Last year I listed some thoughts on several of The Waltons Christmas episodes. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the screening of The Homecoming, it seems fitting that I start with it.
I watched The Homecoming again just recently, after not having watched it for such a long time. So interesting to see how little the children looked, especially the very young Kami, David and Eric. Those three actors playing the Walton children so beautifully really did look very young indeed. The Homecoming is such a simply told, honest story of a father missing at Christmas time, and his family waiting at home for him to arrive. Earl Hamner writes in his book Goodnight John Boy that it was based on a Christmas Eve that his family really lived through. The Depression and the closing of the mill in Schuyler necessitated Earl’s father seeking work elsewhere. He found work in Waynesboro, fifty miles away and would take the bus home each weekend, finishing the journey by either walking or hitchhiking. The Christmas Eve the the Homecoming is set, 1933, snow began early and fell steadily during the day, making it difficult for the Father to get home.
I loved the report written about The Homecoming script, which says in part:
It is obviously slanted toward Christmas Eve audiences and I believe it could potentially become a classic. It is filled with rich characterization and the warm family relationship is beautifully portrayed.”
How right the executive story editor, Joanne Brough, was. It has indeed become classic Christmas viewing for so many people.
Obviously we know that many of the cast from The Homecoming did not go on to reprise their roles on The Waltons, for one reason or another. Here’s a snapshot of The Homecoming cast for you:’
The beautiful Patricia Neal played Olivia Walton, seen above. I loved her crustiness in The Homecoming. She was very forthright and quite unsure of how to handle John Boy, who disappeared at times to hide behind a locked bedroom door. She knew that he was keeping secrets and wanted to know what they were. John Boy explained that he was just writing his thoughts, and that puzzled her a great deal. Patricia Neal did not reprise her role as Olivia Walton. Michael Learned was chosen as Olivia in the series of The Waltons.
Here’s the three older boys as they appear in The Homecoming. Ben (Eric Scott), Jason (Jon Walmsley) and John Boy (Richard Thomas). All three boys stayed with the series, and I have to say that I have always admired Richard Thomas as John Boy throughout the series. Earl was particularly taken with him when he saw him in the movie Red Sky at Morning. Apparently Richard wasn’t all that keen on becoming a part of television, as his film career seemed to be forging ahead, but he liked the script and decided to join the cast. I am so glad that he did because I think he is superb as John Boy. I have continued to follow his career over the years and have greatly admired his work since. He seems to choose a wide variety of character types and his work is always well worth watching. I was lucky enough to see him in Race on Broadway and again was struck by the intelligence he lends to his work. You can see a picture of Richard and myself here.
The two eldest Walton girls are pictured above – Mary Ellen (Judy Norton) and Erin (Mary McDonough). Mary looks just gorgeous as Erin, but this picture reminds me of how much she grew up on the set of The Waltons. She appears to be so young when The Homecoming was filmed. You can read more about her recollections in her book, published this year, titled Lessons From the Mountain, which is an excellent read. I loved the scenes in The Homecoming where the children went to see presents being given to children on Christmas Eve, in exchange for bible verses. Mary Ellen quickly tells the other children different bible verses to quote, so that they might receive a wrapped present.
Of course the two little ones were David Harper, playing the role of Jim Bob, and Kami Cotler, playing Elizabeth. Aren’t they both so tiny! They did such a wonderful job as the little ones in The Homecoming and both grew into fine actors during the run of The Waltons.
The roles of Grandma and Grandpa were played by Ellen Corby and Edgar Bergen. Ellen Corby went on to become the beloved Grandma in the series of The Waltons, but Will Geer was cast as Grandpa, and such a wonderful character he was. Waltons fans can quote many episodes where Grandpa featured and he was a much loved cast member and his character is well loved by fans.
Finally, the Baldwin sisters were played by Dorothy Stickney (Miss Emily) and Josephine Hutchinson (Miss Mamie). They are pictured above, trimming their Christmas tree, when John Boy and Hawthorne drop by in the hope of borrowing their car to go out and look for John Walton. They are wonderful characters, but both were replaced for the series by Helen Kleeb, playing Miss Mamie, and Mary Jackson, playing Miss Emily. It was interesting to note that Miss Emily’s reminisces of Ashley Longworth began during The Homecoming.
Finally I really should urge you to find a copy of Earl Hamner’s The Homecoming book and have a read.
Also pop over and have a look at the wonderful Homecoming website my good friend Shirley has put together. You’ll find it here. One thing you will find here of great interest is the recipe to Olivia’s Applesauce Cake. You’d be amazed how often I get asked about it. Can’t say I’ve ever made it but it does sound yummy and looking at the ingredients, I can just imagine it baking in the oven before Christmas Day.
Finally, you might like to have a look at this review, written about The Homecoming, and complete with some excellent photo still from the movie.