Miss Michael – In Conversation with Michael Learned

Written on July 27th, 2016

An Afternoon’s Chat

The first thing Michael Learned wants to explain is her name…yes, she was named Michael by her parents:  it is her real name and her full name.  She has no middle name.  It is not a made-up name for acting.  Why did her parents give her a boy’s name?  She was the eldest of six girls – but at that time they hadn’t yet given up on having a boy.  They just liked unusual names.

She was unknown when she was cast in The Waltons and in the show’s opening credits, her name was to appear under her image.  The producers decided that if her name appeared as Michael Learned, people would think it was a man’s name and they had made a mistake.  It was decided that she would be called Miss Michael Learned.  But after a few seasons of the very popular Waltons, people knew who Michael Learned was, and eventually the Miss was dropped.

Michael Learned is happy to share this story and many more in conversation in her one-woman show now on stage at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.  Having just finished a run in Driving Miss Daisy there, she is now available to sit on stage, with a big screen featuring old photos beside her.  It’s a very comfortable chat, as she leafs through a photo album and talks about her life and her experiences.Michael Learned

She grew up on a gentleman’s farm in Connecticut, but then her family moved to Austria and she went to boarding school in England, where theatre captured her interests.  At 17, she married Canadian actor Peter Donat and moved to Stratford, Ontario where he was on the Festival stage.  She had three baby boys and kept house there – she says it was good preparation for all the housework she did as Olivia Walton.  Eventually the family moved to San Francisco where both she and her husband were in theatre, but the marriage was failing.

Just when she was very discouraged, she was given the life changing role of Ma Walton, in the TV series.  She was amazed to win her first Emmy award after the first season, but of course, the announcer called her Michelle Learned and she had to correct him.  A clip of that award presentation appears on the big screen.

The Waltons TV series was a spin-off of the movie The Homecoming. Overwhelmingly popular, it appeared on CBS for nine seasons, from 1972 to 1981. The story told about a family with seven kids in Virginia during the Great Depression.  Miss Michael went on to win three Best Actress Emmys for her role in The Waltons, and another for a short lived series Nurse.

During her on-stage chat, she talks about her co-stars on The Waltons, her theatre acting, her three sons and extended family.  She is comfortable sharing photos of her boys, Chris, Caleb and Lucas.  In fact, one son, Chris, his wife Becky and their daughter were in the audience for the opening show.  Another son, Lucas is married to Traci Wald, daughter of Helen Reddy.

Miss Michael says she is “nervous as a cat” about being alone on stage, talking about herself.  But her comfort in relating fascinating stories belies that.  She is perfectly charming and candid throughout the chat.   And after a generous question and answer session, she says goodbye.

Goodnight John-Boy, Goodnight Mary Ellen, Goodnight Jason, Goodnight Elizabeth, Goodnight Jim-Bob, Goodnight Ben, Goodnight Erin and Goodnight Ma. Thanks for a fascinating afternoon.

Miss Michael continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 29.  Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca

Photo: Michael Learned (inset top left – as Olivia Walton)

Miss Michael ~ In Conversation with Michael Learned
Starring Michael Learned
Directed by David Hogan
Multi Media/Research by Michael Vanhevel
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
July 27 to 29, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

6 Responses to “Miss Michael – In Conversation with Michael Learned” | Add Your Thoughts

  1. Did michael learned ever personnaly know johnny cash?

  2. Dolores J Powell
    July 15, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Dear Miss Learned,

    I have been watching “The Walton’s” reruns for months and try not miss a single one.

    You and I were both bon in April – me on the 18th in 1936. So, I am just a bit your senior, Altho I cannot travel to see you in person, I want you to know that I have followed your career on television since my parents were able to afford one in 1960.

    At our “youthful ages”, I certainly admire you for many reasons – we have both been married 4 times; you have 3 boys and I’ve raised a blended family of 7 girls and 3 boys. I am now a motorcycle riding retired flight attendant and thoroughly enjoying life with my Lord and Savior watching over me.

    I wish you the very best life has to offer. God bless.


  3. Cheri Dickey-Whitish
    July 30, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    Hi, I’m not used to writing fan letters, but I did want to compliment you on your realistic portrayal of Olivia Walton. It was a fine wholesome show that gave an example of what a family should be like. I was born in 1960, (also on April 18th as the person who commented above). The Waltons reminded me a great deal of my family here in Maine in quite a few ways,(without the recipe). My father, who grew up on a farm, worked as a lineman for the local power company, but he also spent time cutting wood, (to be milled and used), on lots he bought and the land of others, (he’d pay them stumpage). He had an old green 1938 Chevy 1 1/2 ton truck and an old red 1943 Farmall tractor to help him. My mother used to read to my four siblings and I as we curled against her and sang around the house often. Ironically, when my mother was growing up, her father’s parents lived with them like in the Waltons. Good families do/did exist. Thank-you for helping to create a family I can visit with when I get lonely for my childhood, parents and grandparents.

  4. David A. Rodrigues
    January 9, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Dear Ms. Learned, for the last several months, I have been watching and appreciating the classic reruns of The Waltons on the Inspirational Channel. Although I initially viewed them while I was growing up, as an adult I have come to appreciate the acting, writing and content of the series. You were always one of my favorite people on the series, and I must admit that I was always very attracted to you and I loved your southern accent. I felt that your character sounded the most genuine of someone living in that part of the country especially during the depression era and I stumbled on this site while looking for your biography. I’m still a big fan and thank you for the memories of your wonderful show!! Sincerely, David A. Rodrigues, SMSgt USAF Ret.

  5. I have been watching reruns the waltons it is so nice to watch a family show as compared to some of the show of today.thank you and god bless.

  6. I love the Walton Family. My parents had 7 children too so it was like going home. I watched them growing up and these past few years I have been watching the reruns and enjoying then all over again. I always loved seeing Miss Michael Learned with John and the life they had together. I felt bad when she wasn’t there anymore. I will keep watching them over and over and loving every minute of it. Thanks for all the casts and the story line. I didnt like it when they changed John Boy for some other man when he came back from the Army. I wanted to see John Boy’s face. thanks for the memories

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