October 23, 2021

Michael Learned’s Sons Asked Her Why She Couldn’t Be like Olivia Walton - Inside Her Motherhood

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American actress Michael Learned is famous for portraying Olivia Walton in the famous TV drama series "The Waltons." This was a role her three sons wanted her to re-enact in real life. 

American actress Michael Learned is a four-time Emmy Award winner who is best known for playing Olivia Walton in the CBS drama series "The Waltons."

She has been married four times and is a proud mother of three sons from her first marriage. Find out about Learned's career, marriages, and motherhood. 

Left: Ralph Waite, Richard Thomas, and Michael Learned in "The Waltons," January 1, 1974. Right: Michael Learned as Olivia Walton on "The Waltons" Image dated June 16, 1978 | Photo: Getty Images



On April 9, 1939, Learned was born in Washington, D.C., as the oldest of six daughters. She grew up on a farm in Connecticut for the first ten years of her life. Despite being a girl, her parents gave her a masculine first name and never explained why. 

Learned moved to Austria when she was 11. She attended Arts Educational School, Tring, now known as Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, in Tring, Hertfordshire, England. While at school, she discovered her love for the theater and decided to become an actress. 

Actress Michael Learned attends "Small Mouth Sounds" opening night at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage on January 12, 2018. | Photo: Getty Images



Learned's first major role in television was playing Olivia Walton on "The Waltons." The TV series ran for nine seasons from 1972 to 1981. The opening credit called her "Miss Michael Learned" to avoid confusion about her gender as she was an unfamiliar face. 

During her time on the show, she earned six Emmy Awards nominations for Best Actress in a Drama and won it thrice. She also earned four Golden Globe Awards nominations. She eventually left the show after seven seasons. 

The cast of the hit television series "The Waltons" poses for a promotional photo on January 1, 1972. | Photo: Getty Images


Afterward, she made occasional guest appearances until "The Waltons" was canceled. Additionally, she appeared in six "Waltons" reunion movies in the 1980s and 1990s. 

In 1974, Learned starred in the TV movie "Hurricane" alongside her "The Waltons" co-star Will Geer. She portrayed Nurse Mary Benjamin in the hospital drama "Nurse." 

"Nurse" did not have excellent ratings but Learned received two Emmy Awards nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress and won the award in 1982. 

Michael Learned takes a portrait in the 1970s. | Photo: Getty Images


She starred in the 1988 drama "Hothouse" and the sitcom "Living Dolls" in 1989. Other television series she has appeared in include "All My Children," "One Life to Live," and "The Secret World of Alex Mack." 

She also guest-starred in "Scrubs" and played Shirley Smith in "General Hospital." In 2011, she portrayed Katherine Chancellor on "The Young and the Restless." Besides her television roles, Learned also appeared on many stage productions on Broadway.

Michael Learned as Olivia Walton on "The Walton's," June 16, 1978. | Source: Getty Images



Learned tied the knot for the first time in 1956 when she was just 17 years old. Her first husband was Peter Donat, a Canadian-American actor. 

Learned and Peter share three sons, Caleb, Christopher, and Lucas Donat. However, the couple's marriage was dissolved in 1972. 

Learned looked nothing like her TV character, who only tasted liquor on her 25th wedding anniversary.

Michael Learned at The Cable Show on April 30, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images


In 1975, Learned tied the knot for the second time to Glenn Chadwick. However, their union lasted only two years as they divorced in 1977. Two years after the divorce, Learned married for the third time to Actor-Screenwriter William Parker.

However, the third marriage also ended in divorce. Learned's fourth marriage was to Lawyer John Doherty in 1988. The couple has been married since then and lives in California. 

Michael Learned attends the "The Outgoing Tide" Off Broadway opening night after party at Lavo on November 20, 2012. | Photo: Getty Images


Besides her marriages, Learned also had a close relationship with her "The Waltons" co-star Ralph Waite. She starred as the wife of Waite's character John Walton Sr. in the series.

The pair were considered by many as the ideal parents everyone wanted. Many fans wondered if Waite and Learned's on-screen relationship ever spilled into a real-life romance during the show's ten-year run. 

Actress Michael Learned attends the 40th Anniversary Reunion Of ''The Waltons'' at Landmark Loew's - Jersey City on December 2, 2011. | Photo: Getty Images


In an exclusive interview with Daily Mail in 2019, Learned revealed the truth behind her and her late co-star's relationship. She revealed they were in love off-screen and went on a date.

However, during their first intimate meeting, they decided against pursuing a romantic relationship because they felt it could ruin "The Waltons" and become messy. 

Hence, instead of a romance, they became lifelong friends, with Learned saying Waite became her spiritual husband. 

Michael Learned at the premiere of "Inclusion Criteria" at Charlie Chaplin Theatre on April 7, 2018. | Photo: Getty Images



In "The Waltons," Learned was a mother of seven. Her character was loved and adored by many viewers worldwide. However, in real life, she was much more different than Olivia Watson. 

Learned's on-screen daughter on "The Watsons," Judy Norton, who portrayed Mary Ellen Walton, talked about working with the former on the set for years in a video she posted on her YouTube channel. 

Norton admitted that it was challenging for Learned to combine her tight work schedule with being a mother to three sons. She revealed her co-star did not have the chance to be there for her sons. 


Michael Learned attends the "Blithe Spirit" show in Los Angeles, California on December 14, 2014. | Photo: Getty Images

Norton narrated a story Learned told her while explaining the differences between being an on-screen mom and a real-life mom. 


Norton explained that Learned had her struggles as a parent and said there was a time when her sons expressed they were not particularly happy while sitting at her table at home. One of them finally said

"Why can't you be more like you are on The Waltons?"

Michael Learned attends day 2 of the Chiller Theater Expo at Sheraton Parsippany Hotel on April 25, 2015. | Photo: Getty Images


It was not hard to blame Learned's then-young sons as their mom was so different from the character she portrayed on screen. 

Unlike Olivia, Learned told funny stories, dropped profanities, and smoked cigarettes. She lived in a beautiful tree-shrouded house that rumbled up the ide of a hill with her sons, cats, and dogs. 

Learned looked nothing like her TV character, who only tasted liquor on her 25th wedding anniversary, sewed her children's clothes while sick, and baked applesauce cake for her family all the time. 

Michael Learned during the Action on Film MEGAFest International Film Festival at the Rio Hotel & Casino on August 3, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Photo: Getty Images


In an interview with TVLine, Learned revealed what playing a TV mom was like for her kids. She said she did not think it bothered them but added that she was away a lot. 

Sometimes, she came home after spending long hours on set and would meet her sons standing at the door, each with their different complaints. 

Learned thanked her wonderful housekeeper, Mrs. Blair, who she described as a lifesaver. The actress said Blair was a little stricter with the kids than she was. 

Michael Learned during Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit' at Ahmanson Theatre on December 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images


However, that strictness was necessary because she was very permissive as a parent. Learned further said her TV character was much stricter than she was as a mother to her sons.

Today, Learned is 82 years old and enjoys spending time with her children. Last year, in a Mother's Day interview with Closer Weekly, she recalled some of her favorite Mother's Day memories with her sons. 

Learned said motherhood was the greatest joy of her life, which is why she loves celebrating Mother's Day with them. She revealed her sons would make her breakfast and bring it to her on a tray.

She hilariously recalled that the food they brought was sometimes inedible. However, her sons would always be pleased she tried to eat it.

Learned is undoubtedly a Hollywood icon and a proud mom who should always be celebrated for her achievements as an actress and as a mother.