When Michael Learned accepted her role on The Waltons, she was a single mom raising three young boys.
And with all the stress of raising her own family, she still managed to be Olivia Walton and the mother of seven kids ranging in age from elementary to high school.
Her youngest kid on The Waltons was Elizabeth, played by Kami Cotler. She was six when the series started playing a character based on Earl Hamner’s sister, Nancy. Elizabeth, who wore her red hair in two long braids, loved to read and spend time with her family as well as best friend Aimee Godsey. She was independent and thoughtful.
And in real life, Cotler said Michael Learned was a surrogate mother to her. She discussed all things Waltons in 2017 with VisionTV.
“Oh gosh. Michael is one of the most sensitive and caring people I know,” Cotler said of her mother on The Waltons. “She was always warm to all of the kids. My own Mom is amazing, but she’s very sensible and grounded. I could go to Michael with more dramatic feelings and she’d be a great listener and support.”
Kami Cotler Also Loved Her Waltons Dad, Ralph Waite
She had similar compliments for Ralph Waite, who played her father, John Walton Sr.
“Funnily enough, some of the more impactful memories of Ralph were on screen,” she said. “There was an episode where Elizabeth is going to a dance, and when she comes downstairs, Daddy dances a waltz with her. It turned out Ralph was an amazing dancer. I had no idea how magical waltzing could be until that moment. Watching it brought Michael to tears, because her own father used to dance with her like that.”
Michael Learned said she lived five minutes from the studio during her years working on The Waltons. She wanted to be close so she could tend to her own kids. Because she was working with child actors, the show schedule dictated big breaks so the kids could do their school work. She said that added about six to seven hours to her day as she waited to film. Still, she was patient and loving of her Waltons family.
“But I mean, now, I don’t have (young) kids. I wouldn’t mind anything pulling on me,” Learned told the Archie of American Television in 2014. “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. “