Episode 23 - The Fledgling

(26 February 1976)
Writer: Earl Hamner.
Director: Harry Harris.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"The year 1936 was a momentous one in the history of the world. It was the year a king gave up his crown for the woman he loved, it was the year Adolf Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles, and it was the same year that Benito Mussolini, encouraged by Hitler's daring, overran Ethiopia. But none of these historic events was quite so important with our family as the struggle by one of us to attain an impossible dream".


John-Boy comes into the newspaper office and tells Mr. Johnson that he would like him to read an article about the preparation of the Jefferson County Fair. But, Mr. Johnson has an editorial he wants John-Boy to read. In it he is saying farewell to the citizens of Jefferson County. He hasn’t been successful in his marriages, and feels a need to get back to his roots in a small town in Florida. The equipment will be sent to Florida, except for the original printing press. Mr. Johnson wants John-Boy to buy the press so he could start his own newspaper. He wants five hundred fifty dollars for it. He is leaving within three weeks. John-Boy says he would have to do all the publishing work. Mr. Johnson offers a down payment of fifty dollars and fifteen dollars a month thereafter. John-Boy ponders the fair offer, and suddenly agrees. John-Boy doesn’t have the fifty dollars but he has three weeks to come up with the money.


John-Boy rushes home to announce the news to Grandpa and John. Grandpa is making a copy of a rocking chair that his grandfather made. He has bought a printing press to start a newspaper. When they learn about the money involved Grandpa can’t believe it. John-Boy knows he will have to get a full-time job. Grandpa looks on as John wonders if John-Boy knows what he is doing. When Professor Parks is told of the news, he says there are only so many hours in the day. He relates when he was a young man and he started a novel but never finished it because he went to work to help support his family.


John-Boy looks at the “job wanted” ads on the bulletin board at the university. He sees Mike Paxton there, surprised to see the wealthy student also there. His father has cut back on the money he is getting, and also needs a job. John-Boy makes the rounds looking for a job. He finally walks past the White Arrow Bus Lines and talks with the manager, Rudyard Davis. John-Boy emphasizes that he lives in Jefferson County at Walton’s Mountain. Davis says that the job may not last long because the last fellow moved to Roanoke, and may move back, but has John-Boy fill out an application.


Next to the bus lines is the coffee shop operated by Mrs. Tillie Shanks. She finds out that Davis has hired a new boy, John-Boy, and needs to keep an eye on him. A woman at the front of the line for bus tickets wants to go to Rutgersville, but doesn’t know what fare she wants because her eldest daughter is there with a skin condition. John-Boy decides that he will sell her a one-way ticket for fifty cents. The next man asks for a round trip to Lynchburg. At Professor Park’s class, John-Boy has trouble keeping awake. At ten o’clock, John-Boy is fast asleep. Parks wakes him up as the class dismisses. John-Boy admits he isn’t getting much rest. He has six hours of class and eight hours of work each day. John-Boy says he will correct the problem today. John-Boy drives home to find that John is going out to hunt for venison. John-Boy tells his father that he needs to move closer to school to cut down on the amount of traveling back and forth to school, maybe a boarding house in Westham. He wonders what his mother will say. John says she will grieve some, but will accept it eventually as a part of growing up. John tells his eldest son that he can’t tell him how to live. John does say that, “We all grow old and die, but what is important is to find someone to love and someone who will love you back.” John continues, “Always pay your debts, son; don’t take unfair advantage of any man, and don’t let any man take unfair advantage of you. Find yourself a good woman, and remember, you’re my son.


John-Boy wonders if Mike Paxton has found a job, but he hasn’t. He tells Mike that he will be moving to Westham as soon as he finds a place. Later, Tilly asks John-Boy how the burger tastes. John-Boy says it tastes wonderful, has a special flavor to it. She says she puts a jigger of red wine (that her husband makes) into each pound of meat. John-Boy thinks her last name could be “Baldwin” not Shanks. Tillie says that the only Baldwins she knows are two ladies near where he lives that come in for a burger whenever they are in town. Just then Mike comes in to say he has a solution to both of their problems. He wants one of the burgers (for fifteen cents) but can only afford half. Tillie refuses the offer, so John-Boy gives him half of his burger. After tasting the burger he orders one for him (on credit). Mike thinks they should share a room in order to save costs. They agree to the arrangement. Tillie says they should go to Mrs. Butterworth’s Boarding House across the street.


John-Boy moves out of the house, and says goodbye to the family. Jason says he can catch a ride with Elsie Warren. Olivia holds back the tears. Everyone is sad that he is leaving. He hugs Elizabeth goodbye and drives off to his new life. At the bus station, Miss Mamie and Miss Emily get off the bus. They surprise John-Boy, and ask him if he will have lunch with them. A customer asks for a one-way ticket to Culpepper. The Baldwin sisters say that they have distant relatives in Culpepper who manufacture barrels. Another lady asks for a one-way ticket to Richmond. They eat at the diner where Mrs. Shanks immediately says, “Three burgers!”


Later, John-Boy walks into Mr. Johnson’s office. He says he already has half of the down payment. John-Boy takes a look at the old press one more time. Mr. Johnson throws in the case of type, the table, and stones (for setting the type). He is leaving a week from Friday. John-Boy agrees to be there as soon as he gets paid. The family waits for John to get home. The boys say they are starving. The family are expecting John-Boy to return home about midnight Friday night. John arrives home after a busy day. At the bus lines, the owner asks John-Boy if he would work this weekend because he promised to take his wife to the Shenandoah Valley because her mother is sick. John-Boy calls Ike’s store (three shorts and a long) and asks Ike to tell the family he can’t come home. Ike tells them that their son has to work this weekend. The family is saddened to hear the news.


In their new room, Mike tries to get John-Boy to go out to a movie at The Colonial: One Hundred Men and a Girl. But, John-Boy says he needs to continue studying. John-Boy writes in his journal: “After Thanksgiving the winter turned severe. Snow fell all through Christmas and New Year blotting out the horizon. Inside the house the family felt isolated as if on a small, snug island of warmth and light. The younger children grew restless and could not wait for the storm to end. For they knew…” Mrs. Butterworth knocks to tell John-Boy that Mr. and Mrs. Godsey is calling. Corabeth shows John-Boy their new puppy, Clementine, which she found at the animal shelter. Ike doesn’t like the puppy that much because the eight-week old puppy only “makes mischief” on the rug. Ike gives John-Boy a letter that Elizabeth wrote to him. They also must leave because they are on their way to the same picture show as the one Mike is going to see. John-Boy reads the letter that Elizabeth wrote, and responses with a letter of his own.


At the bus line, the manager, Mr. Davis, is forced to tell John-Boy that the man who had the job before him has returned. He must let him go because he has a family and is “dead broke”, and John-Boy is single. John-Boy leaves in a huff, after getting his paycheck. John-Boy wakes up Mike on Monday morning to ask him to tell Professor Parks that he won’t be in class today. He looks for jobs all day but has no luck. He comes back to the room to find no messages. It’s been three days now and he still hasn’t written anything on his novel, and doesn’t have enough for the down payment on the press. John-Boy decides to tell Mr. Johnson what has happened. But, at the office the entire place is cleaned out and a man from the Greenville Farm Machinery Company is sawing a board. John-Boy is disappointed to find the printing press gone. At home, John-Boy tells his father that is all over; that all his plans have turned to dirt. John-Boy explains that he lost his job and couldn’t pay Mr. Johnson. He feels like “such a fool”. John tells his son that he’ll have to sleep in the shed. When John-Boy goes into the shed he finds the printing press in the middle of the room. John shows him a letter from Mr. Johnson, which tells him that Professor Parks paid the down payment. The family sneaks up behind him and welcomes him home. The Blue Ridge Chronicle, John-Boy’s newspaper, is about to be born.


"I had made a brief journey into the world. I'd known loneliness, desperation and friendship, and it stretched the horizons of my experience and of my life. Like the best of journeys it led to home again, and a whole adventure of my life was turning now in a new direction for I was soon to become the publisher, editor, writer and printer of a small country newspaper".


Elizabeth: John-Boy?
John-Boy: Yes Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Did you know that Corabeth has a puppy?
John-Boy: I know. She calls it Clementine.
Elizabeth: That's not what Ike calls it.
John-Boy: What does Ike call it?
Elizabeth: I can't say it.
John-Boy: Why not?
Elizabeth: Mamy won't let me say words like that..... I'm glad you're home John-Boy.
John-Boy: So am I. Goodnight everybody!
Everybody: Goodnight John-Boy.



According to the introduction by Earl Hamner, the year is 1936. The Jefferson County Fair is about to be held. These are usually held in the fall of the year in celebration of the harvest.

The movie One Hundred Men and a Girl was released in 1937. Information about the movie can be found at: http://www.reel.com/movie.asp?MID=2750. NOTE: There seems to be a discrepancy with the introductory remarks as to whether the year is 1936 or 1937.

Mr. Clarence Johnson has been living in Jefferson County for fifteen years. The Jefferson County Times is the newspaper Mr. Johnson started at that time.

Joe is the cook at the coffee shop and diner and Tillie Shanks operates the coffee shop and diner that is located within the White Arrow Bus Lines bus station.

Mrs. Butterworth’s Boarding House is across from the White Arrow Bus Lines bus station in Westham.

According to the letter that Elizabeth wrote John-Boy, her full name is Elizabeth Tyler Walton.


Also appearing:

Ike & Corabeth Godsey (Joe Conley & Ronnie Claire Edwards); Miss Emily & Miss Mamie Baldwin (Mary Jackson & Helen Kleeb); Mike Paxton (Dennis Redfield); Mr. Clarence Johnson (Walter Brooke); Professor Parks (Paul Jenkins); Tillie Shanks (Lucille Benson); Mrs. Butterworth (Virginia Gregg); Rudyard Davis (Eddie Firestone); Mrs. Cox (Billie Bird); Man #1 (Norman Andrews); Man #2 (William Parker); Woman in Line (Beth Peters); Boyd (Michael McDonough); The Carpenter (Ted Jordan).