‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Revealed Story with Heckler During Early Stage Performance

by Joe Rutland

Actors have to put up with a lot during stage performances. Michael Learned of “The Waltons” had to deal with an unruly heckler one time.

Learned, who played matriarch Olivia Walton on the long-running CBS family drama, spoke in 2019 with Melissa Parker of Smashing Interviews Magazine about the incident. Prior to Parker’s questions, Learned was discussing how performing in a theater is “almost a spiritual experience.” She is comparing how much the audience is present with the actors and vice-versa.

“Any emotion other than throwing tomatoes, right?” Parker asks.

“Yes. And I’ve had that, too,” Learned said.

“Really?” Parker asks. “Not literally but figuratively,” Learned responds.

Michael Learned Could Hear Heckling Sailor While On Stage

“Hecklers?” Parker asks again.

“Yeah,” Learned said. “That happened way early in my career. There was one sailor who came to see our show on Broadway. I was with my first husband. There was nobody in the audience but this sailor, and he was drunk. He was bored because it was a Greek classic (laughs).”

Learned told Parker that those types of things happen in the theater. It does not happen on TV sets for shows like “The Waltons.”

“Kids throw popcorn when you’re doing a matinee,” she said. “Stuff like that happens. But with ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, it’s usually adult, and they’re very respectful of the play. They love to see this woman take her journey, they take the journey with her, and Hoke does the driving.”

‘The Waltons’ Star Takes Part In Stage Play Of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

For a number of years leading up to this 2019 interview, Learned has played the Daisy Werthan role in the stage version. The late Jessica Tandy, a stage veteran herself, famously played the screen role in the movie. Morgan Freeman played Hoke in the film, too.

Learned holds her time on “The Waltons” dear to her heart. The show provided her with stability during a time where she was a divorced mother raising kids on her own.

She also found help for a substance abuse problem, too. Learned admitted to costar Ralph Waite one time that she’d been letting herself drink too much. One night, Waite told Learned that he was going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Learned supported Waite in working on his recovery program, but was surprised when he suggested that she go to a meeting with him.

Yet she did go and has given her late TV husband on “The Waltons” credit for getting her sober.