‘The Waltons’ Star Michael Learned Guest Starred on Episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ Alongside James Arness

by Clayton Edwards

Most people in the acting world hope to get a role in one iconic television show. However, actress Michael Learned landed roles in two of the biggest series to ever grace the small screen. She was the mother of the large Depression-era Appalachian family on The Waltons. Learned also had a role on an episode of Gunsmoke.

That’s a pretty impressive resume. Just being in one of those shows is an accomplishment. Not only did Learned play in both shows, but she also had big roles in each. She was one of the main characters on The Waltons. In fact, she held the family together on the show.

She was only in a single episode of Gunsmoke. But, she left an impression. She played Mike Yardner, a tough widow who falls in love with Matt Dillon. So, she had plenty of screen time with the show’s biggest star.

The Waltons Star Goes to Dodge City

The chance to appear on Gunsmoke came just after the first season of The Waltons, according to MeTV. It was the nineteenth season of the western. In the episode, Matt Dillon is shot and left for dead by an outlaw named Les Dean. Matt’s horse finds his way to a farm.

That farm is occupied by the widow Mike Yardner. She and her dog go out to find the horse’s missing owner. She eventually finds him and takes him to her home so he can recover.

Matt Dillon can’t remember anything about his past. At the same time, romantic sparks fly between the marshal and the widow. The Waltons star plays her part like an expert. At the same time, Les Dean signs on to run Mike off of her land. Her neighbor wants the land for water rights.

However, when Les visits the farm, he decides to return the deposit on the contract. There’s something about seeing Mike and Matt together that gives the outlaw a change of heart. But, soon after this happens Matt Dillon regains his memory.

You may have made an interesting connection between the Waltons star and her Gunsmoke character. They both have names that are classically masculine. In the episode, Kyle explains this to Matt. She says that she was supposed to be a boy. Before she was born, her parents hoped for a boy and only picked out a boy’s name. So, when she was born a girl, they just gave her the name anyway.

On the other hand, Michael Learned’s name was planned. In fact, her parents would have named her Caleb if she was a boy. Her parents’ chosen name for a girl was Michael.