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Michael Learned

Michael Learned
File:Michael Learned Waltons.JPG
Learned in a publicity photo as Olivia Walton, 1972
Born (1939-04-09) April 9, 1939 (age 81)
Washington, D.C.
United States
Occupation Actress, Singer
Years active 1961—present
Spouse(s) Peter Donat (1956–1972)
3 sons
Glenn Chadwick (1974–1977)
William Parker, IV (1979–?)
John Doherty

Michael Learned (born April 9, 1939) is an American actress, best known for her role as Olivia Walton in the long-running CBS drama series, The Waltons (1972-1979). She has won record four Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series; three for The Waltons (1973, 74, 76), and one for Nurse (1982).[2]

Early life

Learned was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter and oldest child of Elizabeth Duane "Betti" (née Hooper) and Bruce Learned, a diplomat.[3] Her maternal grandfather was an attaché for the United States Embassy in Rome.[4] She lived on a Connecticut farm with her five sisters for the first ten years of her life. Learned said that her parents never explained why she received a masculine first name, and that others often did not believe "Michael" was her given name.[5] When she was 11, Learned moved to Austria, where her father worked for the U.S. State Department. At this time, she attended Arts Educational School, Tring now Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Tring, Hertfordshire, England. During this time, she discovered the theater and decided to make acting her life's work.[6]



She was billed as "Miss Michael Learned" on The Waltons (which ran from 1972-1981) because she was relatively unknown at the time, and producers did not want confusion among viewers about her gender. By the sixth season, as the show continued its success and after the departure of co-star Richard Thomas, producers' fear of gender confusion had been alleviated and the "Miss" was dropped from Learned's billing. She was nominated for six Emmy Awards and won three for her role of Olivia Walton. In 1979, her contract was not renewed; some sources indicate that she opted not to re-sign with the show to avoid typecasting as an "Olivia Walton" character.[7] 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. For her portrayal of Olivia Walton, Learned was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards. During her run as Olivia Walton, Learned and The Waltons co-star, Will Geer, appeared together in the 1974 made-for-TV movie, Hurricane.

Learned starred as Nurse Mary Benjamin in the hospital drama Nurse, which ran on CBS during the 1981–82 season. Though the series was well received critically, it was not a ratings success and lasted only two seasons. Nevertheless, Learned was nominated for two Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Lead Actress" and won yet another Emmy for this role in 1982. She later had a starring roles in the unsuccessful 1988 drama Hothouse, and 1989 sitcom Living Dolls and reprised her Waltons role for a number of TV movies and reunions in the 1990s.

In 2005, Learned played Judge Helen Turner on the ABC soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live as part of the "baby switch" storyline on both shows. In The Secret World of Alex Mack's second season, she guest starred as a ghost who regretted the decisions of her long-estranged granddaughter, revealed at the end to be the show's main villain, Danielle Atron (Louan Gideon). She also guest-starred in Scrubs as Mrs. Wilk in five episodes from the show's fifth season. She also played Shirley Smith on ABC's General Hospital. In the fall of 2011, Learned played Katherine Chancellor on the CBS daytime soap opera, The Young and the Restless, filling in for Jeanne Cooper, who was on extended medical leave from the series.[8]


In the late 1960s, Learned and her husband (Peter Donat) appeared in various roles with the American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) in San Francisco.

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 the fall of 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.

Personal life

Learned has been married four times. Her first husband was Canadian-American actor Peter Donat, whom she married in 1956, when she was 17 years old. The marriage was dissolved in 1972. She had three children by the marriage; Caleb, Christopher and Lucas. Her second marriage, to Glenn Chadwick, lasted from 1975–1977, and ended in divorce. In 1979, she married actor/screenwriter William Parker. That marriage ended and in 1988 she married lawyer John Doherty; they reside in California.

In a 2002 article she wrote for Daily Word, a publication of the Unity Church, Learned states that at the time she was cast in The Waltons, she had "hit rock bottom". It was then, at age 32, that Learned realized she was an alcoholic. Taking herself to ex-husband Peter Donat's cabin on the California coast, Learned states she decided to "get sober" and that her time there was the beginning of a spiritual journey. Learned further stated in the article that she has been sober since 1977.[1]


Year Title Role Notes
1963 The Other Man Unknown Television movie
1968 Wojeck Nina Eden 2 episodes
1972–1979 The Waltons Olivia Walton 168 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1973–74, 1976)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama (1973–76)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1975, 1978–79)
1973 Gunsmoke Mike Yardner Episode: "Matt's Love Story"
1973 Gunsmoke May Lassiter Episode: "A Game of Death... An Act of Love Part 2"
1973 Match Game 73 Herself Episode: "1.6"
1973–1974 Insight Sister Janet 2 episodes
1974 Hurricane Lee Jackson Television movie
1974 It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy Janet Walters Television movie
1974 Police Story Linda Keitlinger Episode: "Love, Mabel"
1978 Little Mo Eleanor Tennant Television movie
1980 Nurse Mary Benjamin Television movie
1980 Touched by Love Dr. Bell
1980 A Christmas Without Snow Zoe Jenson Television movie
1981–1982 Nurse Nurse Mary Benjamin 25 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
1982 Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain Olivia Walton Television movie
1984 The Parade Rachel Kirby Television movie
1984 St. Elsewhere Sister Millicent Domencia 2 episodes
1986 Power Governor Andrea Stannard
1986 A Deadly Business Ann Television movie
1986 Picnic Rosemary Sidney Television movie
1987 Mercy of Murder? Skipper Television movie
1988 Hothouse Dr. Marie Teller 7 episodes
1988 Roots: The Gift Amelia Parker Television movie
1989 Murder, She Wrote Maria Hudson Episode: "Trevor Hudson's Legacy"
1989 Who's the Boss? Trish Carlin 2 episodes
1989 Living Dolls Trish Carlin 12 episodes
1990 Gunsmoke: The Last Apache Mike Yardner Television movie
1990 Wiseguy Rachel 2 episodes
1991 Aftermath: A Test of Love Irene Television movie
1991 Murder in New Hampshire:
The Pamela Wojas Smart Story
Judy Smart Television movie
1991 Keeping Secrets Marion Mahoney Television movie
1992 Mattie's Waltz Mattie Television movie
1993 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Vivian Emery
1993 A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion Olivia Walton Television movie
1994 Reading Rainbow Herself Episode: "Appelemondo's Dream"
1995 The Secret World of Alex Mack Ghost of Paradise Valley Episode: "The Secret"
1995 A Walton Wedding Olivia Walton Television movie
1997 A Walton Easter Olivia Walton Television movie
1997 Life During Wartime Unknown
1998 A Father for Brittany Edna Humphreys Television movie
1998 Profiler Helen Waters 3 episodes
1998 Promised Land Dolly Carstens Episode: "The Secret of Bluestem"
2000 For the Love of May Mary Lou Short film
2000 Pensacola: Wings of Gold Congresswoman Benedict Episode: "Article 32"
2000 So Graham Norton Herself Episode: "3.8"
2003 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Candace Lamery Episode: "Privilege"
2005 All My Children Judge Turner Episode: "1.9044"
2005 Lethal Eviction Elsa
2005 Loggerheads Sheridan Bellamy
2005 One Life to Live Hon. Judge Turner 2 episodes
2006-2009 Scrubs Mrs. Wilk 8 episodes
2007 The Killer The Innkeeper Short film
2009 Cold Case Louise Patterson '09 Episode: "WASP"
2009 An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong Nana Louis Hanlon
2010 General Hospital Shirley Smith 23 episodes
2011 Mr. Sunshine Maggie Episode: "The Best Man"
2011 The Young and the Restless Katherine Chancellor 14 episodes
2014 Unplugged Grandma Katie Short film
2014 The Parcel Beverly Short film
2014 After Life Gloria


  1. ^ a b Learned, Michael (December 2002). "My Spiritual Journey". Daily Word. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "Michael Learned". Television Academy. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Love, Barbara J. (1970). Foremost women in communications: a biographical reference work on accomplished women in broadcasting, publishing, advertising, public relations, and allied professions. Foremost Americans Publishing Corporation. 
  4. ^ "Elizabeth B. Hooper is Married in Rome - The Daughter of Attache at the American Embassy in Italy Wed to Bruce Learned". The New York Times. July 1936. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Michael Learned - Biography". The New York Times (New York: NYTC). 2010. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Hopwood, Jon C. - Michael Learned: Biography - IMDb[1]
  8. ^ Kroll, Dan J. (October 21, 2011). "Jeanne Cooper taking medical leave from Y&R". Retrieved 20 January 2014. 

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