Michael Learned (Actress) - The Waltons
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Updated: 12/14/21

Name: Michael Learned

Birth Name: Michael Learned

Born: April 9, 1939 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Claim To Fame: Michael Learned is an American actress best known for her role as Olivia Walton in the long-running CBS drama series The Waltons.

Family Life: Learned has been married four times. In 1956, she married Canadian-American actor Peter Donat. The marriage was dissolved in 1972. They had three sons - Caleb, Christopher, and Lucas. Her second marriage, to Glenn Chadwick, lasted from 1974-1977, again ending in divorce. In 1979, she married actor-screenwriter William Parker, also ending in divorce. Since 1988, she has been married to lawyer John Doherty.

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Info: She's the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Duane "Betti" and Bruce Learned, a diplomat.

Her maternal grandfather was an attaché for the United States Embassy in Rome.

She has five younger sisters: Gretl, Susan, Sabra, Dorit and Philippa.

She lived on a Connecticut farm for the first 10 years of her life.

Learned said that her parents never explained why she received a masculine first name, her father telling her elusively: "If I had been a boy, I would have been called Caleb, but I was a girl, so I was called Michael."

Moved to Austria, at age 11, when her father worked for the U.S. State Department.

Attended Arts Educational School, Tring, now Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Tring, Hertfordshire, England.

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Trivia: In the late 1960s, Learned and her husband Peter Donat appeared in various roles with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.

Her first substantial role in either film or television was as Olivia Walton on The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons from 1972 to 1981.

For the first five seasons of the show she was billed as "Miss Michael Learned" because she was relatively unknown at the time and producers wished to avoid confusion among viewers about her gender. By the sixth season the "Miss" was removed from Learned's billing.

Learned was a mere 11 years older than Richard Thomas, who played her oldest child John-Boy on "The Waltons".

She was nominated for six Emmy Awards as Lead Actress in a Drama, winning three times.

After the end of the sixth season, she agreed to appear for one more season on the condition that she would not have to work the full nine months. After the seventh season she left the show.

Her character's abrupt disappearance was explained by Olivia developing tuberculosis and entering a sanatorium in Arizona. She made occasional guest appearances until the show's cancellation and later appeared in four of the six Waltons reunion movies made during the 1980s and 1990s.

She has won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series four times, which is tied for the record of most wins with Tyne Daly. Three of the wins were for The Waltons (1973, 1974, 1976), while the other was for Nurse (1982).

Learned is the godmother of Christopher Plummer's daughter, Amanda Plummer. As a matter of fact, Amanda's middle name is Michael, after her.

Learned starred as Nurse Mary Benjamin in the hospital drama Nurse (1981-1982). Though the series was well received critically, it was not a ratings success and only lasted 25 episodes. Nevertheless, Learned was nominated for two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress and won yet another Emmy for this role in 1982.

She was awarded the 1983 Drama Logue Award for Outstanding Performance for "A Month in the Country" at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

Learned, Marian Seldes and Christina Rouner were awarded the 1996 Drama Logue Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance for "Three Tall Women" at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

She has appeared in many stage productions on Broadway, off Broadway, and elsewhere, including the 2006-2007 national touring production of On Golden Pond.

In 2008, she starred in Innovation Theatre Works' production of Driving Miss Daisy, playing the title role of Daisy Werthen opposite Willis Burks II as Hoke and Dirk Blocker as Daisy's son Boolie.

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Where Are They Now: Learned next project is currently in post-production, and is scheduled for release in 2022. She's playing Catherine Dahmer in the TV Mini-Series 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story'.


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