January 23, 2019

A Walton's Weekend 2015 Gala to Remember



A Walton

Mary Beth McDonough (Erin Walton) and Michael Learned (Olivia Walton) offer a painting of the original Walton's house to the Producer and Director of Earl Hamner, Storyteller, Ray Castro. The painting was painted by Learned's husband's cousin and will be signed by the cast. Learned said of Castro before presenting him with this special painting, “I call him our guardian angel. He will do anything for us. He has never allowed us to do anything for him. He is like a member of the family…and ended with, “I want you all to honor him as much as I do.”

About 50 guests arrived at Theatricum Botanicum’s “Waltons Weekend” from all over the country, even different parts of the world, to celebrate the legacy of “The Waltons” on Friday evening, August 7.

The three-day weekend tribute and reminiscence began with a gala Waltons-themed dinner, coffee and dessert, a silent auction and special guest appearances with series alumni at the Mountain Mermaid in Topanga. It was followed by a screening of the newly released documentary, Earl Hamner, Storyteller, about the creator of the hit series.

Guests were greeted at the door with an optional complimentary small Ball glass jar, tied with a pretty gold ribbon, to be filled at the bar with a beverage of choice, including old fashioned cocktails of varying recipes that seemed straight out of an episode of “The Waltons,” courtesy of the Baldwin sisters.

The air was light with laughter while old episodes of “The Waltons” playing on a big screen television added to the feeling that the guests were back in time with these characters.

The rustic look and feel of the venue, the great room of The Mountain Mermaid, with its hardwood maple floors, truss-beamed ceiling, big fireplace, eclectic furnishings and period fixtures added to the ambience.

Much of the talk during the silent auction revolved around the screening of the documentary on “The Waltons” creator Earl Hamner. Many had contributed to the making of the documentary, which cost about $100K, according to Ray Castro, the film's producer.

Guests were also looking forward to the next day's event, which would present the first Will Geer Humanitarian Award to Hamner in recognition of his lifetime achievement and his concern for others. The award is named for Will Geer who played Grandpa Walton in the series.

Guests were then treated to a country feast by chef Layne L. Sanden that included choices of chicken stew with dill dumplings and meatloaf with mushroom gravy as main courses and the dessert options were equally country fare: what could be more American than apple pie or as Depression-era as bread pudding with whiskey sauce?

Many of the event's guests had been in attendance many times before.

Sharon Holmes of Chico, CA, a member of the Walton's fan club has been coming to these events since 1997.

“The first time I went, I just felt so much love in the room that night,” she said. “We are just all family when we get together. I got to meet Earl Hamner who is so near and dear to my heart, because if it weren't for him wanting to write these stories growing up, we wouldn't have ‘The Waltons’ TV show.

“He grew up wanting to be a writer,” she added. “That is John Boy portraying Earl Hamner,” she said.

After dinner, the documentary was screened, compliments of Bill Bowling of the Topanga Film Festival.

A Walton

A talk with the film's producer, Ray Castro, revealed that the film was made in an effort to honor Hamner’s life and was inspired after he was slighted on national television.

“The decision to make the documentary came about after Earl was on ‘Good Morning, America’ and wasn't acknowledged as much as he should have been, so the idea to create a documentary was born,” he said.

“’Good Morning America’ had the entire cast on and they took Earl way in the back. They did not ask him any questions. They didn't introduce him. And you don't do that, because he is the real life John Boy. The story is based on his family and he created the show. Everyone always remembers the actors, but without the written word, there are no actors,” Castro said.

The following day Hamner was honored when Geer’s daughter Ellen Geer, who is the Artistic Director of the Theatricum Botanicum, and members of the Geer family, presented him with the first-ever Will Geer Humanitarian award via video link.