‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Pushed the Show Creators to Make Her Character Less ‘Perfect’

by Emily Morgan

Even though John-Boy Walton was the main character and narrator of the classic sitcom, “The Waltons,” Olivia Walton also served at the center of the show. As the Walton family matriarch, Michael Learned became a household name after starring in the critically acclaimed sitcom.

According to MeTV, Learned collaborated with “The Waltons” writer/creator Earl Hamner, Jr to fine-tune her portrayal. During an interview with Smashing Interviews Magazine, Learned described that she and Hamner Jr. wanted her character to have noticeable flaws. 

Learned recalls telling Hamner, “You’ve got to have Olivia make a mistake and punish the wrong child or something a little more human.” 

Hamner, who was basing her character on his mother, wanted Olivia to be an everyday American mom who wasn’t perfect. “Earl, didn’t your mother ever do anything wrong ever?” she asked Hamner. “No,” he replied. Nevertheless, he decided to change Olivia’s character. “I think that was part of the charm of the show,” she said, “that we weren’t perfect — at least not in the first two years.”

How ‘The Waltons’ Writers Wrote Out Olivia’s Character

For six seasons, Learned starred on “The Waltons” until she decided to leave. After the end of the sixth season, she agreed to appear for one more season, upholding that she would not have to work the entire nine months for filming. After the seventh season, she closed the door on her Waltons journey. 

Since the show had two more seasons to film, the writers had to decide what to do with her character. As a result, the show later explained that Olivia was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to admit herself into a sanatorium in Arizona. 

However, she made occasional guest appearances until the show’s cancellation in 1981. She later appeared in four reunion movies made during the 1980s and 1990s. 

The Golden Globe Awards nominated her for four awards for her portrayal of Olivia Walton during her run as Olivia Walton. She later won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series four times. As a result, she tied for the record of most wins with Tyne Daly. Three of her wins were for “The Waltons” in 1973, 1974, and 1976. She also received an Emmy for her 1982 portrayal in “Nurse.” 

In the show, she starred as Nurse Mary Benjamin in the hospital drama. The show ran on CBS for six episodes in 1981.