Michael Learned Biography

Actress, Theater Actress, Television Actress (1939–)
Michael Learned is an Emmy Award-winning American actress best known for her role on the long-running television drama The Waltons.


Michael Learned was born on April 9, 1939, in Washington, D.C. She played Olivia Walton on The Waltons and won three Emmy Awards for her work on the show. After the series ended in 1981, she starred in the series Nurse, for which she received a fourth Emmy. Learned remains active as an actress on stage and television.

Early Life and 'The Waltons'

Born on April 9, 1939, in Washington, D.C., Michael Learned played Olivia Walton, the mother at the center of a loving, extended family, on the long-running drama The Waltons for many years. Married as a teenager, Learned brought a lot of personal experience to her role as she was a mother of three sons -- all born before she was 25 years old. Learned also knew about rural life, having lived on a farm when she was young.

Set in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains during the Great Depression, The Waltons showed the family's day-to-day trials and tribulations, wrestling with financial challenges and the moral upbringing of seven children. No matter what problems they faced themselves, the Waltons always helped out those in need. For her work on the series, Learned received six Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, winning the award three times -- in 1973, 1974 and 1976.


After the The Waltons ended in 1981, Michael Learned quickly returned to the medium with a new show. She starred on the series Nurse as Mary Benjamin. While the series won over critics, it didn't find enough of an audience to stay on the air. Still Learned earned two Emmy Award nominations for her portrayal of a seasoned nurse who returns to work after losing her husband, one of which led her to win her fourth Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 1982.

Later Roles

During the rest of the 1980s and into '90s, Michael Learned appeared in numerous television movies, including Roots: The Gift (1988) and Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story (1991). She has also reprised her most famous role -- Olivia Walton -- several times over the years for reunion specials, most recently in 1997's A Walton Easter.

Remaining active in her field, Michael Learned continues to take on a variety of roles. She played the Mistress in a revival of Edward Albee's All Over off-Broadway in 2002 and recently starred a touring production of On Golden Pond. On television, Learned made guest appearances on such shows as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Scrubs and even dabbled in daytime television with cameos on All My Children and One Life to Live.

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