The Waltons remains a classic decades after it concluded and is one of the most wholesome shows you’ll ever watch. The emotions we feel while viewing the show even seemed to affect the cast, with Michael Learned saying it changed her life forever.
Sitting down with FOX News back in 2019, Michael Learned talked about The Waltons and the film Second Acts. At one point the outlet asked how getting the role of Olivia Walton saved her life, which she happily answered. According to her, she was going through a rough patch, to say the least. Regularly drinking too much, her life was spiraling out of control. Being in such a dark place, starring on the show gave her something productive to do with herself. Put simply, she didn’t have the time to act, be a good mom, and drink, so she cut out the latter.
“I was drinking too much and I came down to L.A. and I was full of fear because I had been married since I was 17,” Learned began. “I was scared to death, I was just shaking, and I was hungover—auditioning for the ‘mother of America,'” she recalled of her first meeting with the casting directors.”
Luckily, she got the job and the show proved to be a huge turning point in her life. Her alcohol addiction previously controlled her, but she didn’t have the time to maintain it with everything else. “It was a rough time in my life, and getting that show not only helped me financially, but it also got me sober. I knew I couldn’t do a television show and take care of my kids, and do all of that and have cocktails at night.”
‘The Waltons’ Creator Earl Hamner Stated Michael Learned Had One Issue with Olivia Walton
Though her personal life was far from perfect at the time, Michael Learned played an incredible Olivia Walton and it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing so. Nevertheless, she didn’t think the character was perfect and had one major problem with her.
In a Television Academy interview, The Waltons creator Earl Hamner revealed Michael Learned had a huge problem with her character. Notice I used the word perfect earlier, and that’s exactly what Learned had an issue with.
“Michael had some trouble with the role in the beginning because Michael was very aware of the fact that she would be held up as a model for women and she didn’t want [Olivia] to be so perfect that a woman couldn’t measure up in her own way,” Hamner said.
Continuing, Hamner said she asked about his own mother. “So she would occasionally say to me was ‘was your Mother really like this?’ and I would say ‘yes Michael. She was that patient.’ and she would say ‘well she’s practically inhuman. Let’s humanize this character.”
I’d say Learned’s comments paid off. Olivia was obviously a great mother, but her flaws helped flesh her out and make her more real.