The film was adapted from my best-selling novel by the
same name. One of the stipulations of the sale to Warner
Bros. was that the script be written by the man who was
to direct the movie, Delmer Daves. I wanted to write the
script, but the price they were offering was too attractive
to turn down so I took the deal.
wish the film could have been shot in my native Blue Ridge
Mountains of Virginia, but the budget demanded it be shot
closer to Hollywood. Consequently, it was filmed in the
Grand Tetons of Wyoming. The move to Wyoming produces
a slightly disjointed effect. It seemed to imply that
the Spencer clan owned a fair hunk of expensive real estate
in the Grand Tetons, whereas in the book the family owns
a modest mountain in the Blue Ridge.
Bruce Elder summed up the movie very nicely: "For
a family picture, not to mention a story that later became
the old-fashioned-values series The Waltons, Spencer's
Mountain sure has a lot in it about sex. Henry Fonda
gives an interesting portrayal in one of his more unusual
roles, as Clay Spencer, the hard-drinkin', hard-livin',
hard-lovin', hard cussin' patriarch of a fiercely independent
Wyoming family living in the Grand Tetons . . . . [He's]
busy trying to finish the house he promised his wife (Maureen
O'Hara) to house their constantly growing brood, and trying
to help his eldest son, Clay-Boy (James MacArthur) --
who's going to be the first Spencer to get past high school
-- prepare for college and manhood. . . . There's also
a good bit of human drama here, and some especially nuanced
performances by Donald Crisp and Lillian Bronson, as Fonda's
aging parents. . . [This] is a surprisingly engrossing
comedy-drama of a kind that probably could not be made
today, even with a top-name cast."
always felt that Tom Keogh's review of the movie got it
exactly right. After all, how could an author not love
a review that begins with "A true television classic"?
"A true television classic, The Homecoming
was the second movie (after 1963's Spencer's Mountain)
based on Earl Hamner's autobiographical writings about
love, pride, faith, and survival in rural America during
the Great Depression. The Homecoming introduced
the Walton family, a 1930s mountain clan living a hardscrabble
existence that forces patriarch John Walton (Andrew Duggan)
to seek work, far from home, in the city. When John fails
to return home, as promised, on Christmas Eve, his iron-willed
wife Olivia (Patricia Neal) keeps a lid on their children's
worry. Oldest son John-Boy (Richard Thomas), who privately
dreams of becoming a writer but worries about disappointing
his parents, is dispatched to find his dad. Graceful yet
harder-edged than the subsequent TV series The Waltons
(which recast several characters and ran for nine
years), The Homecoming reveals, albeit understatedly,
much about the pain of poverty even as the family draws
strength and closeness through endurance." --
Much of the success of the film can be attributed to the
contribution of director Fielder Cook. Fielder was one
of the vastly talented group that made early live television
drama worthy of the era's title: "The Golden Years."
In addition, he was especially well chosen for the project
because he was a Virginian and brought firsthand knowledge
of the people I wrote about in my script.
what a cast! I had recently seen Richard Thomas in one
of his early films, Red Sky at Morning, and he
was my first choice to play the role of John-Boy. Patricia
Neal was the embodiment of Olivia, the earth mother, but
still sexy and glamorous. This was the first role she
had chosen to play after her stroke and she was such a
pro that she arrived from London with her dialogue perfectly
memorized and ready to face the camera. Edgar Bergen was
a superb grandfather, and Ellen Corby, a stunning choice,
was to return to repeat her role when the movie became
Most knowledgeable actors avoid playing opposite children
because the little rascals steal scenes ruthlessly. The
actors who played my younger brothers and sisters were
especially challenging because each of them was talented,
attractive, confident, and professional. Judy Norton WAS
the tom-boy sister, Mary Ellen. Jon Walmsley conveyed
Jason's warmth and talent with ease, Mary Beth McDonough's
portrayal of "the pretty sister" captured not
just her beauty but a totally appealing character, Eric
Scott was a fabulous Ben, and David Harper was a most
well-portrayed Jim-Bob. The youngest actor was Kami Cotler,
and while she played Elizabeth, the baby of the family,
she held her own with every adult on the set!
Like so many people who love the film, I watch it every
I had met Jack Warner during the making of Spencer's
Mountain and we seemed to hit it off during a brief
meeting, an unlikely bonding between a studio executive
who was said to be disdainful of all writers and a newcomer
to Hollywood from the backwoods of Virginia. I suspect
he enjoyed the story I told him about my father, a man
who used curse words and profanity with invention and
fervor. The story I told Mr. Warner was that when I called
home to tell my father that Henry Fonda would portray
him in the film, there was a long silence. My father finally
responded with an awed, "I'll be a son of a bitch!"
I was surprised when Mr. Warner summoned me to his office
and said, "I've got all these young kids under contract
and I want to keep them busy. So I want you to go to Palm
Springs during Easter Week and bring me back a movie."
story, partially based on my week's stay there, but mostly
coming out of my imagination, became Palm Springs Weekend.
In it a college basketball player (Troy Donahue) pursues
Bunny Dixon (Stefanie Powers), the daughter of the local
police chief (Andrew Duggan). A second story is woven
around actress Connie Stevens posing as a college student
(but actually still in high school) who cannot decide
between a cowboy named Stretch (Ty Hardin) or Eric Dean
(Robert Conrad), the dashing son of a wealthy family.
Highly comedic moments are supplied by Jack Weston and
Carole Cook. The director was Norman Taurog, who went
on to direct most of the Elvis Presley movies.
Radnitz is best known as the producer of quality family
films. I had admired his work on such classics as Sounder,
Misty, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, so
I was pleased when my agent notified me that Radnitz would
like to discuss a project with me. His office was located
at what is now the CBS Studio Center, down at the foot
of the hill where I live. We found common ground almost
immediately due to the fact that he had attended the University
of Virginia in Charlottesville, just twenty-four miles
away from the village where I was born and raised.
had recently bought the rights to a book called Where
the Lilies Bloom by a husband and wife writing team,
Bill and Vera Cleaver. He was looking for a writer to
adapt the book to film. I took a copy of the book home,
read it, and was excited at the prospect of being involved.
story is an appealing one. Mary Call Luther (Julie Gholson),
a thirteen-year-old girl from the backwoods of the Great
Smoky Mountains, makes a deathbed promise to her father
(Rance Howard -- father of director Ron Howard). She pledges
to keep the family together, to care for her younger siblings,
and to never allow her dreamy, slow-witted older sister,
Devola (Jan Smithers), to marry their neighbor, Kiser
Pease (Harry Dean Stanton).
The Cleavers created engaging characters that have unexpected
depth and vulnerabilities. They also used to dramatic
effect the practice of "wildcrafting," which
is the collecting and selling of medicinal herbs native
to that part of the country. It was a custom I knew a
little bit about from my Grandmother Hamner's use of native
herbs to cure anything from croup to asthma, and my own
father supplemented his income from time to time by collecting
and selling ginseng.
Call makes a valiant effort to keep her promise to her
father, but after monumental challenges she has to admit
that she cannot carry the burden; and in a compassionate
and moving conclusion the authors provide us with a portrait
of a child who takes on heroic tasks but in the end becomes
what she really is: a brave little girl who has bitten
off more than she can chew.
was a hallmark of Radnitz's dedication to his work that
he always filmed his movies on the location where the
story took place. This one he filmed in Watauga County,
North Carolina. In writing the script, the location shoot
produced a challenge in that the book covers all four
seasons of the year, but the budget demanded that the
crew complete their filming in just a few weeks in the
summer. Somehow in the adaptation I condensed the story,
and I hope without too much harm to the authors' original
on my list of literary heroes is E. B. White. I had revered
him from the first time I read his tribute to my favorite
city in the world, New York. It was called "Here
Is New York," and it is a loving celebration of the
city as a former citizen views it from a room at the Algonquin
Hotel on a hot summer weekend. I had always loved the
city from afar, but when I moved there in 1949 I saw it
through Mr. White's eyes and it enriched my perception
of the city giving it depth, color, substance, and reference.
a fan of E. B. White, I had also read his books for children.
High on my list was his classic Charlotte's Web,
with its imaginative story of love, friendship, sacrifice,
and regeneration. Charlotte is a spider, and she saves
the life of Wilbur the pig by writing a description of
Wilbur in her web. She tells the world that he is humble,
radiant, and terrific -- and her ploy works.
my agent called and said I had been nominated to write
the adaptation for the animated movie, I said, "I'll
write it for nothing!" This notion did not appeal
to my agent, Lee Rosenberg, so he negotiated a suitable
fee and I went to work on the script.
have written adaptations of prose work to film in radio,
television, and feature film; and my one guiding principle
has always been to keep the integrity of the original
writer's work. More so than with any other project, I
felt this obligation to E. B. White.
Studios had bought the film rights to the book and they
farmed the actual work of producing the animated film
to Hanna-Barbera, a production company known best for
such animated television staples as Scooby-Doo,
The Flintstones, and Huckleberry Hound.
Most of the company's work featured limited animation
rather than the richer, more sophisticated animation being
done by Disney. Still Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna extended
themselves for Charlotte's Web, and the animation
is on par with the work of any of the other animation
was told years later that Mr. White and his wife wanted
the score to be based on music by Mozart. The studio made
a choice that was probably wiser and selected Bob and
Dick Sherman, who had recently written the memorable score
for Mary Poppins. The brothers created unforgettable
songs for Charlotte, from the catchy "A Fair
is a Veritable Schmorgasboard-orgasboard-orgasboard"
to the joyous "I Can Talk!" and the nostalgic
"Mother Earth and Father Time."
the gods had been kind in the selection of the Sherman
Brothers, they were equally generous in the casting of
the actors to give voice to the animated characters.
Reynolds was Charlotte. She gave depth and compassion
even to a creature that declares in the script that she
loves blood. Yet the final act in her life is to save
the life of her friend, a pig.
Lynde gave a performance that was outrageous in its invention
and daring, totally illustrative of the craven character
of Templeton the rat.
Gibson brought a naivety and sweetness to Wilbur the pig,
who learns to his horror that his destiny is to be slaughtered.
casting of the distinguished actress Agnes Moorehead was
inspired, and no one who has seen the movie will ever
forget her multi-syllable versions of Mr. White's dialogue
devised for the Goose.
so director Iwao Takamoto assembled a good script, some
fine music, some excellent actors, and a group of dedicated
artists together and the humble, radiant, terrific book
became a humble, radiant, and terrific movie!