‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Called Out Those Who Considered Show to Be ‘Soft’

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Michael Learned played on “The Waltons” and has heard for years that people considered the CBS family drama soft. She says it wasn’t.

“People think it was soft and saccharine and it really wasn’t in the beginning,” Learned said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. “I mean, Grandma (Ellen Corby) was not soft and saccharine. Grandpa (Will Geer) had an eye for the ladies and the Baldwin sisters (Helen Kleeb and Mary Jackson) drank too much.”

Learned said her character, Olivia Walton, on “The Waltons” was a little rigid. She also pointed out that John Walton (Ralph Waite) also delved into a little bit of the bubbly, too. Yet Learned said under all of that stuff “was a sense of love and that things could be resolved.”

‘The Waltons’ Star Said Show Always Sought Some Sense of Resolution

She pointed toward “The Waltons” as being an hour-long show and, as a result, had some type of resolution at its end. Learned added that it’s something everyone longed for in their lives, especially her own.

“I was sitting on the porch shelling peas or something every day getting ready for a scene, wishing my life was like this,” she said. People have told Learned that “The Waltons” provides a sense of comfort to them.

Learned also isn’t quite sure if “The Waltons” would fly in today’s television world. She said today, people are watching the show with their children.

Obviously, there are a lot of classic TV fans who love the Earl Hamner-created series. It takes them back to a simpler time, one though still fraught with troubles and worries.

Learned Had Not Seen ‘The Homecoming’ Prior to Joining TV Show’s Cast

Hamner wrote what amounted to a pilot for “The Waltons” in a TV movie called “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” that aired on CBS in 1971.

Before joining the show, though, Learned said she hadn’t seen it at all.

“They told me Patricia Neal had played the part,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, why aren’t you using her? She’s the best actress in the world!'”

All of that changed, though, after Learned auditioned for the role of Walton matriarch.

“I didn’t give it another thought,” she said about the audition itself. “Four days later, I was taking a shower, and the phone rings. It’s my agent saying, ‘You got the part! You are the mother of America.'”

From that point on, Learned’s career took an upward trajectory. She’s a part of TV lore and will be forever.