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Introduced to viewers in the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the Walton family of Jefferson County, VA, began showing up on a weekly basis as The Waltons had its first season. In the middle of the Great Depression (1934 or thereabouts), the Waltons, headed by dad John (Ralph Waite) and mom Olivia (Michael Learned), manage to keep home and hearth together with income from the lumber mill run by John and his father Zeb (Will Geer), better known as Grandpa to the seven Walton youngsters. Grandpa of course lives on Walton mountain with the rest of the brood, as does his wife Esther (Ellen Corby, aka "Grandma"). The season's episodes are narrated by series creator Earl Hamner Jr., who recalls the events through the eyes of the Walton's oldest son John-Boy (Richard Thomas), a high-school student who aspires to be a writer. The remaining Walton kids include Mary Ellen (Judy Norton-Taylor), Jim-Bob (David W. Harper), Elizabeth (Kami Cotler), Jason (Jon Walmsley), Erin (Mary Beth McDonough), and Ben (Eric Scott).
Among the other regulars introduced during the series' freshman season are the Reverend Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter), who makes his first appearance in the episode titled "The Sinner;" schoolteacher Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello), not yet Mrs. Fordwick; and storekeeper Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Sheriff Bridges (John Crawford), town gossips Mamie and Emily Baldwin (Helen Kleeb, Mary Jackson), and the Walton's black neighbor Verdie Grant (Lynn Hamilton). In the opening episode "The Foundling," the Waltons briefly take care of a little deaf girl. In subsequent episodes, the kids try to hide the family calf when John decides to sell it, John-Boy has a crisis of conscience when he goes on his first hunt, the family wins the confidence of a tough street kid who has run away from a nearby CCC camp, a group of Jewish refugees show up on Walton's Mountain after fleeing Nazis, Mary Ellen is smitten by a wandering troubador, schoolteacher Miss Hunter risks her job by teaching Evolution, and Sissy Spacek guest stars as a troubled young girl who tries to trap John-Boy into marriage. In the two-episode season finale "The Easter Story," the family is plunged into despair when Olivia Walton is stricken with polio. ~ Rovi
- Ralph Waite, Michael Learned, (more)