Everyone is Welcome on The Waltons

As we celebrate some of our favorite families, The Walton family has to be on the list. Those of us who were kids in the seventies grew up with the Walton kids. Debuting in 1971, the show was canceled a decade later.

The Cast of The Waltons Photo: theguardian.com

The show was listed as a historical drama, but it had a lot of humor in it as well. Based on the book Spencer’s Mountain by Earl Hamner Jr. from 1961, the show was incredibly popular. In 1963 a movie was released based on the book. Hamner created the book from his childhood memories, and many of the plots and characters were based on real events and people. The ending of the episodes has often been parodied, and even if you never watched the show, you recognize the ending when the kids all said “Goodnight John Boy”, “Goodnight Ben”, “Goodnight Erin”, etc until they were told to go to sleep. Hamner said this was a regular activity in his home, and he did have six siblings.

In 1971 a made-for-tv movie called The Homecoming: A Christmas Story received great ratings, so the show was ordered by CBS for a new series. It was produced by Lorimar Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution in syndication. After the show went off the air, both CBS and NBC aired a total of six sequel movies.

The Waltons have a big family. John (Ralph Waite) and Olivia (Michael Learned) live with John’s parents Zebulon (Will Geer) and Esther (Ellen Corby). The couple has seven children: John Boy (Richard Thomas), Jason (Jon Walmsley), Mary Ellen (Judy Norton Taylor), Erin (Mary Elizabeth McDonough), Ben (Eric Scott), Jim Bob (David W. Harper), and Elizabeth (Kami Cotler).

The story was set in Virginia in Walton’s Mountain, a fictional town based on Spencer’s hometown of Schuyler. During the years that the show was on television, it covered 1933 to 1946. John runs a lumber mill, and the family does some farming. Halfway through the series, Grandma Walton has a stroke and Grandpa Walton passes away; in real life Corby did have a stroke and Geer died that year.

The Baldwin Sister Photo: thewaltons.com

During the run of the show, we get to know a lot of the community members including The Baldwin sisters, Emily and Mamie (Mary Jackson, Helen Kleeb), who sell Papa’s recipe, otherwise known as moonshine; Ike Godsey (Joe Conley) who runs the general store; Flossie Brimmer (Nora Marlow), a widow who owns a boarding house and communicates the town gossip; Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner), a local handyman; Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford), and Reverend Fordwick (John Ritter).

Although the Depression is hard for the family to navigate, WWII caused even more hardship in their community. All four Walton boys serve in the military as does Mary Ellen’s husband. John Boy’s plane is shot down, and Curtis (Tom Bower), Mary Ellen’s husband, a physician, was sent to Pearl Harbor and believed to have died. However, years later Mary Ellen learns he has been alive the entire time, and she finds him living under an assumed name, depressed from his wounds. They divorce, and she later finds love and marries a second time. In later seasons, Olivia volunteers at the VA hospital and is not an active member of the series. She later is said to develop TB and moves to a sanitarium in Arizona. Her cousin Rose (Peggy Rea) moves into the house to help take care of the family, and a couple of years later, John moves to Arizona as well. The sequel movies took place in 1947, 1963, 1964, and 1969.

John Boy grows up to be a journalist and a novelist; he narrates the opening and closing of each episode, and the voice of the adult John Boy is Earl Hamner, the author. He is able to attend Boatwright University in a nearby town before moving to New York to begin his writing career. Jason is interested in music, and Mary Ellen becomes a nurse.

Walton’s Mountain was part of the Hollywood Hills range near the Warner studios in Burbank, and the town was built at the studio as well. Because the original set was destroyed when the show was canceled, later sequels had to recreate the home. That building is still being used and became the Dragonfly Inn on Gilmore Girls.

Photo: entertainment weekly.com

Although the network did not think the show would last, the show was very popular with both the viewers and critics. The networks had just done the “rural purge” where they canceled all shows with rural themes even those like Green Acres that were receiving high ratings. However, congressional hearings were held to discuss the moral compass of programming on television, and President Bush wanted more family shows, so the network gave it a go. I’m guessing they did not want the show to do well considering it was definitely a rural show, and they put it up against The Flip Wilson Show and Mod Squad. Ralph Waite did not want to be tied to a series long term but his agent told him not to worry about it, the show would never sell.

When Thomas was asked about the show’s popularity, he said, “It was kind of a miracle and a mystery. Certainly, the last thing any of us expected was that it would be embraced the way it was. I think our competition on Thursday night was Flip Wilson and Mod Squad, which were hugely popular and terrific shows for people. I think we premiered in 34th place and finished the season in first. It was just this steady climb. The critical community certainly came and went to bat for us.”

In 1973 the series won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. That same year Richard Thomas won the Emmy for Lead Actor. Michael Learned received the Emmy in 1973, 1974, and 1976. Will Geer and Ellen Corby also were presented with awards: Corby won for Supporting Actress in 1973, 1975, and 1976 while Geer received the honor in 1975 as well.

The show’s ratings began declining in the late seventies. I’m not sure why Learned left the show; I do know she admits she suffered from alcoholism during those years. Waite was let go to save money for the series. The network wanted the show to concentrate on the younger viewers, but apparently, it was too late, or the show had come to the natural end of its life.

In the finale episode, the Walton family members and the Godseys attend a party at the Baldwin sisters’ mansion. If you look closely, you will see several unknown guests in the group–they included Hamner and other cast and crew members.

If you want to experience the life of this show, I have two suggestions for you. You can watch several seasons of the show on DVD, or you can check out John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast Inn which is located just behind the boyhood home of Hamner. It’s a five-bedroom, five-bathroom home inspired by the depression-era home of the Waltons.

Photo: amazon.com

It’s hard to explain the popularity that The Waltons had in the 1970s. I’m trying to come up with a show that was as critically acclaimed and was watched by the entire family for almost ten years. The only shows I can compare it to are Bonanza which aired for fourteen years and Little House on the Prairie which was on the air for nine years. Viewers embraced the characters and the values of the Walton’s Mountain community. We all felt we knew the family intimately and cared about what happened to them. It left a legacy, and I’m sure it influenced many people currently in the television industry. If you have never seen the show, you definitely want to watch a couple of seasons and if you grew up with it, you might want to revisit your old friends.

At The Summit of Coolness: The Rat Pack on Television

Photo: mentalfloss.com

For some reason, the group including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr. have been referred to the Rat Pack since the 1960s. The original rat pack was coined by Lauren Bacall about a group who gathered at her home whom she referred to as a pack of rats. The group we know as the Rat Pack preferred to call themselves the Clan or the Summit. Whatever they chose to call themselves, they had a hip, cool aura.

When one of the members of the group was scheduled to perform at Las Vegas, another one or two of the Clan would often show up as well. Because concert goers knew this, their shows tended to sell out. The Sands marquee promoted the possibility during one of Dean Martin’s shows when they put up “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.”

I thought it would be fun to look at the Rat Pack on television and see how much influence this group had. Let’s start with Old Blue Eyes.

FRANK SINATRA

Frank began his film career in the 1940s. In 1953 he had one of his most famous roles in From Here to Eternity. I was surprised to learn that he began appearing on television in the mid-1950s as well. He showed up in The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954, The Producer’s Showcase in 1955, and The Thin Man in 1958.

In the 1970s we find Frank showing up on Laugh-In for several appearances.

He also sang a few lullabies on Make Room for Granddaddy, Danny Thomas’ revival of his hit show Make Room for Daddy from the 1950s. I was amazed at the talent of actors who guest starred on the reboot considering the short time it was on the air, but that is a topic for a future blog. On this episode, he bumps into Danny. His wife Kathy is not happy Danny is bringing home a guest for dinner on “hamburger night” but then she learns it’s Frank. He sings “All the Way” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” for Danny’s grandson, Michael.

Photo: imdb.com

Jumping ahead a decade, we find Frank’s last two television roles, one as himself and one as a New York cop.

Frank had met Tom Selleck in Hawaii on one of his trips. In 1987 Frank appeared as Michael Doheny, a retired police sergeant on Selleck’s show, Magnum PI. Frank and his entourage traveled to Hawaii (although he worked for scale) and took over a floor at The Colony Surf in Diamond Head. In this episode he returns to help find the men who kidnapped his granddaughter. There were plans for Sinatra to return in season eight as well but Selleck cut back on the number of episodes he was filming, and the show was never written.

Photo: kiwireport.com

In 1989 Sinatra showed up on Who’s the Boss as himself. Angela is invited to an exclusive party, but she gets waylaid by a work issue. Mona and Tony decide to take the tickets, but they can’t get in when they get there and then Angela shows up, which results in all three of them being thrown out of the gala. As Frank is showing up to sing, Tony gets to meet him and tell him he is his idol.

DEAN MARTIN

Not surprisingly Dean’s first appearance on television was on Make Room for Daddy in 1958. He portrayed himself. Danny calls on Dean to help him out with his daughter Terry who has been not very nice to a boy at school who likes her. Danny learns she is ignoring the boy because she has a crush on Dean. The plan works, and she and Donald get together.

Photo: youtube.com

During the same year, Dean shows up on The Phil Silvers Show. Bilko (Silvers) is sent to Yucca Flats to work on a nuclear test program. Ritzik is amazed by one of the scientist’s machines. They skip the base and head for Las Vegas, so Rupert can demonstrate his gambling skills. Dean Martin is an unnamed gambler they run into.

In 1964 Martin got on the western bandwagon, appearing in Rawhide. Martin is stalking Hispanic cattlemen. His wife wants him to drop the assignment and retire to her family’s plantation with her, but he refuses, and she seeks help from Gil Favor, the boss of a never-ending cattle drive.

We see Martin pop up on a Bob Hope special in 1968 and a Red Skelton show in 1970.

Photo: vegasmagazine.com

In 1978 Martin made an appearance on a show that surprised me: Charlie’s Angels. Martin plays the owner of the Tropicana Casino who hires the Angels to investigate several suspicious deaths that he thinks are part of a plot to make him think he’s going crazy. This was a two-part season opener and instead of singing, Martin got to display his magic skills. Naturally, he becomes romantically involved with one of the Angels, Sabrina played by Kate Jackson.

Fittingly, Dean’s last appearance was in the show Vega$ in 1979 as himself.

JOEY BISHOP

Bishop’s first role was not much of a stretch. He played a comedian on Richard Diamond in 1959. Bishop’s plays Joey Kirk and hires Diamond to determine who is following him and why, leading to a complicated murder plot.

He appeared in the DuPont Show of the Month in 1960 and The Dick Powell Theater in 1963.

Like most of the Rat Pack, Bishop made an appearance on Make Room for Daddy in 1961. As Joey Mason, he helps out Danny. Danny has flown from the east coast to the west coast and took two sleeping pills. However, there are four conventions in town and his assistant forgot to make him a reservation.

In 1965 he is Fred Jackson on an episode of Valentine’s Day starring Tony Franciosa and Jack Soo about a young eligible bachelor who lives with his valet, a poker-playing con artist who saved his life while they were in the Army.

Photo: tvtropes.com

From 1961-1965, Joey stars in The Joey Bishop Show as Joey Barnes. Barnes is the host of a talk show. He has to deal with his personal and professional life as a celebrity. A lot of guest stars show up playing themselves as guests on his show or friends of his. The show produced 125 episodes. I have recently been watching it on Antenna TV where it now is shown every morning.

In 1967, Joey had a cameo on Get Smart. Max and 99 are sent on an assignment to rescue Don Carlos, the dictator of San Saludos. A general has imprisoned him and wants to marry his daughter. Max and 99 try to disguise themselves as flamenco dancers. When they are also thrown in jail, a guard, played by Bishop, attempts to bribe the firing squad.

In the 1970s we find Joey on Chico and the Man in 1976. He plays an inept burglar and when Ed doesn’t press charges, every lowlife crook appears at the business.

In 1981 Bishop appears as Dr. Burton on Trapper John MD.

Photo: basementrejects.com

In 1985 Bishop again takes on the role of a comedian on Hardcastle and McCormick. That same year he also played another comedian on Murder She Wrote.

PETER LAWFORD

Drama shows were very popular in the early days of television. Lawford appeared in quite a few of these shows from 1953-1965.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In 1954 he took on the role of Bill Hastings on Dear Phoebe. The show was on the air for two years, resulting in 32 episodes. Hastings works for a daily newspaper in a large city. He becomes the author of a lonely hearts column and advises his readers as “Phoebe” while trying to deal with his own issues in his personal life.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

From 1957-1959, he was Nick Charles on the television version of The Thin Man. The show was very popular with 723 episodes filmed. Similar to the films, Nick marries Nora and lives in a luxurious Park Avenue apartment in New York. He was previously a private detective and many of his underworld friends get him involved in mysteries he has to solve.

Lawford appeared as himself on an episode of Jack Benny’s show in 1961.

He also played himself on The Patty Duke Show in 1965. Patty is selected to find a star to perform at the high school prom. Sammy Davis Jr. also guest stars on the episode.

Photo: imdb.com

Apparently, Sammy and Peter enjoyed working together because they guest starred on an episode of The Wild Wild West in 1966. Lawford is a wealthy ranch owner and Davis is a hired hand Jeremiah.

While Bishop showed up on Get Smart, Lawford chose the more realistic I Spy in 1967.

Like Sinatra, he also appeared on Laugh-In but must have enjoyed it more because he was on ten different episodes.

During the 1970s, Lawford shows up on a variety of television show genres. He would be on the western The Virginian in 1971, Born Free about Elsa the lion in 1974, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, the bizarre comedy High Cliffe Manor, the crime drama Hawaii Five-0, the dramady Supertrain, and The Jeffersons.

Photo: pinterest.com

In addition, he was featured on Bewitched in 1972. Lawford played Harrison Woolcott, a client of Darrin and Larry’s. Sam’s cousin Serena decides she wants to date him and try the mortal life for a while.

Photo: pinterest.com

He made several appearances during seasons four and five of The Doris Day Show. As Dr. Peter Lawrence, he begins a romance with Doris in 1972-1973.

SAMMY DAVIS JR

Sammy probably appeared in the most television shows. Like Peter, he began in drama shows and guest starred in several episodes of General Electric Theater.

He then appeared in The Lawman in 1961, Frontier Circus, Cain’s Hundred, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman, and Hennessey in 1962.

In 1963 he was on Ben Casey.

Like the other Rat Pack actors, he was on Make Room for Daddy in 1963 and the revival Make Room for Granddaddy in 1970.

As mentioned before, he guest starred in The Patty Duke Show in 1965 and The Wild Wild West in 1966, both with Peter Lawford.

Photo: pinterest.com

In 1967, he showed up on I Dream of Jeannie as himself. Tony tries to get Sammy Davis Jr to sing for General Peterson’s party. When he is already booked, Jeannie tries to help by duplicating himself, so he can be in two places at one time.

Davis also took a role in The Beverly Hillbillies in 1969.

Photo: tvinsider.com

The same year he took on his first of three roles on Mod Squad. His first role was a black priest who becomes the target of a bad guy after the church suspends him. The hood is afraid he will reveal his confession now that he no longer is part of the church. The next episode he appeared on was in the role of Billy Lee Watson, a recovered drug addict. He runs a half-say house and is accused of rape of a man’s daughter who he has been trying to help. Her father accused Billy of the rape and after investigating, it turned out Billy was her actual father.  The last episode of Mod Squad he appeared on in 1970 had Davis portraying Willie Rush and actor and friend of Linc’s. He says someone is trying to kill him.

Photo: tumblr.com

The 1970s continued to be a productive time for Davis on television. He would go on to appear in The Name of the Game in 1970, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in 1972, nine episodes of Laugh-In, and like his friend Dean Martin, an episode of Charlie’s Angels in 1977. He plays himself on Charlie’s Angels. When he hosts a charity event that includes a celebrity look alike contest, an attempt is made to kidnap him. The Angels take on the job of his bodyguards and Bosley becomes his chauffeur.

The 1980s were also busy times for him. He appeared as himself on several Norman Lear shows including Archie Bunker’s Place and The Jeffersons. He also could be seen on Fantasy Island, Pryor’s Place, Gimme a Break, The Cosby Show and Hunter in the 1980s.

Photo: atlantablackstar.com

One thing that surprised me was his roles on One Life to Live and General Hospital. I have seen a few stars like Carol Burnett who chose to appear on a soap opera. Davis had a recurring role on General Hospital; he didn’t seem to me to be the type of actor who would be interested in a soap opera, but he did receive an Emmy nomination for his role on General Hospital. Sammy was also nominated for an Emmy for his work on The Cosby Show.

While Joey Bishop hosted some of the Emmy Award shows, I did not find any nominations for the other members of the Rat Pack.

Photo: peoplequiz.com

Overall, I was surprised how extensive the television careers were for the Summit members. I think of them more in their performing or movie careers and did not expect them to see that they guest starred in so many shows and starred in some of their own television series. Check out some of these shows or make a batch of popcorn and watch the ensemble in the original Ocean’s Eleven.