Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Claire Whitaker Obituary (2021) – Santa Fe, NM

Claire Whitaker

1928 ~ 2021

Television writer

Santa Fe, NM- Claire Whitaker Peterson died on Thursday evening, September 23, 2021, surrounded by her family at her home in Santa Fe, NM. Those whom she befriended, encouraged, mentored and inspired visited in the last days of her life to express their love and gratitude.

She was born Orma Clara Whitaker in Evanston, IL, on May 26, 1928, to her artist father William Ferrin Whitaker Sr. and her gifted mother Martha Elizabeth Bassett. From a young age, her intelligence, love of reading and poetry drove her curiosity and inspired her to pursue a career as a writer. She graduated from Northwestern University in Journalism, which eventually led to a career as a writer in Hollywood and paved the way for other women writers in a male-dominated industry.

In 1948 she moved to California to take classes at USC and got a job as a typist for radio and television programs, including the Jack Benny Show and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life”. One of her sons once boasted that his mother’s typewriter was faster than everyone else’s, even though everyone knew it was powered by diet ritual colas and boxes of Good & Plenty. When her parents retired to La Jolla, California, in 1949, she moved in with them and eventually met Delbert E. Wallengren in 1951 and married. They were married until their divorce in 1971.

In the fall of 1951, their father Ferrin and his brothers bought Schneitter’s Hot Pot Resort in Midway, Utah. Del and Claire joined the family’s trailer in Hebertal outside Park City, Utah, where upon arrival they had to tunnel through two feet of snow to get to the resort lobby. The whole family put on their work boots and remodeled the resort, renaming it The Homestead, a name that still stands today. When children were born they joined parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles at The Homestead in a veritable family commune, and those years proved to be the foundation of the strongest and most loving bonds a family can have.

Claire and her uncle Scott got involved in the community and suggested that Midway celebrate the Swiss culture of the town of nine hundred. Today the Swiss Days draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city, one of the largest annual gatherings in the country and a boon for the local economy. She wrote a weekly column for the local Wasatch Wave newspaper and was part of the civil, cultural and religious community while raising her five children.

At the same time, she continued to write poetry and plays. In 1962 she got the opportunity to write a short film for the newly founded BYU Motion Picture Studios. The film was to be presented in the LDS pavilion during the New York World’s Fair in 1964. This short film, “Mann’s Quest for Happiness,” continued to be seen by millions, not just at the World’s Fair, but LDS members around the world. She also wrote the original script for “Johnny Lingo” and many other early church films.

In 1963 she signed with the legendary and powerful HN Swanson Agency in Hollywood and began writing television scripts for “Death Valley Days”, “Wagon Train” and “The Wonderful World of Disney”. Realizing she needed to be near the Hollywood studios with more writing assignments, she returned to Southern California in 1964 with her family in tow.

Claire would meet her second husband, Roderick William Peterson, on the corner of Mickey Mouse Lane and Dopey Drive on the Walt Disney Studios property, and after their marriage in 1972 they would begin an almost twenty-year writing partnership. After a successful multi-year run as writers and producers of the television classic “The Waltons”, the two sign a three-year development contract with Mary Tyler Moore Productions. They then returned to Lorimar Productions and spent 8 years with their close friend and colleague Earl Hamner on his nightly television series “Falcon Crest”. Some of their television writers include Emergency, Apple’s Way, Eight is Enough, Promised Land, Baywatch, and Touched by an Angel. She also wrote the television films “A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion” and “A Walton Wedding”.

In 2012 a book of her poems entitled “The Listening Place” was published.

Claire and Rod retired to Santa Fe in 1989, where they continued to help and encourage many young men and women who wanted to become writers. They enjoyed many happy years hosting family and friends from out of town, developing long-standing friendships, and contributing to philanthropic work for the American Diabetes Association, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and ALSA.

Claire was preceded in death by her son Ernest Ferrin Wallengren in 2003 and by her husband Roderick Peterson in 2004. She leaves four children; Martha Kristin Garbett from Salt Lake City, UT, Mark Delbert Wallengren from Studio City, CA, Eric Jon Wallengren from Murray, UT, and Rolf Whitaker Wallengren from Santa Fe, NM. In addition to her children, she has twenty-three grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.

The funeral service took place in Midway City Cemetery on Friday morning, October 8, 2021. Instead of flowers, a donation can be made at www.fixals.org to find a cure for ALS.

Published by The Salt Lake Tribune October 6-16, 2021.

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