The first Waltons episode has a hidden connection to the original Homecoming TV movie
Did you catch the small tribute to the original Grandpa Walton in ''The Foundling''?
The very first episode filmed for The Waltons was “The Hunt” about John-Boy’s struggles on his first turkey shoot. While it’s a great episode, and features Gunsmoke town drunk James Nusser as Jake the Junkman, it aired fourth. The story chosen to introduce audiences to (the series version of) the Walton family and their mountain home was the touching tale “The Foundling.”
It shows the family’s caring nature, and the conflicts that can arise between siblings, when a girl is left on their doorstep. They soon realize that young Holly is deaf and teach her sign language to communicate. Kami Cotler, who played youngest Walton daughter, Elizabeth, still remembers the finger spelling she learned as a seven year old!
"The Foundling” kicked off The Waltons series, but audiences first met the seven Walton children in the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. The kids — Richard Thomas, Jon Walmsley, Judy Norton, Mary McDonough, Eric Scott, David W. Harper and Kami Cotler — all starred in the special and the show. But the only adult to appear in both was Grandma Walton herself, Ellen Corby.
John, Olivia, the Baldwin sisters, Ike Godsey, and Sheriff Bridges were all played by different actors in The Homecoming. Will Geer is famous for embodying Grandpa Walton in The Waltons, but the lovable patriarch was played by comedian Edgar Bergen in the TV movie.
Bergen never appeared on The Waltons but his presence is definitely felt on the show. “The Foundling” features a hidden connection to the early Hollywood star that only longtime fans would notice.
Before playing elderly types in the Sixties and Seventies, Bergen became a household name performing on the radio in the 1930s. He had a ventriloquist act with the puppet of a witty boy named Charlie McCarthy. The fact that Bergen became a hit with a ventriloquist act on the radio is a testament to his talent. Audiences cared more about the voice and characterization of Charlie and less about whether they could see Bergen performing.
Because the height of Bergan and Charlie’s popularity coincides perfectly within the time period of The Waltons, the show was able to pay a small tribute to the original Grandpa Walton in the first episode.
As pointed out by Judy Norton in a video for her YouTube series revealing behind-the-scenes stories, the family laughs along to a Charlie McCarthy radio bit in “The Foundling.” It shows the alienation Holly feels because she can’t hear what everyone else is laughing at.
It’s a crucial moment important to the story of the episode. It’s also an under-the-radar connection to The Homecoming meant for the biggest Edgar Bergen fans, and a nostalgic look at the entertainment of that 1930s, something The Waltons did so well.