Sunday, March 27, 2016

Remembering Earl Hamner, Jr. (1923 - 2016)

"Television has the power and the ability to enlighten, to educate, to lift viewers to new levels of experience, but there is also a lot of vulgarity. Too much of what we see seems to be written from the groin. I urge you to write from your heart."  --Earl Hamner, Jr.

Earl Hamner, Jr. brought a style and creative voice to American television that was uniquely his own. He created worlds that were both a reflection of his life and personality and also a welcome escape from an era marked by war and political corruption. He offered the world a warm alternative to cynical comedy shows, gritty police programs, and the increasingly bleak independent film movement of the 1970’s. His vision was a positive one, full of hope and optimism that America would pull out of its slump and move on to happier days. Hamner contributed eight original teleplays to The Twilight Zone and was the last living writer to have penned an episode of the show. He passed away on Thursday, March 24. He was 92.

Hamner holds a unique place on the relatively short list of writers who contributed to The Twilight Zone. He was not part of the close-knit community of fantasy and science fiction writers that Beaumont, Matheson, and Johnson belonged to. He came from a vastly different part of the country (Schuyler, Virginia, an isolated village on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains) and his sensibilities were also very different. While Hamner has several episodes that are imitative of the style and formula that had already been established on the show, he was at his best when he simply wrote what he knew. His best episodes feature simple characters and small-town settings and bear a stronger resemblance to southern folklore than golden-age science fiction stories.

A writer with many skillsets, Hamner jumped from medium to medium writing novels and short fiction and penning scripts for film, television, and radio. He came to write for The Twilight Zone through his friendship with Rod Serling. The two met years before at an award ceremony and had kept in touch through the years (Serling later replaced Hamner when he resigned from radio station WLW in Cincinnati). By the time he sold his first teleplay, “The Hunt,” to the show in 1962 he had already published two novels, Fifty Roads to Town (Random House, 1953) and Spencer’s Mountain (Dial Press, 1961) but was virtually unknown in the television and film industries. The Twilight Zone was the break he needed. In 1970 Random House published The Homecoming which Hamner adapted into a Christmas special for CBS the next year. The special did well and Hamner was approached to adapt it into a television series. So he created The Waltons. It ran for nine years and became one of the most celebrated television programs of all time, winning thirteen Emmy Awards, including two for Hamner. The Waltons offered Hamner every creative outlet he needed. Similar to Serling’s involvement on The Twilight Zone, Hamner acted as executive producer, head writer, and host of the program, providing the opening and closing narration to each episode. The show ended in 1981 but several television specials aired in the subsequent years. After The Waltons, Hamner created Falcon Crest in 1981, a soap-opera style series about the California wine industry starring Jane Wyman. This show was also an enormous success and ran for nine seasons.

While Hamner’s episodes may not have always been the right fit for the show he managed to bring something unique to the table. Characters and places and themes rarely seen on television at that time. The Twilight Zone never apologized for being a uniquely American program. It is a product of its time and its place. Earl Hamner’s scripts for the show shed light on a different America, one largely unfamiliar to most the American television audience. He did not judge his characters and presented them in the only way he knew how. Upon viewing Hamner’s work on The Twilight Zone, one can see an immensely talented writer, still young, working in an unfamiliar medium, trying to find the right outlet to express a voice that was uniquely thoughtful and intelligent. Lucky for all of us, he found it.

Earl Hamner, Jr. (1923 - 2016)

The Twilight Zone:
“The Hunt” Season Three
“A Piano in the House” Season Three
“Jess-belle” Season Four
“Ring-a-Ding Girl” Season Five
“You Drive” Season Five
“Black Leather Jackets” Season Five
“Stopover in a Quiet Town” Season Five
“The Bewitchin' Pool” Season Five

Selected Bibliography:
Fifty Roads to Town (Random House, 1953)
Spencer’s Mountain (Dial Press, 1961)
You Can’t Get There from Here (Dial Press, 1965)
The Homecoming (Random House, 1970)
The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner, Jr. (Cumberland House Publishing, 2003)
Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary (story “The Art of the Miniature”) (Edited by Carol Serling, Tor, 2009)
Poe’s Lighthouse (story “A Passion for Solitude”) (edited by Christopher Conlon, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2006)
The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers (story “The Death and Life of Caesar LaRue”) (edited by William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Cycatrix Press, 2009)
The Devil’s Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier (story “The Woods Colt”) (edited by William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Cycatrix Press, 2011)

Selected Screenplays:
Palms Springs Weekend (1963)
Charlotte’s Web (1973)
Where the Lilies Bloom (1974)

Selected Television Credits:
The Kate Smith Hour "The Hound of Heaven" (an earlier, shorter version of Hamner's first Twilight Zone episode, "The Hunt," which featured John Carradine as Hyder Simpson and a very young James Dean as the Messenger) (Jan. 15, 1953; CBS) 
Wagon Train "The Wanda Snow Story" (original teleplay) (Jan. 17, 1965; ABC)
ABC Stage 67 "The People Trap" (teleplay by Hamner based on the story by Robert Sheckley) (Nov. 9, 1966; in 1971 Hamner adapted this into a feature length film for ABC called The Last Generation)
The Invaders "The Watchers" (teleplay by Hamner and Jerry Sohl, story by Michael Adams) (Sept. 19, 1967; ABC)
Heidi (teleplay by Hamner based on the novel by Johanna Spyri) (1968, NBC)
The Waltons (series creator, writer, host) (1972 – 1981)
Apple’s Way (series creator, writer) (1974 – 1975)
Falcon Crest (series creator, writer) (1981 – 1990)
Night Visions (anthology series which aired first on Fox then on the Sci Fi channel, segment “The Doghouse,” original teleplay) (2001)


  1. Thanks for letting us know about this death! I never watched The Waltons or Falcon Crest, but I've always loved Hamner's TZ scripts.

  2. Wonder what he writing now? Can't wait!