The Waltons was partially based on Earl Hamner Jr.'s childhood — here's where fact and fiction differ

The character of John-boy was based on Hamner himself.

Warner Brothers

The Walton family seemingly lives a picture-perfect life, the kind that many people aspire to make their own. But despite its Depression-era period, series creator Earl Hamner Jr. based the series on his own family, according to an interview with the Hartford Courant.

This means that most likely, the eldest boy and family author John-Boy Walton was, at least in part, based on Hamner himself. However, when pressed, Hamner was adamant that the two weren't exactly alike. "He's better looking than I was," Hamner said of Richard Thomas, who portrayed John-Boy. "I was tall, skinny, and funny-looking. Richard projects a marvelous image of me. I think he's more aware than I was as a youngster."

Thomas himself seemed to share a similar opinion. "Characterwise I think we're different. He's very quiet. " He said.

"Yet, we're alike in some things. We both had happy childhoods, both love our families and people, and we both have an optimistic outlook."

Thomas himself was interested in becoming a writer and found that his interests benefitted him as an actor. "I've been writing poetry since I was a child, and now it looks like some of it may be published," Thomas said.

"I never had to make a decision between being a writer or being an actor because I always felt the two were compatible. In fact, they help one another. The acting benefits from the writing and vice versa."

Perhaps The Waltons resonated deeply with audiences because Hamner wrote from his own experiences. Thomas explained that he often received fan mail from Midwestern fans expressing gratitude that their stories were being seen on television.

"I get lots of mail from farm people in the midwest," Thomas said. "They tell me they're gratified that their way of life is considered important enough to be the subject of a television series."

"They're not smart trial lawyers, heroic policemen, or private eyes. This show is theirs, it's about their values, their close-knit families, the small community."

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