Earl Hamner, Jr. almost wasn't cast as the narrator for The Waltons
They auditioned everybody in town before the series creator unexpectedly got the job.
Read to Me
When you think of narrators for classic TV shows, some big names likely come to mind. There's William Conrad sternly delivering the facts to set up episodes of The Fugitive, or more famously, Rod Serling's eerily measured set-ups before tossing us into The Twilight Zone.
Well, can you imagine The Waltons with a narrator who sounds slick and assertive about all the Walton family business? It may surprise you to know that originally, nobody even thought to ask Earl Hamner Jr. to be the narrator of his own show, even though he was obviously perfect for the part.
"We auditioned everybody in town who does that kind of work professionally, and they were all too professional," Earl Hamner, Jr., The Waltons creator, told Emmy TV Legends.
Then Hamner recalled somebody saying, "What we need is someone who sounds as homespun and corny as Earl."
Once the idea was floated, they couldn't not have Hamner read, and when he did, he looked up and saw he had moved his audience to tears. Because he made them cry, he got the job.
You'd think, as the TV show's creator, Hamner would've had all the control he wanted over how his series was made, but in the interview, Hamner said that this extra role as narrator ended up giving him even more power over how each episode really landed with the audience.
"It also was nice because it gave me a certain input and output, because I did the opening narration and closing narration, and I could manipulate feelings or put a tag on a story," Hamner said. "It was a nice advantage for a writer."
So any time you get to the end of an episode of The Waltons, and the closing narration really makes the show's message pop, you can understand that the secret ingredient and the key to how well the show connected with others was the extra bit of enthusiasm Hamner brought to penning those narrations.
Because Hamner’s voice was heard but his face unseen, he didn't really have to worry too much about this role bringing him additional fame, at least when it came to being out in public. But every now and again, he said someone would hear him talking, and he could be anywhere in the world, and they'd ask, "Why is your voice familiar?"
With a smile, he'd tell them why, and then they'd reveal themselves as fans. His poignant show touched families everywhere. Hamner said these kinds of run-ins with fans represented to him "just the right kind of celebrity."