7 Questions for . . . Michael Learned

Grandparents.com talks to beloved actress, four-time Emmy Award winner, and Waltons mom, Michael Learned, about her best advice for her grandchildren and more.

By Deborah Long

Grandparents.com GRAND PERSPECTIVES series features conversations with the world’s most dynamic and noteworthy grandparents. This month, we speak with MICHAEL LEARNED. Perhaps best know as Olivia Walton on the iconic television series, The Waltons, Ms. Learned will be re-uniting with her fellow cast members on September 29th for a 40th reunion performance to benefit the Environmental Charter Middle School.

What’s the most important lesson you hope to teach your grandchildren?

Michael Learned: Be authentic, which means I have to be authentic, too. I remember a conversation I once had with my granddaughter, Lily. I said, “Lily, you have an image of who I am. This grandmother who’s always sweet, but that image isn’t real. I’m nervous sometimes. Sometimes I get angry and I might even swear. But none of that changes the fact that I love you with all my heart.” I think the best gift I can give my grandchildren is to be who I truly am and by doing so, hopefully, I can inspire each of them to be their truest self as well.

How has your role of grandmother changed as they’ve grown?

Michael Learned: You go from re-living your life with your children—the hugs and the cuddling—to being more of a distant friend who is just always there. My grandchildren know I’m always here for them. But, as they’ve grown, their lives have become more complicated. There are boyfriends, girlfriends and the drama that comes with that. And, with the exception of my youngest granddaughter who is 11, the cuddles are over. But I’m hoping they’ll come back.

What’s the best piece of advice you learned from your grandparents?

Michael Learned: My grandparents taught by example. My grandfather was an artist and he was full of life and fun. But it was my grandmother who really drove everything. She was an amazing woman, particularly for that time. She was fluent in French, she wrote poetry, she was president of Pen Women, an organization for artists.

She and my grandfather lived in Japan for a time and while they were there, she bought a temple and a teahouse. She shipped them back piece by piece and had them reassembled in Connecticut.

But, maybe most remarkably, she played the stock market and made quite a bit of money. She invested money for my sisters and me which—though it lost value by the time we were able to use it—still was enough to help us get started.

My grandparents were great role models and I’ve tried to follow their example with my own grandchildren. I don’t offer advice, instead, I ask questions.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Michael Learned: Leaving my first husband. I loved him and for 15 years we tried to make it work. In many ways, it was a wonderful marriage and I don’t regret it at all. But I couldn’t fill the role of the perfect 50s wife and be true to myself. The divorce was devastating; it always is for families.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

Michael Learned: My three beautiful sons. They are good men. They are all good husbands, good fathers, and good sons to me, too. They bring such joy to my life. They always have.

Do you have a favorite recipe you’re willing to share?

Michael Learned:  When I do cook, I cook by feel. A summer favorite: slice up zucchini and set it aside. Then, heat some olive oil and add butter. When the butter has melted, sauté some garlic, onion and chopped tomato. Add the zucchini after the onion is soft and sauté it for a few minutes, until the zucchini is the texture you like. Chop up about a handful of fresh basil leaves and add those with some salt and pepper. Then serve. Simple and delicious.

What’s the best-kept happy secret about aging?

Michael Learned: Grandchildren! And, also, I think you appreciate life more the older you get. You have a wisdom you never could have had when you were young, or even have imagined. You know the world isn’t always an easy place, and that terrible things happen, and that makes you appreciate the beautiful moments all the more.

MICHAEL LEARNED is a four-time Emmy Award-Winning Actress, three for her work as Olivia Walton on the acclaimed TV series The Waltons, and one for her role as Mary Benjamin in her own series Nurse. She is also a Peoples' Choice Award Winner and four-time Golden Globe Nominee.


I think Michael is a beautiful person. I always enjoy and still watch the Waltons almost daily. I agree with her thoughts of having grandchildren and the love she has for them. I also am a grandmother almost 70 years, and enjoy all my grandchildren, I have 6 grands and the oldest is 31 and youngest 3 years old. 5 great grands. Will Michael be doing television in the future? I am very happy to have read her story.

Honeyjean on 2012-10-11 15:27:35

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