‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Revealed Frustrations of Having to Work with Kids, Animals on Show

by Suzanne Halliburton

Imagine being an older cast member of The Waltons. Child labor laws are strict.

Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton on the show, talked about how much time was added to her acting day because of the required work with children and animals. On The Waltons, Olivia was the mother of seven children, with the family living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and into World War II.

Learned talked to the Archive of American Television back in 2014 about working on The Waltons. The show was a wholesome hit from the 1970s. But there was a tediousness that came with shooting the show that few people know about. 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.

Having So Many Child Actors On Set Of ‘The Waltons’ Added Hours To The Production Schedule

“Actors who do hour shows, they earn their money, they really do,” said Learned, The Waltons star. “Because 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.

“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,” she 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.

However, Learned said that if she were playing her character today, she wouldn’t mind the circumstances so much.

“But I mean, now, I don’t have (young) kids. I wouldn’t mind anything pulling on me,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind sitting in a little trailer and reading a book. Back then all I could think of was I promised the kids I’d take them to the dentist, and I couldn’t do it because it rained and they’re shooting inside and the schedule … You really are owned and they pay you good money to own you. But you really are owned by the schedule. And the schedule will change constantly because something happens and they quickly have to change things. “

Learned Played Olivia For The First Seven Seasons Of The Show

Learned played Olivia on The Waltons for the first seven seasons. She won three Emmys as Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series. So she and the show were very good to each other. As she talked of the long hours of production, she said she wanted to make clear she wasn’t truly complaining about being on The Waltons.

“I know I’m sounding ungrateful, but I’m not,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that show. It saved my ass and it put my kids through school and I have friends for life. I lost Ralph (Waite) recently. It broke my heart. I loved him dearly. I love all the kids who are now middle-aged. So it was a blessing in my life.”

After The Waltons, Learned won another Emmy for outstanding lead actress. This time it was for Nurses. Her four wins tie her with Tyne Daly for most Emmy victories in that category. So yes, the show was very good for Michael Learned.