Hollywood.

From its inception I had been a fan of The Twilight Zone, but my writing had been concerned primarily with homespun material, stories about families, usually with Appalachian backgrounds. It had never occurred to me that I could write fantasy.

Faced with starvation I decided I could write fantasy. I wrote out two ideas as the basis for a Twilight Zone script and sent them to Rod. Days later a note came back saying that story ideas were selected by a committee and that he had sent my notions on to the committee. I thought that Rod had politely told me that my ideas were not right for the show, but then several days later the phone rang and Buck Houghton, Rod's producer, said, "We like those ideas you submitted. We'd like to buy them."

He went on to say that they had learned that I had not written for film, but would I consider writing the scripts up in play form. I assured Buck that I would write them up as television scripts.

This was the beginning of what was to establish me as a working writer in Hollywood and led to writing scripts for Rod that I am proud of to this day.



By Earl Hamner and Ralph Giffin

Goodnight John-Boy is a memory book of The Waltons. Of all of my books, this one has sold the most copies and continues to be in demand. My collaborator and friend, Ralph Giffin, and I set out to enrich the experience of all those fans that had been such a force in getting the show off the ground and keeping it on the air for so many years.

We compiled a comprehensive episode guide filled with anecdotes, comments, and memories from numerous people connected with the series: writers, actors, directors, producers, family, and fans. With its many photographs from the show and from the Hamner family, Goodnight John-Boy has become a treasured record of this historic series which even today is being seen in reruns around the world and continues to be beloved by millions of loyal fans. An insightful foreword is provided by John-Boy himself, actor Richard Thomas.

One of Richard's comments resonates forcefully in today's economically troubled world: "It is significant that The Waltons celebrated familism and healing during the tough times of the Great Depression, and that it was first aired in the early seventies, a time when alienation, cynicism, Watergate, and the last years of the Vietnam War made its brand of family programming and deep-rooted optimism truly unique and even daring."

In my closing narration, on the last episode of The Waltons I said, "I hope that you will remember this house as I do. The mystical blue ridges that stretch beyond it into infinity, the sound of warm voices drifting out upon the night air, a family waiting, and a light in the window. Goodnight."


By Earl Hamner and Don Sipes

When my agent called to say that the Tommy Nelson Publishing Company had asked if I was interested in writing a Christmas story about Lassie, I jumped at the chance. Who doesn't love Lassie! And my love for the legendary collie went as far back as the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall. Six degrees of separation: The father in the film was the delightful English actor Donald Crisp, who was later to portray my grandfather in the film Spencer's Mountain.

But my association with the dog went back to even an earlier time. Once again, the call came from Sam Adams, my agent: "How would you like to write a Lassie special? The offer's from Bunny Granville [he meant the one time child actress Bonita Granville], and she's married to Jack Wrather, who owns oil wells -- and they pay well." I said, "Yessssssssssss!"

I had met rich people before, but I had never known such really, really rich people. When I went for the initial interview, it was held in the Wrather Building in Beverly Hills. I had hardly signed the contract before I found myself on a plane sitting next to "Bunny," as she instructed me to address her. The legendary oil man was seated in front of us. He seemed genuinely interested in the project and was a very down-to-earth man for a man so wealthy. I liked them both.

In those days I was nervous about flying, and it was obvious to Bunny. "Darling," she suggested, "The best way to get over it is to buy your own plane." I promised I would do that. In the meantime, turbulence had developed and I was terrified. She then did a most surprising thing. She took my hand and said, "We are going to pray." And then she said, "Lord, bless this plane. Bless the engine. Bless the wings. Bless the landing gear. Bless the pilot and all who make it fly, and all of us who are aboard."

I made the rest of the journey most comfortably. We were royally received at The Plaza Hotel and also at the network we had come to sell the episode to. The script was called Lassie, A New Beginning and to be honest I haven't the faintest idea what it was about or who was in it, but I will never forget Bunny Granville Wrather.

Incidentally, I have become more comfortable about flying over the years so it never really became necessary to buy my own plane!

It is remembered in my family that on Christmas Eve of 1933 my father was late arriving home. In families such as mine the oldest son is sent to look for the father. That night, and my quest to find my father, became the basis for this book.

Schuyler is a hamlet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains twenty-four miles south of Charlottesville. It came into being at the turn of the century when it was discovered that the area rested on a massive vein of soapstone. By the late twenties we were a population of about seven hundred folks. Most of the men worked in quarrying, finishing, or shipping soapstone and its products. When the Great Depression came, the mill closed.

My father was a skilled mechanic, and he was able to find work at the DuPont Company in Waynesboro just over the other side of the Shenandoah Valley. He came home on weekends travelling by bus to Charlottesville and then transferring to the southbound bus, getting off at Hickory Creek, then walking the remaining six miles home.

On that Christmas Eve of 1933, a heavy snowstorm began in the afternoon, and by nightfall the roads were impassable. The Homecoming is an account of the anxious hours that followed.

The book received good reviews and enjoyed modest sales and might have passed into oblivion had not a friend -- an agent -- Malcolm Stewart sent it to a new production company called Lorimar Productions. Lorimar submitted it to CBS, which resulted in a two-hour, made-for-television movie. That special then resulted in the landmark series, The Waltons.

When I worked as a radio writer at NBC in the early fifties, I became close friends with a writer whose office was down the hall. His name was Jack Wilson. He worshiped words and at heart he was a poet. I once described him as "impaled on beauty," but that wasn't even close. He was extremely sensitive to people. And while he was aware of man's fragile nature, he believed equally that above all we are creatures capable of nobility. It just disappointed him when we failed to measure up to that potential. The world was frequently a painful place for my friend, and more often than not he took refuge in alcohol.

Back in those days, I stayed on at my office after hours and wrote novels. Since the public elevators in the RCA Building stopped running at midnight, Jack and I would frequently run into each other on the freight elevator. After a hard day's work, we would usually look for relaxation in jazz joints like Jimmy Ryan's over on 52nd Street or Eddie Condons down in the Village. Jack was fond of boilermakers. I tried to keep up with him and failed. But while we were still vocal we would play a game that Jack had made up. It was called "You Can't Get There from Here." The concept was that we, Jack and I, and indeed most of the people we knew, had come so far from the precious places in our lives and we ourselves had changed so greatly in our journey that we could not get back to them. It was simply a variant on the theme that Thomas Wolfe so brilliantly wrote about in You Can't Go Home Again. Jack was from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and that was the place he could not get back to. The place I couldn't get back to, of course, was Schuyler, Virginia.

I wrote this novel as a tribute to my friend, Jack. I lost track of him after I moved from New York, but I learned years later that he had stopped drinking and spent his last years in an assisted-living home somewhere near Washington, D.C.

And if it is true that our spirits live on after death, then I am sure there is a very devoted one keeping a loving watch over Altoona, Pennsylvania.

 


By Earl Hamner and Don Sipes

I had asked a friend, Don Sipes, to join me in producing and writing a television series called The McGregors, a spin-off of the wonderful Australian movie, The Man from Snowy River.

Don was a distinguished television executive. He had been president of the Television Division of Universal Studios, so he knew the field from top to bottom. And he was also a writer with a novel under his belt.

Home from Australia and "in-between assignments," we decided, as a lark, to write a parody of a murder mystery using the television industry as a background. We threw in every cliché: the flamboyant director, the maniacal producer, the slimy agent, the aspiring young actress.

Producer William Link (of Columbo and Murder She Wrote) described the book as (tongue- in-cheek): "An action-packed mystery which rips the mask off, exposing the real Hollywood." We sent the manuscript to my agent, Don Congdon. Don was accustomed to the high literary quality of manuscripts sent in by his clients such as Ray Bradbury and William Styron, and so he fired the manuscript right back to us with an indignant note saying he had never seen so many clichés in one manuscript in his entire career.

A friend in Tulsa took pity on us and published it as a favor. He no longer speaks to me.

My collaborator Don Sipes is gone now, but we had a hilarious time writing the book, and I still think it would make a damn fine movie.

I began work on this book in the hedgerows of Normandy. We had recently waded ashore at Omaha Beach. The battle front was a few miles away and the sounds of gunfire were incessant. I was scared and young and homesick, and as I wrote in my journal I began to remember a promise my father made to my mother on the day they were married. He promised that one day he would build her a house of her own on the top of a mountain. He used to say that the sun goes down too soon for a poor man, and so he never got around to building the house. But the dream sustained us as a family through hardships and trial. The book became a New York Times bestseller, a film starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara, and was published in ten different languages.

The distinguished novelist Harper Lee said of Spencer's Mountain: "It is so easy to create a villain or an eccentric. It is so hard to create good people and make them unforgettable. Each character in Spencer's Mountain is memorable, because life itself flows in abundance from each. One finds pure joy in reading, for a change, a positive statement on the potentialities of man."

 

This was my first book -- a novel. I wrote it at night after putting in a full day's work at NBC as a radio writer. When I was a boy back in Nelson County, Virginia, I occasionally visited a holy roller church in the backwoods near our town. I was fascinated when the minister would work his followers into a frenzy in which they would dance orgiastically, have seizures in which they would writhe on the floor, and speak what they called "the unknown tongue."

I had two goals in writing the book. First, I wanted to tell the story of a young, sensitive Appalachian girl whose life of drudgery and submission is dictated by the culture she has been born into. As she approaches womanhood, she feels a profound sense of isolation and frustration of what seems to be her destiny in life. Second, I wanted to reproduce in the written word the sounds and cadences and beauty of the speech of the people of my area: the "Ragged Mountains" of Virginia.

It is a sensitive and lyrical love story. You can imagine my shock when the publisher's blurb-copy on the paperback edition read:

"An explosive novel about a hell-fire and brimstone preacher whose fever-pitched revival unleashes pent-up emotions and smoldering violence among the primitive men and women in an isolated mountain community."

 


by James E. Person Jr.

If you buy one book listed here, I strongly recommend that it be this one. It begins with an eloquent foreword by the gifted Kentucky novelist, Silas House. My friend and biographer Jim Person then goes on to furnish a detailed account of my life and my work. I recommend this book without reservation and with a great deal of pride. Jim Person is a gifted writer and editor, and in the writing of this book he also became a treasured friend. I especially like the following review:

"James E. Person's Earl Hamner: From Walton's Mountain to Tomorrow is a truly insightful and brilliant biography of a fine writer who has been largely neglected. Person digs deep into the life and character of Hamner and presents him to us with a flair for language that transcends a mere presentation of time, events, and dates. He reaches into the heart of this important novelist who in our era of rapid changes and tempests has led us, through the artistry of his craft, to enduring goodness, honor and courage." --William Hoffman, author of Wild Thorn, Tidewater Blood, Blood and Guile, and others.

 


Essential Lessons From 21 Extraordinary People
by John St. Augustine Essay

John St. Augustine has spent many years interviewing some of the world's leading citizens, including Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Kramer, John Denver, and Dorothy Hamill. Mr. St. Augustine identifies each as having learned to live an "uncommon life." He writes, "Perhaps if there is one 'key' to living an uncommon life, it's developing the ability to live what you already know is right, true, and effective and letting go of what is wrong, false, and ineffective." I was, therefore, extremely proud when he included me in this formidable company, in the chapter titled "It's All in the Family."


by Paul Saunders

Although I am mentioned in the book, this is not the reason I list it here. Paul Saunders has written the definitive book on Nelson County (VA), and he describes -- more fully than I had time for on television -- the history, the people, and the natural beauty of Nelson County that has inspired and still inspires my writing.

Published by Saunders Publishing, Piney River, VA 22964

 


Delbert Mann: Looking Back at Live Television and Other Matters

This Academy Award-winning director takes readers on a lively journey through the modern era of entertainment: from the early days of live television, to film, Broadway, and opera.
Delbert was a good friend, and I was fortunate to have him direct two of my scripts. He writes at length here about each of those productions from a serious drama titled The Gift of Love, starring Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick, to the notorious Heidi, which knocked the Oakland Raiders vs. the New York Jets game off the air and resulted in so many angry calls to NBC by outraged fans that the fuses blew out on the network switchboard.

 


55 People Tell the Story of the Book that Changed Their Life
by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks

In the interview with me, I describe the effect the book The Time of Man by Kentucky novelist Elizabeth Maddox Roberts had upon my life and work. In her work, I found the language of Appalachia that opened doors for me.


A Literary Quarterly of the Southern Appalachians. Published by Berea College, edited by George Brosi. Spring 2007.

When George Brosi invited me to be the featured author of this issue, I was honored and thrilled. Later, when I personally met the man and his family in Berea, Kentucky, I found myself to be an adopted member of his family dining with friends at a café in fabled Harlan County, speaking to audiences and signing books at Berea College in Kentucky and at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, and even attending an event at the Pine Mountain School which I had written about many years ago and where George's wife, Connie, had been a teacher. To know George and his family is to find comfort, refreshment, joy, and confirmation of the realization of the American dream.

 


Edited by Christopher Conlon

This book was edited by novelist and poet Christopher Conlon. In it, Chris invited two dozen writers to take a little-known, unfinished story fragment that Edgar Allan Poe wrote near the end of his life and turn it into a complete story in any way they wanted. My story is called A Passion For Solitude. And I hope I don't sound too boastful if I say I'm rather proud of it!


June-September 2008 Issue.
"The Guide" by Earl Hamner

The editor describes my story as "a tale about a strange, strange fishing trip." To be honest, when The Twilight Zone finished its lengthy run on television I had some stories in mind I never had the opportunity to write for the series. "The Guide" is one of them.

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Official website for Earl Hamner
Novelist, Screenwriter, Television writer, and Voice Over Recording artist for Documentaries and Commercials
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