Michael Learned's real-life kids wanted her to be more like Olivia Walton
They wished life would imitate art, according to Judy Norton in a new video.
Michael Learned was an accomplished stage actress based in San Francisco when she was cast as mother of seven Olivia in the beloved family drama The Waltons. She most often acted opposite Ralph Waite as her husband John, and together the pair embodied the kind, nurturing figures that all good parents strive to be.
Of course, it's easy to be perfect when your words come from a script and you have multiple takes to get things right.
In a new video uploaded to her YouTube channel, Mary Ellen Walton herself, Judy Norton, talks about Michael Learned and working with her for years on set. Norton relates the struggles of working long days while filming, especially for Learned who had three boys at home.
"It was very challenging for her with the kind of work schedule that we had," Norton remembers. "That was really difficult for her at times, to have to work all day and feel that she was not having the opportunity to be there for her own sons."
Norton notes that Learned "loved spending all the time with all of her second family" but she was conflicted — a feeling many working parents can relate to.
Learned's home and work life were brought head to head in a funny anecdote she shared with her onscreen daughter.
"She told me a story one time that I absolutely love," Norton says in the video. "Michael, like most of us, had her struggles as a parent. I always said it's much easier to be a parent on television because the script writers give you all the right answers and at the end of the day you always get it right."
Norton continues, "Michael said there was a time around her own table at home when her sons weren't particularly happy and one of them finally said to her, 'Why can’t you be more like you are on The Waltons?'"
They have a point. Who wouldn't want Olivia Walton as a mom?
Judy Norton divulges another good story she heard from Learned. Because Michael had a name not typically associated with women, it sometimes caused confusion. Even in early episodes of The Waltons, Learned is credited as "Miss Michael Learned," just to stress her femininity.
Learned spoke once about a mix-up that happened over the phone. In Norton's words, "She got on the phone and the person answered and she said, 'Michael,' and the person said, 'No, Michele' and she said, 'No, it's Michael,' and he said, 'No, it's Michele.' It turned out his name was Michele. So, he thought that she was calling him by the wrong name and she thought that he was trying to call her by the wrong name."
Watch Judy Norton's full video below.