Michael Learned

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Michael Learned
Learned in 2020
Born (1939-04-09) April 9, 1939 (age 84)
Years active1961–present
(m. 1956; div. 1972)
Glen Chadwick
(m. 1974; div. 1977)
William Parker IV
(m. 1979; div. 1988)
John Doherty
(m. 1988)

Michael Learned (born April 9, 1939) is an American actress, known for her role as Olivia Walton in the long-running CBS drama series The Waltons (1972–1981). She has won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series four times, which is tied for the record of most wins with Tyne Daly. Three of the wins were for The Waltons (1973, 1974, 1976), while the other was for Nurse (1982).[1]

Early life[edit]

Learned was born in Washington, D.C., the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Duane "Betti" (née Hooper) and Bruce Learned, a diplomat.[2] Her maternal grandfather was an attaché for the United States Embassy in Rome.[3] She has five younger sisters: Gretl, Susan, Sabra, Dorit and Philippa.[4]

She lived on a Connecticut farm for the first 10 years of her life. Learned said that her parents never explained why she received a masculine first name, once saying of her father: "All he told me was that if I had been a boy, I would have been named Caleb, but I was a girl, so I was called Michael."[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]


Television and film[edit]

Learned in 1973

Her first substantial role in either film or television was as Olivia Walton on The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons from 1972 to 1981. For the first five seasons of the show she was billed as "Miss Michael Learned" because she was relatively unknown at the time and producers wished to avoid confusion among viewers about her gender. By the sixth season, as the show continued its success after the departure of co-star Richard Thomas, producers' fear of confusion about her sex had been alleviated and the "Miss" was removed from Learned's billing. She was nominated for six Emmy Awards as Lead Actress in a Drama, winning three times. After the end of the sixth season, she agreed to appear for one more season on the condition that she would not have to work the full nine months. After the seventh season she left the show.[7]

Her character's abrupt disappearance in Season 7 was explained by Olivia developing tuberculosis and entering a sanatorium in Arizona. She returned in Season 8 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 made her big screen debut in 1980, playing the supporting role in the drama film Touched by Love. She later appeared in Power (1986) and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), and well as number of made-for-television movies.

Learned starred as Nurse Mary Benjamin in the hospital drama Nurse, which ran on CBS for six episodes in spring 1981 and then for the 1981–1982 seasons. Though the series was well received critically, it was not a ratings success and lasted only two partial 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 starring roles in the unsuccessful 1988 drama Hothouse and 1989 sitcom Living Dolls and reprised her Waltons role for a number of television 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 second season of The Secret World of Alex Mack, 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 guest-starred in Scrubs as Mrs. Wilk in five episodes from the show's fifth season. She played Shirley Smith on ABC's General Hospital in 2010. In late 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 2022, Learned made her return to television with starring role in the Netflix limited series, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story playing Catherine Dahmer, Jeffrey Dahmer's grandmother.[9][10]


In the late 1960s, Learned and her husband Peter Donat appeared in various roles with the American Conservatory Theater 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. She reprised the role opposite Lance E. Nichols as Hoke at Judson Theatre Company in March 2013.[11]

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 sons by the marriage—Caleb, Christopher, and Lucas Donat.[citation needed]

Her second marriage, to Glen Chadwick, lasted from 1974 to 1977 and ended in divorce. In 1979, she married actor-screenwriter William Parker. That marriage ended in divorce as well. Since 1988, she has been married to lawyer John Doherty; the couple resides in California.[citation needed]

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". Then, at age 32, Learned realized she was an alcoholic. Taking herself to former husband Peter Donat's cabin on the California coast, 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.[12]



Year Title Role Notes
1980 Touched by Love Dr. Bell
1986 Power Governor Andrea Stannard
1993 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Vivian Emery
1997 Life During Wartime
2000 For the Love of May Mary Lou Short film
2005 Lethal Eviction Elsa
Loggerheads Sheridan Bellamy
2007 The Killer The Innkeeper Short film
2009 An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong Nana Louis Hanlon
2014 Unplugged Grandma Katie Short film
The Parcel Beverly
After Life Gloria
2018 Second Acts Lee Marston Short film

Television films[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1963 The Other Man
1974 Hurricane Lee Jackson
It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy Janet Walters
1978 Little Mo Eleanor Tennant
1980 Nurse Mary Benjamin
A Christmas Without Snow Zoe Jenson
1982 Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain Olivia Walton
1984 The Parade Rachel Kirby
1986 A Deadly Business Ann
Picnic Rosemary Sidney
1987 Mercy or Murder? Skipper
1988 Roots: The Gift Amelia Parker
1990 Gunsmoke: The Last Apache Mike Yardner
1991 Aftermath: A Test of Love Irene
Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story Judy Smart
Keeping Secrets Marion Mahoney
1992 Mattie's Waltz Mattie
1993 A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion Olivia Walton
1995 A Walton Wedding
1997 A Walton Easter
1998 A Father for Brittany Edna Humphreys
2017 Life Interrupted Marni Woodworth

Television series[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
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 (1973–1974, 1976)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama (1973–1976)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1975, 1978–1979)
1973 Gunsmoke Mike Yardner Episode: "Matt's Love Story"
May Lassiter Episode: "A Game of Death... An Act of Love Part 2"
Match Game 73 Herself Episode: "1.6"
1973–1974 Insight Sister Janet 2 episodes
1974 Police Story Linda Keitlinger Episode: "Love, Mabel"
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
1984 St. Elsewhere Sister Millicent Domencia 2 episodes
1988 Hothouse Dr. Marie Teller 7 episodes
1989 Murder, She Wrote Maria Hudson Episode: "Trevor Hudson's Legacy"
Who's the Boss? Trish Carlin 2 episodes
Living Dolls Trish Carlin 12 episodes
1990 Wiseguy Rachel 2 episodes
1994 Reading Rainbow Herself Episode: "Appelemondo's Dream"
1995 The Secret World of Alex Mack Ghost of Paradise Valley Episode: "The Secret"
1998 Profiler Helen Waters 3 episodes
Promised Land Dolly Carstens Episode: "The Secret of Bluestem"
2000 Pensacola: Wings of Gold Congresswoman Benedict Episode: "Article 32"
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"
One Life to Live Hon. Judge Turner 2 episodes
2006 Scrubs Mrs. Wilk 7 episodes
2009 Cold Case Louise Patterson '09 Episode: "WASP"
2010 General Hospital Shirley Smith 21 episodes
2011 Mr. Sunshine Maggie Episode: "The Best Man"
The Young and the Restless Katherine Chancellor 13 episodes
2022 Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story Catherine Dahmer Netflix series


  1. ^ "Michael Learned profile". Television Academy. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  2. ^ 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. ISBN 9780835204149.
  3. ^ "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 January 20, 2014.
  4. ^ "FEDERAL OFFICIAL THOMAS MORRIS DIES AT AGE 81 - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ Cartwright, Al (April 26, 1980). "Olivia Walton by another name is just Michael Learned". The News-Journal. Delaware, Wilmington. p. 3. Retrieved March 8, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Hal Erickson (2014). "Michael Learned – Biography". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. New York. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2014-02-26. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  7. ^ "Walton family will lose hard-working old Olivia". Hutchinson News. Heritage Microfilm, Inc.#NewspaperARCHIVE. 10 November 1978.
  8. ^ Kroll, Dan J. (October 21, 2011). "Jeanne Cooper taking medical leave from Y&R". Soapcentral. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  9. ^ Hipes, Patrick (March 31, 2021). "Michael Learned Joins Cast Of Netflix's 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' From Ryan Murphy And Ian Brennan".
  10. ^ Nolasco, Stephanie (October 6, 2022). "Netflix's 'Dahmer' star Michael Learned on people's obsession with serial killers: 'I question our country'". Fox News.
  11. ^ "Driving Miss Daisy".
  12. ^ Learned, Michael (December 2002). "My Spiritual Journey". Daily Word. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014.

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