Michael Learned

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Michael Learned
Waltons 1972.JPG
Michael Learned (right) with Ralph Waite (left) and Richard Thomas (center) on The Waltons
Born(1939-04-09) April 9, 1939 (age 75)
Washington, D.C.
United States
Years active1961—present
Spouse(s)Peter Donat (1956–1972)
3 sons
Glenn Chadwick (1974–1977)
William Parker, IV (1979–?)
John Doherty
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Michael Learned
Waltons 1972.JPG
Michael Learned (right) with Ralph Waite (left) and Richard Thomas (center) on The Waltons
Born(1939-04-09) April 9, 1939 (age 75)
Washington, D.C.
United States
Years active1961—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[edit]

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 got her masculine given name although she mentioned that other people she conferred with didn't believe her when she said "Michael" was her real 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 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. 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[edit]

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]


1963The Other ManUnknownTelevision movie
1968WojeckNina Eden2 episodes
1972–1979The WaltonsOlivia Walton168 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)
1973GunsmokeMike YardnerEpisode: "Matt's Love Story"
1973GunsmokeMay LassiterEpisode: "A Game of Death... An Act of Love Part 1"
1973Match Game 73HerselfEpisode: "1.6"
1973–1974InsightSister Janet2 episodes
1974HurricaneLee JacksonTelevision movie
1974It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer GuyJanet WaltersTelevision movie
1974Police StoryLinda KeitlingerEpisode: "Love, Mabel"
1978Little MoEleanor TennantTelevision movie
1980NurseMary BenjaminTelevision movie
1980Touched by LoveDr. Bell
1980A Christmas Without SnowZoe JensonTelevision movie
1981–1982NurseNurse Mary Benjamin25 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
1982Mother's Day on Waltons MountainOlivia WaltonTelevision movie
1984The ParadeRachel KirbyTelevision movie
1984St. ElsewhereSister Millicent Domencia2 episodes
1986PowerGovernor Andrea Stannard
1986A Deadly BusinessAnnTelevision movie
1986PicnicRosemary SidneyTelevision movie
1987Mercy of Murder?SkipperTelevision movie
1988HothouseDr. Marie Teller7 episodes
1988Roots: The GiftAmelia ParkerTelevision movie
1989Murder, She WroteMaria HudsonEpisode: "Trevor Hudson's Legacy"
1989Who's the Boss?Trish Carlin2 episodes
1989Living DollsTrish Carlin12 episodes
1990Gunsmoke: The Last ApacheMike YardnerTelevision movie
1990WiseguyRachel2 episodes
1991Aftermath: A Test of LoveIreneTelevision movie
1991Murder in New Hampshire:
The Pamela Wojas Smart Story
Judy SmartTelevision movie
1991Keeping SecretsMarion MahoneyTelevision movie
1992Mattie's WaltzMattieTelevision movie
1993Dragon: The Bruce Lee StoryVivian Emery
1993A Walton Thanksgiving ReunionOlivia WaltonTelevision movie
1994Reading RainbowHerselfEpisode: "Appelemondo's Dream"
1995The Secret World of Alex MackGhost of Paradise ValleyEpisode: "The Secret"
1995A Walton WeddingOlivia WaltonTelevision movie
1997A Walton EasterOlivia WaltonTelevision movie
1997Life During WartimeUnknown
1998A Father for BrittanyEdna HumphreysTelevision movie
1998ProfilerHelen Waters3 episodes
1998Promised LandDolly CarstensEpisode: "The Secret of Bluestem"
2000For the Love of MayMary LouShort film
2000Pensacola: Wings of GoldCongresswoman BenedictEpisode: "Article 32"
2000So Graham NortonHerselfEpisode: "3.8"
2003Law & Order: Special Victims UnitCandace LameryEpisode: "Privilege"
2005All My ChildrenJudge TurnerEpisode: "1.9044"
2005Lethal EvictionElsa
2005LoggerheadsSheridan Bellamy
2005One Life to LiveHon. Judge Turner2 episodes
2006-2009ScrubsMrs. Wilk8 episodes
2007The KillerThe InnkeeperShort film
2009Cold CaseLouise Patterson '09Episode: "WASP"
2009An American Girl: Chrissa Stands StrongNana Louis Hanlon
2010General HospitalShirley Smith23 episodes
2011Mr. SunshineMaggieEpisode: "The Best Man"
2011The Young and the RestlessKatherine Chancellor14 episodes
2014UnpluggedGrandma KatieShort film
2014The ParcelBeverlyShort film
2014After LifeGloria


  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. ^ http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/archives/story.html?id=fdbfaa68-92c8-40a7-8471-c0294689f0d5&p=3
  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". soapcentral.com. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 

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