‘The Waltons’ Actor Michael Learned Went to Bat Against Studio to Defend Show’s Child Actors

by Suzanne Halliburton

Michael Learned was the mama bear of The Waltons, in front of the camera and off of it.

On the show, she was Olivia Walton, mother of seven, tending to her family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression. Off-camera, Learned had her own children, but she often stood up for her TV kids.

In an interview four years ago with Closer Weekly, some of the actors who played The Waltons children, revealed several problems with Lorimar, the studio. Some of them alleged that the studio was cheap and didn’t treat the kids well.

“The running joke was that Lorimar was so cheap that their idea of a party was one can of beer and 13 straws,” Learned told Closer.

Judy Norton, who portrayed the oldest daughter Mary Ellen, said Learned was embarrassed that she received a large flower bouquet from the studio, yet the child actors got zilch.

“She went to the producers and said, ‘These kids have given you years of their lives and you can’t even get them something?’” Norton told Closer. “We ended up getting a little muffin basket with, like, three muffins in it.”

The Waltons Was a Soothing Show During Anxious Times

The Waltons premiered in 1972. It was one of the top series on television, with fans tuning in each week to see the family drama. The country was going through political and economic strife, so it was soothing to watch a wholesome show from an unfamiliar time.

While Learned loved her Waltons kids, she did point out how difficult it was to film with so many children.

In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2014, Learned discussed what it was like to film with kids. There was a tediousness that came with all the rules of shooting the show with child actors. Learned said that the lengthy days took her away from her own family, all because of the mandated waiting around for her TV kids to get through a school day.

“Actors who do hour shows, they earn their money, they really do,” said Learned, The Waltons star. “Because (when) we’re working with kids and animals, there were limitations, so sometimes we adults would have to wait. And there were no cell phones back then.

There’s always a ton of waiting while filming. But back in the 1970s, you had limited options on how to kill time.

“Even though I only lived five minutes from the studio, there were times I’d just be hanging around for six or seven hours before I actually worked,” Learned said. “I’d be in makeup … and I hated that part of it. We didn’t have fancy dressing rooms in the beginning. So we were in these tiny little trailers and it was hot. It was boring and boring was the worst thing in the world.”