Producers on The Waltons tried making Olivia Walton look older
The casting description called for an actress in her early to mid-40s, with long, reddish hair. Michael Learned was the opposite.
The producers of The Waltons originally wanted an actress in her early to mid-40s, with long and reddish hair to play the role of Olivia Walton. Who they chose, however, was Michael Learned. A 32-year-old actress with short blonde hair.
Despite the producers' original description of Olivia Walton, Learned would go on to play Olivia for 168 episodes during The Waltons' nine season run. She would also bring in three Emmy awards for her role on the series.
In a 1976 interview with Mount Vernon Argus, Learned talked about her first meeting with The Waltons' producers. According to Learned, the producers gave her the impression that she was all wrong for the role. But as she said: "There are no rules in Hollywood."
Learned was younger in real life than what had been envisioned for Olivia, so she spent the first two seasons of The Waltons being transformed in makeup and in clothing, making her look older than she actually was.
"They spent the first two seasons trying to make me look older, and the last two trying to make me look younger," she said.
Her character's age wasn't the only thing that changed throughout the series. Many fans can recall Olivia in early seasons as more quiet and reserved. According to Learned, Olivia had come a long way since the first couple seasons.
"The character has changed: she participates more," she said. "The first two years I did a lot of coffee pouring and telling children to go to bed. She's a little less rigid now, has a few more weaknesses and strengths, and more point of view."
As her character changed in the show, Learned started to change outside of it. The Waltons did well in ratings, partially thanks to the deep bonds and unpredictable chemistry of the characters. According to Learned, it was the depiction of an American family that people related to.
"We're all so jaded," she said in a 1973 interview with The Kokomo Times. "Our show goes another way, and often it's effective."
A lot of praise, awards and success for someone who didn't originally match the casting description. Maybe that's why they chose her.