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  John Hamilton
  Earl Hamner, Jr.
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(1923– ). American writer.

Wrote: "The Hunt," "A Piano in the House" (1962), "Jess-Belle," "Ring-a-Ding Girl" (1963), "You Drive," "Stopover in a Quiet Town," "Black Leather Jackets," "The Bewitchin' Pool" (1964), episodes of The Twilight Zone; "The Watchers" (with Jerry SOHL), episode of The Invaders (1967); "The People Trap" (1967), episode of ABC Stage 67 [released as a film in 1971 under the title The Last Generation]; "The Tyrannosaurus Tibia," "A Fowl Episode," "The Visitor," "The Haunted House" (1970), episodes of Nanny and the Professor; Aesop's Fables (animated tv movie) (Robert Chenault 1971); Charlotte's Web (animated) (Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto 1973); "The Anniversary" (2000), episode of The Wild Thornberrys; "The Doghouse" (2001), episode of Night Visions; The Night Before Christmas: A Mouse Tale (animated tv special) (Michael Sporn 2002); Charlotte's Web (story; screenplay Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick) (Gary Winick 2006).
Today, the Virginia-born Earl Hamner, Jr. is best known as a purveyor of nauseating pablum, most famously exemplified by his series The Waltons (1972-1981) and a number of cloying television movies. His other celebrated series, the prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest (1981-1990), may have been a bit more acerbic but was ultimately just as trite. Happily, I need spend no more time denigrating such easy targets, since my assignment, as always, is primarily to discuss this writer's contributions to science fiction film.

Granted, based on the evidence just cited, Hamner would not appear to be the sort of person you would ever recruit to write science fiction. But fans of The Waltons may be surprised to hear that he first made his mark by writing eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, where his tendency to indulge in rural sentimentality was balanced by the aura of bitter irony favored by series creator Rod SERLING . While Hamner's first two contributions—"The Hunt" and "A Piano in the House"—were fairly inept, he then came up with one of the finest hour-long episodes, "Jess-Belle," about a country girl who uses witchcraft to attract a young man, with predictably unfortunate results. Four later episodes weren't quite as good, though "The Bewitching Pool," about children of quarreling parents who escape to a magical place through their swimming pool, had an evocative quality, and as the last episode aired, it brought the series to a respectable conclusion.

After The Twilight Zone stopped production, Hamner worked in the undemanding venues of the non-classic television series Gentle Ben (1967-1969) and Nanny and the Professor (1970-1971). One assumes that he got involved in an episode of The Invaders because fellow Twilight Zone veteran Jerry SOHL couldn't handle the job and asked for his help. His subsequent adventures, during and after The Waltons, include writing a number of animated films for children, most notably a competent version of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web which later served as the basis for a live-action film.

However, by far his most signification contribution to the genre was his episode of ABC Stage 67, "The People Trap," a brilliant adaptation of Robert Sheckley's short story about an overpopulated future which was so superb that it later earned theatrical release under the title The Last Generation. After Stuart Whitman has struggled to win his family the rare opportunity to live in a home with a yard, the show concludes with a haunting image of hordes of people standing behind the fence that surrounds the house, enviously staring at the privileged homeowners; forty years after I watched it, I can still vividly remember the scene. Why, oh why, did such a talented writer waste so much of his time in Walton's Mountain?

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