HomeEntertainment‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Explained How Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite Saved Her Screen Test

‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Explained How Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite Saved Her Screen Test

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by Brian Putnam/FilmMagic)

Many television fans will recognize Michael Learned as the actress who played the matriarch on “The Waltons.” One factor that played a role in her landing the part of Olivia Walton was a screen test she did during the casting process.

During an interview, Learned once said that two of the actors who became her costars on the beloved family drama really helped her out during that screen test. Those two actors were Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas. Waite played patriarch John Walton Sr. on the show. Thomas played John Walton Jr. His character is better known as John-Boy.

According to an interview Learned gave with the Television Academy Foundation, she went in to audition for “The Waltons.” Then, she was asked to do a screen test. Her memories of some of the casting process are fuzzy. However, Waite and Thomas remained very memorable.

“All I remember about the test, because I was hungover and I’d been crying all night, was, um, I remember Ralph and Richard,” “The Waltons” actress said. “I remember the director. I think it was Bob Butler. And, um, he was very nice. But, he talked kind of jive talk, so I didn’t really know what he was saying. And, I didn’t know – I’d forgotten that you have to hit marks and there are microphones. I had been doing theatre, so I had totally forgotten. And, I was sort of dazed anyway. …”

The Arrival of Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas Made Michael Learned Feel At ‘Home’ During Screen Test for ‘The Waltons’

What helped focus “The Waltons” actress Michael Learned for her screen test was the arrival of the two actors.

“So, I remember getting on the set and Bob Butler sort of talking to me … And, then I saw this young man with a mole here – a very attractive boy, I thought – and this guy in overalls. It was Ralph (Waite) and Richard Thomas,” Learned said.

Working alongside the two men made Learned feel more comfortable as she tried out for the part on “The Waltons.”

“God bless them. Because, then I was home,” she recalled. “It was like, I have two actors and I zeroed in on them. I didn’t even know where the camera was. Nor, did I care at that point. But, I could zero in on them.”

Interestingly, Learned said the scene they acted out that day wasn’t something very dramatic. It was actually “real simple.”

It was a very small little scene and I think I made a suit for him or something,” the actress recalled. “And I said, ‘Here John-Boy.’ And, he puts the suit on and he comes out. (I said) oh, you look real good. … it was real simple. I think Dinah Shore, on her show, once showed me my audition and it was no big deal.”

You can watch Michael Learned talked about getting cast as Olivia Walton on “The Waltons” below.