Long after she established herself in The Waltons as one the top TV actresses of her time, Michael Learned dabbled in another world. A sudsy world.
Learned, who owned four Primetime Emmys, tried the acting grind of soap operas. She was a guest star and/or a fill-in on some very popular soaps from 2005-11.
Her first taste of the soap life came in 2005, when Olivia Walton morphed into Judge Helen Turner on both All My Children and One Life to Live. The two soaps were filmed in New York, although the fictitious settings were in the fictitious cities of Pine Valley and Llanview, Pennsylvania.
Learned appeared on three episodes. The baby switch was a plotline on both soaps and it involved the newborns of Bianca Montgomery and Babe Carey. Paul, the guy who switched the babies, ended up murdered, with his body discovered in a shallow grave.
In 2010, the former Waltons star appeared in a two-month storyline on General Hospital. She played a terminal cancer patient named Shirley Smith who also served as a mentor to nurse Elizabeth Webber and had dealings with Robin and Patrick. General Hospital is the only soap opera still airing on ABC.
The Waltons Star Took Over Role in Young and the Restless
By 2011, Learned embraced a bigger role. She filled in for Jeanne Cooper on the Young and the Restless. Cooper played Katherine Chancellor, one of the most revered characters in all of soaps. However, in 2011, she needed to take a medical leave. So the former Olivia Walton played the rich and powerful Katherine.
Maria Arena Ball, the show’s head writer and producer, confirmed the big news with Entertainment Weekly.
“Michael Learned is an accomplished actress and we are grateful that she is able to fill in for Jeanne Cooper for this short time,” Ball said of The Waltons star. “Jeanne is an integral part of our show and we look forward to her imminent return. We have great storyline coming up for Mrs. Chancellor.”
Still, Michael Learned always will be known for The Waltons.
Learned was Olivia for the first seven seasons on The Waltons. She won three Emmys as Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series. When she left the series, writers gave Olivia tuberculosis and sent her to Arizona to recover. Learned guest-starred on the series until it finished its run. She played Olivia in four of the six Waltons reunion movies.
Learned told the Washington Post that she left The Waltons because she didn’t like acting within the confines of television. Given her later acting resume, she obviously changed her mind.
“On a television thing, it’s so minute, the moments are so minute,” The Waltons star told the Post. “It’s stop and start, stop and start. In a scene where there’s any real emotion, it’s very hard to dredge that up and then be stopped and then wait for half an hour and then dredge it up again.”
Learned, after leaving The Waltons, returned to TV in 1981-82 for Nurses. She won her fourth Emmy while doing the show. And Learned, at 82, is still going strong.