Emmys

Emmys

Hollywood Flashback: Michael Learned Won Her First 'Waltons' Emmy in '73

Michael Learned holds the record for most #Emmys wins for outstanding lead actress in a drama series

8/10/2020 11:31:00 PM

Michael Learned holds the record for most Emmys wins for outstanding lead actress in a drama series

The actress felt she was wrong for the part of Olivia, but she went to the audition anyway and 'got to test with Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite. It was like acting with two other [real] actors,' she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Max Miller/Fotos International/Getty ImagesMichael Learned and Richard Thomas posed with their Emmys on May 20, 1973. Right, THR reported that The Waltons, the year’s “surprise hit,” took home six awards in a front-page story.The actress felt she was wrong for the part of Olivia, but she went to the audition anyway and"got to test with Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite. It was like acting with two other [real] actors," she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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Michael Learned — or "Miss Michael Learned," as she was credited onThe Waltons, lest anyone confuse her for a man — holds the record for most Emmy wins for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.Three of those came for her work onThe Waltons

; she played matriarch Olivia Walton on the CBS drama, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972. The show, which followed the lives of a wholesome family living through the Great Depression in rural Virginia, was created by and based on the life of TV writer Earl Hamner Jr. (who died in 2016 at age 92).

Hamner got his start writing forThe Twilight Zonebefore striking it big with shows likeThe WaltonsandFalcon Crest. Learned, then 32, had been living in San Francisco and going through a very difficult divorce from her first husband, actor Peter Donat, when she landed the part. She had put her three sons in the car and driven to L.A., "just to get to know the city in case an audition came up," Learned, now 81, tells

The Hollywood Reporter."I was staying at a cheap motel for 12 bucks a night. I was an emotional wreck."An audition did come up: Her agent convinced her to read for Olivia, a part Learned felt she was wrong for. But she went anyway and "got to test with Richard Thomas and Ralph Waite. It was like acting with two other [real] actors." All three were cast ­— Thomas as her son, John-Boy, and Waite as her husband, John Sr.

By its second season, which premiered Sept. 13, 1973,The Waltonswas the second-most-watched series on TV. Four months earlier, at an Emmys hosted by Johnny Carson, the show won outstanding drama, outstanding leading actor in a drama for Thomas and outstanding leading actress in a drama for Learned. In announcing her win, the presenter, James Franciscus (

Mr. Novak), mispronounced her name as "Michelle" — which she quickly corrected at the podium."I'm stunned," Learned said. "And the name is Michael."  Read more: Hollywood Reporter »

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