‘The Waltons’: The Original Olivia Walton Actress Was Married to Roald Dahl

by Joe Rutland

Before “The Waltons” reached TV series popularity, one actress who played Olivia Walton actually was married to British writer Roald Dahl.

Who was she? Obviously, it was not Michael Learned who starred in “The Waltons” as Olivia.

No, Outsiders, we’re talking about actress Patricia Neal. She played the matriarch of the Walton family in the TV movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” which would then lead into the TV series.

Cast member Kami Cotler, who played Elizabeth Walton in both the TV movie and series, was interviewed by Cinephile about the show and cast.

‘The Waltons’ Star Cotler Did Not Know That Original Olivia Was Married

When asked if she knew who Neal was at the time, Cotler said, “No. But I knew she was special because my parents seemed very impressed by her — they told me she won an Academy Award.

“I also knew that she’d had a stroke because everyone was very careful with her,” Cotler said. “There was a sense of fragility.”

And what about Neal’s marriage to Dahl?

“No, I didn’t, and I was totally a Roald Dahl fan!” “The Waltons” star Cotler said. “I only figured that out later because we sent her Christmas gifts for years afterwards.”

Patricia Neal Won Best Actress Academy Award for Work In Film ‘Hud’

Neal and Dahl were married for 30 years. Outsiders, Neal won an Academy Award for Best Actress from her role in the 1963 film “Hud” starring Paul Newman. She also had a memorable turn as Marcia Jeffires, a journalist, in the 1957 Elia Kazan film “A Face in the Crowd” starring a young Andy Griffith.

The actress suffered three cerebral aneurysms while pregnant in 1965. Those left her in a coma, but Dahl and others worked with Neal to get her back functioning. Neal learned how to walk all over again and would be able to move forward with her career.

She died on Aug. 10, 2010, from lung cancer. Neal, a lifelong smoker, was 84 years old.

“The Waltons” ran on CBS for nine seasons. Learned was cast as Olivia before the TV series started up. Also, Ralph Waite was cast as John Walton but he, too, was not in the TV movie. Actor Andrew Duggan played opposite Neal as John.

Learned won three Emmy Awards from the TV show. Learned also received an Emmy for being on “Nurse.” This is according to an article from MeTV.

They all were for being an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. That ties her with actress Tyne Daly of “Cagney & Lacey” for a record four Emmys in the same category.

Daly was Mary Beth Lacey on the police drama, also on CBS.