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.

Columbo: The Disheveled Detective

We are winding up the blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” and I think we saved the most interesting private eye for today: Columbo.

How Peter Falk made detective TV show 'Columbo' work - Click Americana
Photo: americana.com

Columbo was on the air from 1971-2003, the longest of the five detectives we looked at in this series (Cannon, Kojak, Mannix, Matlock, and Columbo), but oddly had the fewest episodes with 68 (Cannon had 120, Kojak had 117, Matlock with 181, and Mannix had the most with 194).

Richard Levinson and William Link created Columbo (they also were the force behind Mannix). Levinson and Link met in junior high and they were a writing team until 1987 when Levinson passed away. This show was a bit different; it actually had two pilot episodes in 1968 and 1971. It originally aired from 1971-1978 in The NBC Mystery Movie series. It alternated with McMillan and Wife, McCloud and Hec Ramsey.  ABC revived the show from 1989-2003, but it was not a weekly show then either. Falk didn’t want a weekly show, so the series was scheduled for one Wednesday a month. For season two, the series was moved to Sunday nights where it continued until 1978.

Columbo Hassan Salah
Falk with Hector Elizondo–Photo: columbophile.com

In the original concept for the show, Columbo was described as smooth-talking and cultured. The first choice for an actor to play the role was Bing Crosby who declined. When Falk showed up for his audition, he came in wrinkled clothing, aimlessly chattered, and seemed a bit scatter brained so the producers changed the character.

The show had some interesting directors. One of the directors on the show was Steven Spielberg who directed “Murder by the Book.” Falk himself directed the final episode of season one, “Blueprint for Murder.” Nicholas Colasanto who played Coach on Cheers directed two of the shows, “Etude in Black” and “Swan Song.” Patrick McGoohan directed five episodes (including three he guest starred in), as well as producing and writing two others. Falk’s friend actor Ben Gazzara directed “A Friend in Deed” and “Troubled Waters.”

On Columbo, we see the crime being committed long before we meet Lt Columbo (Peter Falk), so we know who committed the crime from the beginning. The fun of the episode is in watching Columbo investigate the crime and how he solves it. Columbo never introduces himself with his first name and no other character in the show uses it either. In season four, Colonel Rumford asks Columbo if he has a first name, and his response is “I do, but usually only my wife uses it.” Apparently, in one episode, a badge is scanned and lists his name as Frank, but William Link stated that Columbo was written without a first name.

Columbo | Columbo, Peter falk, Columbo peter falk
Photo: pinterest.com

Columbo was a very disheveled detective who always showed up in a rumpled raincoat, smoking a cigar and appearing as if he was not quite all there. Falk used his own wardrobe for the character. The infamous raincoat was one he bought for $15 in 1967 when he got caught in a New York City rainstorm.

However, behind the façade of an inept policeman was a brilliant mind. He asked a lot of seemingly non-essential questions and paid attention to every detail. After interviewing a suspect, he always said, “Just one more thing.” Falk improvised during filming. He might ask for a pencil, search for something or throw in an unscripted line and did it to create a genuine confusion on the part of the other actor so it appeared more realistic.

This was definitely a one-man show, but there were a few characters who had recurring roles: Mike Lally played a bartender in 25 episodes, John Finnegan was Barney on 13 shows, and Bruce Kirby as Sgt George Kramer was seen nine times.

Car history: The Peugeot and the TYV show "Columbo."
Photo: recordonline.com

Columbo’s car is a 1959 Peugeot 403. Apparently, only 504 convertibles with two doors were made that year. When NBC cancelled the series, the car was sold. ABC had to locate a replacement when they picked the show up later. You can tell the difference because the license plate from NBC seasons was 044-APD and the plate from ABC shows was 448-DBZ.

Most of the suspects on the show were clever, wealthy people who think they have covered their tracks and have a solid alibi.

For only 68 episodes, there were a lot of famous guest stars on the show.  Some stars even portrayed two different criminals including Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, George Hamilton, Patrick McGoohan, and William Shatner. Other guest stars showing up were Anne Baxter, Johnny Cash, Faye Dunaway, Jose Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Lee Grant, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Ray Milland, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasence, Dick Van Dyke, and Robert Vaughn.

Peter Falk Dick Van Dyke Color Poster Columbo Rare at Amazon's  Entertainment Collectibles Store
Falk with Dick Van Dyke–Photo: amazon.com

There was a variety of music written for each episode of the show. The Mystery Movie Theme was written by Henry Mancini and was used for the NBC shows. Both Quincy Jones and Mike Post also wrote versions of The Mystery Movie theme. One song uniquely belonging to Columbo was “This Old Man.” Falk can be heard humming or whistling it in various episodes after it was introduced in a 1973 show.

The show received thirteen Emmys during its run. Falk won the Emmy the first season and again in 1976. He was nominated in 1973, 1977 and 1978 but lost to Richard Thomas, James Garner and Ed Asner respectively. The series was nominated in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, and 1978 (winners were Elizabeth R Masterpiece Theater; The Waltons; Police Story; Upstairs, Downstairs; and The Rockford Files).

Columbo Wallpapers Wallpapers - All Superior Columbo Wallpapers Backgrounds  - WallpapersPlanet.net
Photo: wallpapersplanet.net

The show was very popular and was broadcast in 44 countries. There is a statue of Columbo in his coat in Budapest, Hungary on Falk Miksa Street. The story behind it is that according to then-mayor Antal Rogan, Falk is a relative of Falk Miksa who was a Hungarian writer and politician, but I could not verify if that was true or not.  What is true is that it was put up in 2014 at a cost of $63,000.

When he is questioning witnesses, Columbo often throws in random references to his wife and or something the couple liked to do, but we never see her in the series.  However, later a show was created, Mrs. Columbo starring Kate Mulgrew. Falk’s real-life wife Shera Danese was cast in six of the Columbo episodes, always appearing as a different character.

A group of novels was adapted from the Columbo tv series by MCA written by Alfred Lawrence, Henry Clements, and Lee Hays.

Columbo has been a popular show in syndication and can currently be seen on ME TV Sunday nights. The shows run from 70-98 minutes which probably makes syndication interesting. The entire set is available on DVD for about $50.

Unfortunately, Peter Falk was diagnosed with dementia in 2007, and by 2009 he could not recognize photos of himself and did not remember playing Columbo. He passed away in 2011.

Best 45+ Columbo Wallpaper on HipWallpaper | Columbo Wallpaper, Columbo TV  Wallpaper and Peter Falk Columbo Wallpaper
Columbo

It’s been fun looking at these five detectives for this series.  When I put this together, I chose five private eyes I thought would make good articles. What I didn’t realize, is that four of them were all from the same era.  In fact, in 1973, Columbo was on Sunday nights followed by Mannix and both were in the top twenty and on Wednesday nights Cannon was on followed by Kojak and both were in the top ten. The following year, Sunday nights featured Kojak before Mannix which was still in the top 20 and they were on at the same time as Columbo. Cannon eventually moved to Sunday night but also spent part of the year on Wednesdays where it was also in the top twenty. Matlock debuted in the late eighties, after the other shows except Columbo had all gone off the air.

Cannon, Kojak, Mannix, Matlock, and Columbo—five very different types of detectives who had one thing in common: good writing. Check them all out and I’d love to hear which one is your favorite.

Mannix: “The Old-Fashioned” Detective

We are three-quarters through our new blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” and today we are looking at a show that began in 1967 and aired until 1975, producing 194 episodes.

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Photo: blogspot.com

Created by Richard Levinson and William Link and produced by Bruce Geller, Mannix was one of the most violent television shows during the sixties. Private investigator Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) began working at Intertect which relied on computers and a large network of operatives to help them solve crimes.

CBS was planning on cancelling the show after its debut year, but somehow Lucille Ball convinced them to renew it for another season. (Desilu produced the show.) In season two, Mannix decides to leave and open his own agency. He prefers to solve crimes the old-fashioned way, with his own brain, or as he described it, “A private eye—in the classical tradition.” Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher), a widow whose policeman husband was killed in action, became his secretary. Joe was also a father figure for her son Toby. The role of Peggy was planned for Nichelle Nichols but she had to decline due to receiving her role on Star Trek.

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Photo: seasonsepisodes.watch–with Gail Fisher

The cast was rounded out by Lt Art Malcolm (Ward Wood), Sergeant Charley (Ron Nyman), and Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), and police contact Tobias (Robert Reed). Every episode was filled with violent fistfights, car chases, and shoot-outs. During the course of the series, Mannix was knocked unconscious 55 times, drugged about 38 times, and shot 17 times. Connors actually broke his collar bone filming the pilot. The character of Mannix survived many of these situations because he was an expert fighter. He was said to have been a POW during the Korean war. Mannix was also a race car driver and a pilot. He sailed, skied, golfed and was an accomplished pool player. He was said to have grown up in Summer Grove where he excelled in football and basketball.

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Photo: metv.com with Robert Reed

Like Cannon, Joe Mannix relied on a car phone during his investigations. Many viewers felt the scripts were well written and the endings were not easy to predict. The plots relied more on crime-solving techniques but several tackled relevant social topics including compulsive gambling, racism, returning Vietnam War veterans issue, and professionals with physical disabilities such as deafness or blindness working to solve crimes.

The scripts were written by some of the best writers in the business. There were more than 85 writers credited with stories, one of them being Mel Tormé, yep that Mel Tormé.  Other writers were John Meredyth Lucas who wrote for fifty shows including Harry O, Kojak, Ben Casey, and Star Trek; Stephen Kandel who wrote for many shows including Hart to Hart, MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0, and Cannon; and Donn Mullally who also wrote for fifty shows including Ironside, The Virginian, Bonanza, and The Wild Wild West.

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Photo: pinterest.com

There were a lot of creative shows using visual effects in the sixties and Mannix was one of them. It employed many cutting-edge gimmicks to appeal to fans. Technical filming skills included zooms (moving in for a close-up or out to show something the viewer did not realize was in the scene), rack focuses (a rack focus is the filmmaking technique of changing the focus of the lens during a continuous shot. When a shot “racks,” it moves the focal plane from one object in the frame to another), lens flares (a lens flares adds a sense of drama and a touch of realism to a shot), Dutch angles (which produce a viewpoint of tilting one’s head to the side), both low and high angles, and cameras that could move 360 degrees during filming.

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Photo: rockauto.com

For you car afficiandos, Mannix had a lot of cool automobiles during the series. For season one, he primarily drove a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado customized by George Barris who built the Batmobile. For season two, Barris worked on a 1968 Dodge Dart for him.

Season three found him driving another Barris car, a 1969 Dodge Dart. Seasons four through six he drove Plymouth Cudas (a 1970 for four, a 1971 for five, and a 1973 for six). For season seven, he was given a 1974 Dodge Challenger and for the final season, he drove a Chevrolet Camaro LT.

An interesting story about his season two car is that it was sold to a secretary at Paramount Studios and then disappeared for a few decades when it was located near a ranger station in California. It was restored to the Barris condition it had on the show. It was featured in Muscle Machines in December of 2009 and on the show Drive on Discovery HD Theater in 2010. The car is currently owned by C. Van Tune, former editor of Motor Trend magazine.

In addition to special cars in the shows, a lot of celebrities guest starred including Hugh Beaumont, Robert Conrad, Yvonne Craig, Sally Kellerman, Burgess Meredith, Lee Merriwether, Vera Miles, and Diana Muldaur. Some of the more unusual guest spots were filled by musicians Neil Diamond, Buffalo Springfield, and Lou Rawls; comedians Rich Little and Milton Berle; and journalists Art Buchwald, and Rona Barrett.

The theme song was composed by Lalo Schifrin.  Titled, “Mannix,” it was released as a single in 1969 with “End Game” on the B side.

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Photo: amazon.com

Connors was nominated for an Emmy four times, Fisher was nominated for four as well, and the series was nominated twice. In 1970, Connors was beat by Robert Young in Marcus Welby, in 1971 Hal Holbrook won for The Bold Ones, Peter Falk won for Columbo in 1972, and in 1973 Richard Thomas won for The Waltons. Fisher lost to Margaret Leighton for Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1971, Ellen Corby for The Waltons in 1973, and Jenny Agutter in The Snow Goose Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1972. The show lost out as best drama to Elizabeth R Masterpiece Theater in 1972 and The Waltons in 1973.

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I do remember watching and enjoying the show when I was in grade school.  I’m guessing I watched it because it was something my parents watched. I think the show has held up well and, considering it was in the midst of the sixties, is not too dated. It would definitely be fun to check out a season or two of the show to see if you can figure out just “who done it.”