‘The Waltons’: Michael Learned’s Ex-Husband Played an Old Flame on the Show

by Lauren Boisvert
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At one point on “The Waltons,” one of Olivia’s old boyfriends came back around. Not only was he a familiar face for Olivia Walton, but for Michael Learned as well; her ex-husband, Peter Donat, played that boyfriend on the 1973 episode “The Prize.”

On the episode, when one of Olivia’s ex-boyfriends comes back, Olivia ponders if she made the right choice in her marriage. In reality, Donat and Learned met when they were young, and married in 1956. They had three sons together, Lucas, Caleb, and Chris. The two were predominantly stage actors; Learned was performing with her husband while she was pregnant, and they were “living on $80 a week with two small children in New York,” Learned has said.

They appeared in minor television roles over the course of their marriage, with 1973’s “The Waltons” being Learned’s first major screen role.

Learned and Donat divorced in 1972, a year before “The Waltons” premiered. A year seems like a short amount of time to get over a divorce and be okay with your ex-husband playing your former boyfriend on your TV show; but, leave it to Olivia Walton to be kind, warm, and accepting in difficult situations.

Learned has said that her two younger sons loved “The Waltons,” but her older son never watched it. Of her younger sons’ love of the show, Learned has said, “My little boy tells me, ‘Every time I hear that music, I feel happy,'”

Peter Donat went on to appear on shows like “Hawaii Five-0,” “Dallas,” and “The X-Files,” among many others. His film roles include “The Godfather II” and “War of the Roses.” Donat died in 2018 after a long career on stage and screen.

‘The Waltons’ Creator Initially Didn’t Want to Get Married

“The Waltons” is a show about family at its center, but it might surprise some to know that Earl Hamner, Jr. didn’t want a family of his own at first. He shared his thoughts about marriage and family in his memoir, “The Avocado Drive Zoo.”

“I resolved to never get married,” Hamner wrote. “Life was too full to be burdened with children, responsibility, and routine. I would write more books. I would travel.”

He detailed the life he saw for himself, writing, “I imagined myself … [in] a cozy little apartment where I would write my novels to the music of an accordion playing a song about the joys of being young.”

But things changed for Hamner when he met the woman who would become his wife, Jane Martin. “The earth moved,” Hamner wrote of their first meeting. “She was blonde. She wore her hair in a bun. Her eyes were blue and when she smiled the whole room was illuminated.”

Hamner and Martin married in 1954 and had two children, Scott and Caroline. The two were married 62 years until Hamner died in 2016.

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