Last night I watched "The Homecoming," the beloved 1971 CBS Christmas special that spawned "The Waltons."
I had read Earl Hamner's novella, but had never seen the movie and was intrigued by it because the role of Olivia Walton was played by Knoxville native Patricia Neal in her second performance ("The Subject Was Roses" was the first) following a 1965 stroke.
Neal brought a weary reality to the role that Michael Learned never matched. Her face, worn with pain, exuded the hardship of the Depression through which the character endured. The movie also contained an edge the series lacked.
Most of the later TV cast is intact. All of the kids came back, as did Ellen Corby as Esther Walton and Richard Thomas as John Boy. Edgar Bergen makes a rare late career appearance as Grandpa, much more subdued than Will Geer later was, and Andrew Duggan (who shows up at the end) plays John Walton Sr., the role that would be better played later by Ralph Waite.
"The Homecoming" is an excellent film that has been ignored in recent years. I have no idea why CBS or somebody doesn't show this each Christmas. It's a great testimony to Neal's talent. She is missed.