‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Explained Why Awards Weren’t a ‘Blip on the Radar’ of Her Life

by Suzanne Halliburton

The Waltons launched the career of Michael Learned. The country fell in love with strong, patient Olivia, who helped her husband, seven kids plus her in-laws survive and thrive through the Great Depression.

Learned eventually became one of the most honored TV actresses in history, winning a total of four Emmys for parts on two wildly different network dramas.

But in an interview in 2019, Learned said award shows and all the hoopla didn’t mean that much to her. She talked to SmashingInterviews.com about her career. The reason she was doing the interview was because she was in the news again. This time, it was because the Academy Awards recognized her for being an icon of TV.

“Awards are always an honor, and it’s always nice,” Learned said. “But quite honestly, it’s not even a blip on the radar screen of life. But I’m always honored, and I don’t take it very seriously. Well, it’s not an Oscar. That would be a deeper honor, but of course, nobody asked me to do movies. So I’ll never get an Oscar. Tonys and Oscars say you’re the best at your craft. The peers have voted, and that really is an honor.”

Learned Said She Never Thought About Icon Awards In the Midst of The Waltons

Learned was nearing 80 when she was presented with the Icon Award. She said she never thought about such an award in the 1970s, back when she was in the middle of The Waltons.

“No, I was young then,” she said. “You don’t become an icon until you’re old. I don’t even know what the word means. I have to look it up. If I have to make an acceptance speech, I want to be able to define what the word means. But whatever it is, it’s an honor.

Learned earned her first three big awards on The Waltons. She was selected as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama in 1973-74 and 1976. Learned also was nominated for three other seasons. She accomplished all this by her 37th birthday. Learned left The Waltons after the seventh season. But she continued making guest appearances and also played Olivia on four of the six reunion movies.

Learned, after The Waltons, starred in a short-lived drama called Nurses. It lasted parts of two seasons and was canceled for low ratings. Still, Learned was dazzling playing Mary Benjamin. And she won her fourth Emmy in 1982. Learned and Tyne Daly, each with four, are the most honored actresses in Emmy’s drama category.

Learned wanted to leave television after these two series. Or, at least leave television as a full-time job.

“I did not want to do another series. I’m a theater person, that’s how I started,” Learned said. “It’s where I’m most comfortable – in a ratty old dressing room in a dusty theater somewhere. I want to work with words.”

And after the Oscars honored her, about the only trophy Learned doesn’t have at home is a Tony.