The film was adapted from my best-selling novel by the same name. One of the stipulations of the sale to Warner Bros. was that the script be written by the man who was to direct the movie, Delmer Daves. I wanted to write the script, but the price they were offering was too attractive to turn down so I took the deal.

I wish the film could have been shot in my native Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but the budget demanded it be shot closer to Hollywood. Consequently, it was filmed in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. The move to Wyoming produces a slightly disjointed effect. It seemed to imply that the Spencer clan owned a fair hunk of expensive real estate in the Grand Tetons, whereas in the book the family owns a modest mountain in the Blue Ridge.

Reviewer Bruce Elder summed up the movie very nicely: "For a family picture, not to mention a story that later became the old-fashioned-values series The Waltons, Spencer's Mountain sure has a lot in it about sex. Henry Fonda gives an interesting portrayal in one of his more unusual roles, as Clay Spencer, the hard-drinkin', hard-livin', hard-lovin', hard cussin' patriarch of a fiercely independent Wyoming family living in the Grand Tetons . . . . [He's] busy trying to finish the house he promised his wife (Maureen O'Hara) to house their constantly growing brood, and trying to help his eldest son, Clay-Boy (James MacArthur) -- who's going to be the first Spencer to get past high school -- prepare for college and manhood. . . . There's also a good bit of human drama here, and some especially nuanced performances by Donald Crisp and Lillian Bronson, as Fonda's aging parents. . . [This] is a surprisingly engrossing comedy-drama of a kind that probably could not be made today, even with a top-name cast."

I always felt that Tom Keogh's review of the movie got it exactly right. After all, how could an author not love a review that begins with "A true television classic"?

"A true television classic, The Homecoming was the second movie (after 1963's Spencer's Mountain) based on Earl Hamner's autobiographical writings about love, pride, faith, and survival in rural America during the Great Depression. The Homecoming introduced the Walton family, a 1930s mountain clan living a hardscrabble existence that forces patriarch John Walton (Andrew Duggan) to seek work, far from home, in the city. When John fails to return home, as promised, on Christmas Eve, his iron-willed wife Olivia (Patricia Neal) keeps a lid on their children's worry. Oldest son John-Boy (Richard Thomas), who privately dreams of becoming a writer but worries about disappointing his parents, is dispatched to find his dad. Graceful yet harder-edged than the subsequent TV series The Waltons (which recast several characters and ran for nine years), The Homecoming reveals, albeit understatedly, much about the pain of poverty even as the family draws strength and closeness through endurance." -- Tom Keogh

Much of the success of the film can be attributed to the contribution of director Fielder Cook. Fielder was one of the vastly talented group that made early live television drama worthy of the era's title: "The Golden Years." In addition, he was especially well chosen for the project because he was a Virginian and brought firsthand knowledge of the people I wrote about in my script.

And what a cast! I had recently seen Richard Thomas in one of his early films, Red Sky at Morning, and he was my first choice to play the role of John-Boy. Patricia Neal was the embodiment of Olivia, the earth mother, but still sexy and glamorous. This was the first role she had chosen to play after her stroke and she was such a pro that she arrived from London with her dialogue perfectly memorized and ready to face the camera. Edgar Bergen was a superb grandfather, and Ellen Corby, a stunning choice, was to return to repeat her role when the movie became a series.

Most knowledgeable actors avoid playing opposite children because the little rascals steal scenes ruthlessly. The actors who played my younger brothers and sisters were especially challenging because each of them was talented, attractive, confident, and professional. Judy Norton WAS the tom-boy sister, Mary Ellen. Jon Walmsley conveyed Jason's warmth and talent with ease, Mary Beth McDonough's portrayal of "the pretty sister" captured not just her beauty but a totally appealing character, Eric Scott was a fabulous Ben, and David Harper was a most well-portrayed Jim-Bob. The youngest actor was Kami Cotler, and while she played Elizabeth, the baby of the family, she held her own with every adult on the set!

Like so many people who love the film, I watch it every Christmas Eve.

I had met Jack Warner during the making of Spencer's Mountain and we seemed to hit it off during a brief meeting, an unlikely bonding between a studio executive who was said to be disdainful of all writers and a newcomer to Hollywood from the backwoods of Virginia. I suspect he enjoyed the story I told him about my father, a man who used curse words and profanity with invention and fervor. The story I told Mr. Warner was that when I called home to tell my father that Henry Fonda would portray him in the film, there was a long silence. My father finally responded with an awed, "I'll be a son of a bitch!"

Still I was surprised when Mr. Warner summoned me to his office and said, "I've got all these young kids under contract and I want to keep them busy. So I want you to go to Palm Springs during Easter Week and bring me back a movie."

The story, partially based on my week's stay there, but mostly coming out of my imagination, became Palm Springs Weekend. In it a college basketball player (Troy Donahue) pursues Bunny Dixon (Stefanie Powers), the daughter of the local police chief (Andrew Duggan). A second story is woven around actress Connie Stevens posing as a college student (but actually still in high school) who cannot decide between a cowboy named Stretch (Ty Hardin) or Eric Dean (Robert Conrad), the dashing son of a wealthy family. Highly comedic moments are supplied by Jack Weston and Carole Cook. The director was Norman Taurog, who went on to direct most of the Elvis Presley movies.

Robert Radnitz is best known as the producer of quality family films. I had admired his work on such classics as Sounder, Misty, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, so I was pleased when my agent notified me that Radnitz would like to discuss a project with me. His office was located at what is now the CBS Studio Center, down at the foot of the hill where I live. We found common ground almost immediately due to the fact that he had attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, just twenty-four miles away from the village where I was born and raised.

Bob had recently bought the rights to a book called Where the Lilies Bloom by a husband and wife writing team, Bill and Vera Cleaver. He was looking for a writer to adapt the book to film. I took a copy of the book home, read it, and was excited at the prospect of being involved.

The story is an appealing one. Mary Call Luther (Julie Gholson), a thirteen-year-old girl from the backwoods of the Great Smoky Mountains, makes a deathbed promise to her father (Rance Howard -- father of director Ron Howard). She pledges to keep the family together, to care for her younger siblings, and to never allow her dreamy, slow-witted older sister, Devola (Jan Smithers), to marry their neighbor, Kiser Pease (Harry Dean Stanton).

The Cleavers created engaging characters that have unexpected depth and vulnerabilities. They also used to dramatic effect the practice of "wildcrafting," which is the collecting and selling of medicinal herbs native to that part of the country. It was a custom I knew a little bit about from my Grandmother Hamner's use of native herbs to cure anything from croup to asthma, and my own father supplemented his income from time to time by collecting and selling ginseng.

Mary Call makes a valiant effort to keep her promise to her father, but after monumental challenges she has to admit that she cannot carry the burden; and in a compassionate and moving conclusion the authors provide us with a portrait of a child who takes on heroic tasks but in the end becomes what she really is: a brave little girl who has bitten off more than she can chew.

It was a hallmark of Radnitz's dedication to his work that he always filmed his movies on the location where the story took place. This one he filmed in Watauga County, North Carolina. In writing the script, the location shoot produced a challenge in that the book covers all four seasons of the year, but the budget demanded that the crew complete their filming in just a few weeks in the summer. Somehow in the adaptation I condensed the story, and I hope without too much harm to the authors' original work.

High on my list of literary heroes is E. B. White. I had revered him from the first time I read his tribute to my favorite city in the world, New York. It was called "Here Is New York," and it is a loving celebration of the city as a former citizen views it from a room at the Algonquin Hotel on a hot summer weekend. I had always loved the city from afar, but when I moved there in 1949 I saw it through Mr. White's eyes and it enriched my perception of the city giving it depth, color, substance, and reference.

Being a fan of E. B. White, I had also read his books for children. High on my list was his classic Charlotte's Web, with its imaginative story of love, friendship, sacrifice, and regeneration. Charlotte is a spider, and she saves the life of Wilbur the pig by writing a description of Wilbur in her web. She tells the world that he is humble, radiant, and terrific -- and her ploy works.

When my agent called and said I had been nominated to write the adaptation for the animated movie, I said, "I'll write it for nothing!" This notion did not appeal to my agent, Lee Rosenberg, so he negotiated a suitable fee and I went to work on the script.

I have written adaptations of prose work to film in radio, television, and feature film; and my one guiding principle has always been to keep the integrity of the original writer's work. More so than with any other project, I felt this obligation to E. B. White.

Paramount Studios had bought the film rights to the book and they farmed the actual work of producing the animated film to Hanna-Barbera, a production company known best for such animated television staples as Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, and Huckleberry Hound. Most of the company's work featured limited animation rather than the richer, more sophisticated animation being done by Disney. Still Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna extended themselves for Charlotte's Web, and the animation is on par with the work of any of the other animation studios.

I was told years later that Mr. White and his wife wanted the score to be based on music by Mozart. The studio made a choice that was probably wiser and selected Bob and Dick Sherman, who had recently written the memorable score for Mary Poppins. The brothers created unforgettable songs for Charlotte, from the catchy "A Fair is a Veritable Schmorgasboard-orgasboard-orgasboard" to the joyous "I Can Talk!" and the nostalgic "Mother Earth and Father Time."

If the gods had been kind in the selection of the Sherman Brothers, they were equally generous in the casting of the actors to give voice to the animated characters.

Debbie Reynolds was Charlotte. She gave depth and compassion even to a creature that declares in the script that she loves blood. Yet the final act in her life is to save the life of her friend, a pig.

Paul Lynde gave a performance that was outrageous in its invention and daring, totally illustrative of the craven character of Templeton the rat.

Henry Gibson brought a naivety and sweetness to Wilbur the pig, who learns to his horror that his destiny is to be slaughtered.

The casting of the distinguished actress Agnes Moorehead was inspired, and no one who has seen the movie will ever forget her multi-syllable versions of Mr. White's dialogue devised for the Goose.

And so director Iwao Takamoto assembled a good script, some fine music, some excellent actors, and a group of dedicated artists together and the humble, radiant, terrific book became a humble, radiant, and terrific movie!

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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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