Michael Learned, who portrayed the exemplary maternal figure Olivia Walton on the “The Waltons” television series speaks out about how she landed the iconic role.
“I had not seen ‘The Homecoming,'” Learned said of the 1971 Waltons television movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.”
The popular television movie went on to inspire the hit television series, “The Waltons” a few years later.
“They told me Patricia Neal had played the part,” the actress continued in her interview with emmytvlegends.org of the television movie that started it all. “I thought, ‘well, why aren’t you using her? She’s the best actress in the world!'”
Known for its wholesome take on creator Earl Hamner Jr.’s childhood, including the iconic “goodnight routine,” landing the role of the mother on “The Waltons” would be a life-changing opportunity for Learned.
“I didn’t give it another thought,” Learned said in the interview, recounting the audition that would lead the actress to her memorable role.
“Four days later, I was taking a shower and the phone rings,” the actress remembered. “It’s my agent saying ‘you got the part! You are the mother of America.'”
“It was the beginning of a whole new life,” the Learned continued. “At the time, I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t really have an understanding of what was going on.”
Learned added that she wasn’t sure about taking the role of Olivia Walton which had previously been Neals role in The Waltons Homecoming special.
“I thought we were completely different types,” said the actress said of Neal. Even going into the addition, she wasn’t sure she was right for the role of Olivia Walton.
Learned Didn’t Fit the Initial “Olivia Walton” Type for The Waltons
“They wanted a woman in her forties with long red hair,” Learned said. “I had short blonde hair and had just turned 31.”
While the actress had not seen the original “The Waltons” television movie, she did know that she and Neal brought different characteristics to the screen.
“She’s dark and she has this deep wonderful voice,” said the star. “I just didn’t think I was like that.”
While Learned was initially unsure about the famous role on The Waltons, she would soon prove to be a perfect fit for the classic motherly figure.
The show had a successful run from 1971 into the 1980s, including multiple other television movies. Learned left the show right before The Waltons ninth and final season. Learned returned for many of the television show’s movies throughout the years.