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John McGreevey

Some people follow the careers of politicians. Others track the contributions of athletes or business leaders. I have always been interested in storytellers, those among us who have the gift of using words to evoke images and thoughts and to transfer us to special places in our minds. One such extraordinary storyteller is John McGreevey. If you, like me, follow the credits on "The Waltons", you will know his name; for John McGreevey has written over 20 episodes and is responsible for the creation of two beloved characters, Verdie Grant and Corabeth Walton Godsey.

McGreevey began writing plays and radio scripts while an English student at Indiana University, 1938-1942. He told me that he actually began writing at age 7 in Logansport, Indiana and continued through high school and into college. He was strongly influenced by his Midwest roots. Moving to Arizona shortly after his marriage in 1944 to Nota Scholl, John worked as a writer and announcer for radio station KTAR in Phoenix. He also served as creator, writer and director of "Arizona Adventure", a southwestern regional network radio show from 1948-1952. Meanwhile, he had several short stories published in magazines and he produced scripts for such notable radio network shows as "Armstrong’s Theatre of Today", "Cavalcade of America" and "Dr. Christian."

During the 1950's, John began concentrating on live television. He wrote dramas for "Armstrong Circle Theatre," "Lux Video Theatre," "Climax" and "Westinghouse Studio One." In 1955 he made the transition to film television and moved to California. Since then he has written several hundred scripts for a wide variety of television series, as well as movie scripts and adaptations for the stage. His most prominent television credits include co-creator and head writer for "Black Saddle", 1958-1961; over 50 scripts for "My Three Sons", 1960-1967; and more than 30 stories for "Family Affair", 1966-1970. Other shows include: "Adventures In Paradise," "The Flying Nun," "Hazel," "Ironside," "Mayberry R.F.D," "Wagon Train," "Owen Marshall" and, of course, "The Waltons."

Probably the best known of John McGreevey’s writing credits are his scripts for "The Waltons." He wrote more than 20 of the episodes including; "The Best Christmas," "The Burnout," "The Easter Story," "The Foundling," "The Children’s Carol," "The Matchmaker," and "The Scholar." I asked John how he became involved in The Waltons. "I knew of Earl Hamner. We both worked in television, we didn’t live far from each other and writers tend to know other writers. Earl called me one day and asked me to have lunch and discuss a possible new series being developed for CBS. The series was to be based on his novel, "The Homecoming." I had read the book and Earl took me to the studio to see the rough cut of the two-hour Christmas special. CBS wanted to develop a family oriented show to combat the criticism that television, in general, was too violent. CBS wanted two scripts for review. Earl wrote one and I wrote the other." The script that John submitted was called "The Foundling" and became the first show of The Waltons series. When the series first aired, it came in a dismal 57th in the Nielsens for the week. The network was pessimistic and had a replacement show waiting in the wings. By the end of that first season, however, it ranked first, beating out its competition, "Mod Squad" and "The Flip Wilson Show."

John was involved in 7 of the first year’s episodes including Emmy nominations for "The Scholar" and the two-hour "The Easter Story." He won an Emmy for "The Scholar", which introduced the character of Verdie Grant. During the third season he wrote "The Matchmakers," which introduced the character of Corabeth.

Concurrent with The Waltons was a growing trend of docu-drama television programming. John wrote approximately 35 such dramas, the most notable being "Judge Horton and The Scottsboro Boys." Broadcast in 1976, this tense true-life drama followed the trials of nine black youths charged with rape in Alabama in the 1930's. The program won four Christopher Awards, the George Foster Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination for John. Outside of his work on "The Waltons", he is the most proud of his work on that screenplay.

John recently finished work on a made for TV movie for the USA cable network tentatively called "The Unabomber." The teleplay was filmed in Salt Lake City and stars Robert Hayes and Dean Stockwell. He is currently writing a new version of "A Christmas Carol," for the 1997 television season. John promises it will be unique and have an unexpected cast.

His son, Michael, is also in television. He has written scripts for "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and is currently in South Africa producing a new Tarzan series. Michael appeared in "The Waltons" episode, "The Braggart," as Hobie Shank, the young baseball pitcher who fell from a tree and lost his career as a professional pitcher.

The McGreeveys have been married for 52 years, and have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. John lovingly says he models his role as a grandfather after the late actor and fellow Hoosier, Will Geer. He and Nota are close friends of Earl and Jane Hamner, and Rod and Claire Peterson, also writers and producers of "The Waltons." They frequently travel together.

John McGreevey has written hundreds of television scripts that most certainly have touched our hearts. He has taken us to other places with adventure and poignancy and he has given birth to wonderful characters. His storytelling talents have enriched our lives. He is certainly an author extraordinaire.

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