I hate the Waltons. Not the Walmart Waltons. I like them. Save money. Shop smart. Only at Walmart. That’s good stuff. I mean the TV Waltons–John, Olivia, John Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Jim Bob, Ben, Erin, Elizabeth, Grandpa and Grandma. All of them.
In real life, I try not to hate people. It’s just not good. I have no such reservations with fictional characters. Aunt Bee, Jenny from Forest Gump, Bruce Dern in The Cowboys, any Jim Carrey character–each of these is vile in its own way and intended to be so. The Waltons, though, are different. They are supposed to be sympathetic, even likeable, yet I hate them. Why?
The Waltons lived in the Great Depression, except for them it was the Not So Bad Depression. They had a house. A sawmill. A truck. They lived on Walton’s Mountain, which means they had their own freakin’ mountain, for God’s sake. Ever see their meals? Roast pig, turkey, chicken, vegetables, pies, cakes–you name it. My Dad grew up in the Great Depression in a house with seven kids. Mush, that’s what they ate. Oh, and maybe ham they cured themselves. The Waltons lived like kings. I hate that.
John and Olivia were a lovey-dovey pair right up until Olivia got shipped off to a TB sanitarium in a contract dispute. So solemn, so wise, just like real parents, right? Here’s how you’d be if you had seven kids with all the drama of that crowd: John Boy would come in with one of his pressing social issues he was trying to resolve. John would look at him and say: “How the hell should I know?” Or he’d say something like: “Hey, egghead, how ’bout working at the damn sawmill for a while?”
Okay, I know there were seven of them, but there really were only three and a half for all practical purposes. John Boy, Mary Ellen and Jason. These were the Big Three before anyone ever heard of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The other four just drifted in and out occasionally. I’m not even sure Erin was really on the show. She disappeared for long stretches. I never could keep Jim Bob and Ben straight. I had to remind myself that Jim Bob delivered his lines like he’d suffered a debilitating head injury.
One would think that the casting folks could have at least tried to find kids who resembled each other to play siblings. In a modern setting, that bunch would have subject to DNA testing the first time anyone saw them together.
John Boy is my biggest problem. He’s like one of those people you should like, but you just can’t. You know the type. The neighbor who is very friendly, always speaks and will help you with anything. You want to kick a nail into his ear. John Boy is like that. Almost every episode has “Here he goes, again” moment with John Boy. He’s helping someone or misunderstood or stuck in the middle of some issue. Lighten up, John Boy.
Earl Hamner wrote The Waltons, and I assume John Boy–being a writer–is modeled after him. That probably explains why he dominates the Walton landscape. Here’s a question: Was Hamner called Earl Boy? If not, why the hell is John called John Boy? NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN CALLED THAT! If you grew up in the ’70’s and shared this name, you were at some point called “John Boy.” Even today, you will be called that. I know from whence I speak on this one. That is reason enough to hate John Boy.
I have to mention Fake John Boy. At some point in the series, Richard Thomas (John Boy) decided to leave to pursue other acting opportunities in the most ill-conceived career move since Pernell Roberts abandoned the Ponderosa to embark on his storied movie career. Fake John Boy was worse than the real one. He wasn’t John Boy. Oh, he was nauseatingly earnest like the real one, but you couldn’t help but yell “FAKE!” when he was on the screen. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who did that.
GRANDMA AND GRANDPA
Look, I know generations of families used to live to together. I guess that was realistic enough. Man, these two had their noses in everything. I hated them.
Wil Geer played Grandpa. He was a hippie and friend of Woody Guthrie, which means I should have liked him, but no, I didn’t. I think it’s because the writers couldn’t figure him out. Was he comic relief? Was he a wise old sage? Was he just a pain in the ass like some old people? You never knew for sure. To some extent, he suffered from a 1970’s phenomenon known as “The Hip Oldster.” In the ’70’s, TV writers, being largely devoid of original ideas, wrote every older character the same. They would be hip, oversexed, “cool” people. They rode motorcycles and said naughty things. Sometimes, that’s what they did with Grandpa. Sometimes, he was the voice of reason. Mostly, he just annoyed me.
Ellen Corby was a little more tolerable as Grandma. She actually acted liked an old lady. Surly, hard to deal with, opinionated and not particularly pleasant. Now that I think about it, I kinda of like her.
Ike Godsey owned the General Store. Other than a few passing references to “hard times,” Ike seems to have thrived through the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II. His store was FULL of stuff. He was probably the richest man in Virginia by the end of the war.
He married Cora Beth, an impossibly haughty friend or distant relative of Olivia’s who showed up to sponge off the Waltons’ inexplicable largesse. Ike decided to marry her. Even John recognized what a pain in the ass Cora Beth was and tried to talk Ike out of marrying her. Like a lot of folks, he didn’t listen and married her anyway. She continued to preen around for years. Oh, and she always called Ike “Mr. Godsey.” I hated that.
How about have Erin turn up pregnant and marry Ike in a shotgun wedding? That would have been a ratings bonanza! Plus, Erin would have actually played role in the show. No, we got Cora Beth. I hated her.
At the heart of The Waltons was some pitiable, sad story with a comparatively uplifting ending, usually because of the superior intelligence or morality of the Waltons themselves. No family is THAT good, except maybe the Cartwrights. I cared nothing for it and always wanted the Waltons to get put in their place. It never happened. I hated that.
Good night, John Boy. Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob. Blah, blah, blah. That’s how the show always ended. Hey, were they all in the same freakin’ room? That’s weird, especially since they were able to say good night to their grandparents without raising their voices. I shared a room with two brothers when I was little. It’s not fun. Just once–once, mind you–I wanted someone to say: “Hey, shut the hell up! I’m trying to sleep!” No one ever did. I hated that.
At this point, you’re asking: “If you hate the Waltons, why do you know so much about them?” First, that’s really none of your business. Second, I watched a lot of TV as a kid. A lot. I didn’t care what I watched. I watched the Waltons to just hate them. Sometimes, my Dad would watch with me and ridicule them. I liked that.
Occasionally, I’ll see the Waltons on TV and tune in for a few minutes. It doesn’t take long for me to be disgusted. I always hope I’ll catch the episode when their house burned. At least I think that happened. Maybe that was just my own fantasy.
Good night, John Boy.