Being hired to play the matriarch on “The Waltons” was a life-changing experience for actress Michael Learned. Not only did the role bring her fame, but it also saved her life. Ralph Waite, one of her co-stars, was a major factor in the show’s life-saving qualities.
Learned talked about how playing Olivia Walton on the show and how that changed her forever during a July 2019 interview with FoxNews. She told the news outlet that prior to auditioning for “The Waltons” she had been abusing alcohol and going through a difficult time in her personal life.
“I was going through a divorce. … drinking too much, and I came down to LA. I was full of fear because I’d been married since I was 17,” Michael Learned told FoxNews.com. “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.’
“And I stayed at a crummy little motel for 12 bucks a night. And my agent called and said, ‘That part is still open. You go see about it.'”
Michael Learned Met Ralph Waite During Test for ‘The Waltons’
The actress agreed to audition. During the audition, the powers behind “The Waltons” asked Michael Learned to do a test for the part. She agreed and tested alongside two actors she would come to know very well during the coming years, according to the interview.
“And I was lucky to test with Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas, who were wonderful. I was scared to death. I was just shaking. And I think I was hungover probably auditioning for the mother of America. So it was a rough time in my life,” Learned said. “And getting that show not only helped me financially, but it also got me sober. I knew I couldn’t do a television show and take care of my kids and do all of that and then have cocktails at night and go to bed a little plastered. So it pulled me altogether, and it was a gift.”
According to Michael Learned, it was Waite who suggested she takes steps toward getting sober. He also invited her to attend a support group meeting.
“Well, Ralph got me sober,” she told FoxNews.com “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?'”
Learned also said she would always be thankful to Waite for his help and support.
“But he got me sober, and I’m very grateful to him for that,” she added. “And we were lovers, not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. We adored each other. We were like a married couple without all the baggage that you get when you’re in a marriage.”
Thanks to her work on “The Waltons,” Learned’s family really grew. “I have two families now. I have my own kids, and I have the Walton kids,” she said.
“The Waltons” appeared on television from 1971 until 1981.