The Waltons creator Earl Hamner said that they had to intentionally try and play down one star’s beauty. The Waltons, which aired from 1972 through 1981 followed a depression-era family navigating daily life. They wanted everyone to look fairly “normal” so, for someone as stunning as Olivia Walton actress Michael Learned, that’s a challenge.
“She was and is so beautiful that we had to play down her beauty,” Hamner said in an Archive of American Television interview. “She’s such a beautiful woman that it’s almost unreal.”
The producers worked hard with the wardrobe and makeup department to make this happen, paying specific attention to her clothes. Though Hamner admitted she could even look good in PJs at a cocktail party.
“If you see her at a cocktail party and she’s wearing black pajamas, that’s sensational. But we brought her down, played down her beauty a bit by dressing her in dowdy old costumes that helped a little bit,” he said.
This doesn’t seem like something Michael took much issue with. In fact, any of her complaints were about the fact that Olivia Walton seemed “too perfect” and would set an unrealistic standard for the women watching the show at home.
This is What Earl Hamner Thought was The Secret Success of ‘The Waltons’
Aside from Michael Learned, Earl Hamner also worked closely with everyone in the cast to bring the now-classic show to life. And when asked why he thought the show was so successful, he answered succinctly.
“I listened to the actors,” he said. It sounds like a fairly simple concept. But there are both upsides and downsides to taking too much input from those who aren’t scriptwriters. It looks like The Waltons benefitted from it.
Some shows take a lot of input from actors when it comes to their characters. Other shows expect the actors not to argue too much with what’s on the script. But as was the case with Michael Learned, Earl Hamner wanted feedback from the people playing the roles, and that, in his opinion, was the recipe for success.
Richard Thomas once confirmed this about Hamner, telling KfileTV “he was wonderful on the set. We did our cast readings every week before we’d shoot the show, and he listened very carefully, very attentively to our concerns, or our notes, or suggestions, or ideas, and incorporated the most of the time.
Whether it was John Boy or Olivia or Mary Ellen, each member of the Walton family was formed by Hamner in collaboration with the actors, and it’s part of the reason the show had the charm that it did. Hamner died in 2016 at 92 years old and will remain known for his charming stories that an entire generation grew up watching and enjoying.