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America’s Mom

This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

March 18, 1998. All rights reserved.

Did we ever hear Olivia Walton yell at her boisterous

brood of freckled kids? Quiet exasperation, maybe. Yelling, never.

With "The Waltons," actress Michael Learned won her place

in America’s heart as everybody’s ideal mother, the lovely woman from

a simpler place and time, who never yelled. With cast member Ralph

Waite (currently appearing at Paper Mill Playhouse) as her husband,

Richard Thomas (currently at the Hartford Stage) as John Boy, and

the late great Will Geer as Grandpa, the family show about human kindness

that could beat Depression-era rural poverty was a long-running hit

throughout the 1970s. Fifteen years after the show died a natural

death in 1979 (immortalized, meanwhile, in re-runs), TV Guide readers

voted Learned their the second favorite dramatic actress in TV history.

And those nostalgic TV voters were not to be denied. In 1993 the

network staged a fictional family reunion for the Waltons in "A

Walton Thanksgiving." The single show earned close to top TV-movie

rating for the entire season. With demand running high for seeing

those Waltons all grown up, the Thanksgiving reunion was followed

by "A Walton Wedding" in 1995, and "A Walton Easter"

in 1996. After her "Waltons" success, she went on to a lead

role in the television series, "Nurse." Most recent among

Learned’s many appearances in made-for-TV movies was her role on CBS

last week in "A Father for Brittany" with Shirley Knight (McCarter’s

Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie").

Michael Learned comes to Princeton to play the role of Irene Landis,

in the world premiere of Richard Greenberg’s "Safe as Houses,"

directed by Emily Mann, at McCarter Theater.

Learned the dramatic actress, classically trained in England, began

her career in the 1950s, becoming well known in theater circles before

and after Olivia Walton. She served an apprenticeship with the Stratford

Connecticut Shakespeare Festival and has been an active member of

the American Conservatory Theater. Her theatrical roles have included

the leading heroines of Shakespeare, Shaw, and Chekhov, as well as

leading women in works by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Tennessee


Her lead role as Sara Goode in the Wendy Wasserstein Broadway success,

"The Sisters Rosensweig," kept her onstage for a 13-month

run in 1993-’94. She gathered raves on the national tour of Edward

Albee’s "Three Tall Women."

Learned’s motion pictures include "Power," and "Dragon."

But most everyone likes to remember her as that good mom who never

lost it.

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