‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Reflects on Her Time as Olivia Walton

by Megan Molseed

Michael Learned won three Emmy Awards for her memorable portrayal of Walton’s matriarch, Olivia Walton, in the hit classic television series The Waltons. 

The historical drama ran between 1972 and 1981 and focuses on the Walton family and their struggles as they live through the great depression in rural America. And, even decades after the series left the airwaves, Michael Learned remembers the moment she landed her famous role.

“My agent kept calling and saying ‘this part is still available,'” Learned remembers in a discussion with ET. However, the actress remembers that she didn’t feel she was right for the part, initially.

“I kept saying ‘I’m not right for it,'” the actress remembers thinking about the role of Olivia Walton. However, she says, these thoughts didn’t sway her in the long run. And she went on the audition anyway. Then, Learned remembers, she got “the call” just two days after her audition.

“My agent said ‘you are the mother of America,'” the Waltons actress relates. “Get ready for the ride!”

Michael Learned Discusses the Early Success The Waltons Found With Television Audiences

Michael Learned remembers being shocked by the immense success of the series had almost straight out of the gate. A success, Learned remembers, that initially “blew” her away.

“I thought it was corny and it was gonna die,” she says of the series. But, this we know was not the case at all. And the actress remembers how the timing of the successful series couldn’t have been any better.

“I was going through a divorce and I had three kids,” Learned explains.

“They were going to pay me $1,200 a week,” she continues.

“I thought, ‘I’ve never seen that much money in my life!'” the Waltons star continues. “It was like god’s hand was on my shoulder.”

Remembering Her Role As Walton’s Patriarch Oliva Walton

During the successful run of the hit classic television drama, Michael Learned remembers filming some groundbreaking episodes. Episodes that stood out for their time.

“We had one show where an African American boy joins the family,” the actress remembers.

“We love him and he loves us,” she continues. “But we can’t keep him because we are a white family in the south.”

Learned also recalls some major plot points for her character in the show. Plot points that even by today’s standards would be considered groundbreaking storylines.

“They did give me a miscarriage and I went through menopause on the air,” Learned recalls. “Well, Olivia did.”

Learned also points out that she remains close with much of the Waltons cast, especially the seven actors who portrayed her kids in the series. Even 50 years since the series premiered.

“They’re still very much a part of my life, these kids,” she grins of her television children.