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"The Waltons" Not "The Sopranos" Are Typical Italian American Family

Press Contact: Diane Crespy, 202/547-8115

For Immediate Release:

WASHINGTON, September 3, 2002 - The characters in the classic television series, "The Waltons" have Italian roots and are a more typical Italian American family than the one presented on "The Sopranos," according to the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for people of Italian descent in the United States.

In an exclusive interview with the OSIA cultural magazine, Italian America, "Waltons" creator Earl Hamner reveals that he based the grandparents in the popular television series on his own maternal Italian American grandparents, Colonel Anderson Gianniny and Ora Lee Mann.

"I particularly remember my grandfather, a handsome man people called Colonel Gianniny," Hamner told Italian America magazine. "He was a carpenter at the soapstone quarry in Schuyler [Virginia] where he built crates to ship the soapstone. Grandfather was a tall and commanding figure, very energetic."

"The Waltons" premiered nationally Sept. 14, 1972 on CBS. In only four months it became the most popular series on television, lasting nine seasons until Aug. 20, 1981.

"The Waltons" was not the first time Hamner used his mother's Italian heritage in his fiction. "In my first novel, "Spencer's Mountain"‚ I created a set of grandparents who were principal characters and modeled them after my mother's side of the family," he says. "In fact, I gave them the last name Italiano. It wasn't very subtle but it got the message across."

Earl Hamner's mother, Doris Gianniny Hamner, was a direct descendant of Antonio and Maria Giannini, who came to the United States from Italy in 1773 as indentured servants. An expert horticulturist, Antonio Giannini later worked for Thomas Jefferson and served in the Virginia militia at the Siege of Yorktown, which ended the Revolutionary War.

Eventually, he Americanized his name to "Gianniny" and became a Baptist minister. Nine generations later, Antonio and Maria Giannini have more than 4,000 descendants all over the country, including Earl Hamner. What influence does his Italian heritage have on Hamner and his family today? "I would say the Italian traits we still possess include a love of good living, strong family ties, and a belief in religion, although we now are Baptist rather than Catholic," he says.

"These are the same values that Italians brought to the United States," says Robert A. Messa, OSIA national president. "And these are the values 25 million of us still live by today although you won't see any of that on "The Sopranos", " he said.

OSIA research reveals that the Gianninis were not the only Italians in early American history.

"Most Americans have no idea who these real Italian Americans are," Messa says. "But mention Tony Soprano and they know everything about him except his blood type. What's wrong with this picture?".

Italian America magazine is the most widely read cultural publication for Italian Americans in the United States. The Hamner interview will run in the fall 2002 issue, out in October.

Italian America magazine is published by OSIA, the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian descent in the country. Established in 1905, OSIA has more than 575,000 supporters and a network of 700 chapters coast to coast.

For more information about Italian America magazine and the Order Sons of Italy in America®, visit