‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned Spoke on Why Her and Ralph Waite Were ‘Lucky’ to Work Together

by Joe Rutland

Michael Learned and Ralph Waite portrayed a loving, powerful couple on “The Waltons” for many seasons. Learned enjoyed the experience.

In an interview with Smashing Interviews, Learned, who played Olivia Walton, called her on- and off-screen working relationship with Waite “wonderful.” Waite played Walton family patriarch John Walton on the CBS family drama.

“Ralph and I were so lucky that we had such real chemistry with each other,” Learned said. “Can you imagine showing up every day and doing a love scene with somebody you can’t stand?”

After a moment of laughing, she said, “I couldn’t do it.”

Learned Had To Make Peace With Waite On ‘The Waltons’

Learned recalled one time where she and Waite had a fight. It was a rare moment of discord between the two actors.

“We had a quarrel over something, and I remember we were about to do a scene,” she said. Learned had to go to Waite’s dressing room door and pound on it for him to open up.

“I said, ‘Ralph, you have to come out!'” she said. “‘We have to make up because I can’t do the scene if I’m still angry with you.'” Learned went on to say that both she and Waite became close in life and on the set, too. She made one additional point, too.

“But never slept together,” she said. “Never ever ever.”

One of the more intriguing parts of their friendship is that Waite really helped pull Learned out of some serious issues.

Waite Plays Role In Helping Costar Find Sober Lifestyle

When Learned found out about the audition for “The Waltons” role, it came at one of the most strenuous parts of her life.

“I was going through a divorce (and) was drinking too much,” she said in a 2019 interview with Fox News. “And I came down to LA. I was full of fear because I’d been married since I was 17. Suddenly, I’m alone with three teenagers to raise. I don’t know where I got the courage to drive down to LA. I thought, ‘I’m just going to look at the freeway and learn the freeways in case an audition comes up.'”

Long story short, Learned went to the audition for the Olivia Walton role and got the job.

It was apparent to Waite that Learned had shown up at the audition hungover. Once on the show, he suggested that Learned attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with him.

“Well, Ralph got me sober,” Learned said. “I said, ‘I’ll go and be supportive for you.’ Because he said, ‘I’m going to AA.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful. You really need it.’ He grabbed me by the shoulders, and he said, ‘I think you should come.’ And I’m like, ‘Me?’

“But he got me sober,” Learned said. “And I’m very grateful to him for that.”