Actress Michael Learned stole the hearts of TV viewers when she played matriarch Olivia Walton in the popular hit series "The Waltons," which aired from 1971 until 1981. However, just before landing the role, the 80-year-old star had hit rock bottom and was about to give up on her dreams.
The show, she says, saved her life.
"I was going through a divorce. I was drinking too much, and I came down to L.A.," Learned told Fox News in a candid interview. "I was full of fear because I'd been married since I was 17. Suddenly, I'm alone with three teenagers to raise. I don't know where I got the courage to drive down to L.A. I thought, 'I'm just going to look at the freeway and learn the freeways in case an audition comes up.'"
The night she got the call from her agent about an audition, Learned said she was staying in a "crummy little motel" for $12 a night, wondering what her next move would be. She recalled being reluctant at first but decided to audition after much coaxing from her agent.
"And so I went and I didn't read or anything. They just said, 'Will you do a test?' And I said, 'Sure,'" she told Fox News adding that she was not only scared but hungover.
"So it was a rough time in my life. And getting that show not only helped me financially, but it also got me sober. I knew I couldn't do a television show and take care of my kids and do all of that and then have cocktails at night and go to bed a little plastered.
“So it pulled me altogether, and it was a gift. I have two families now. I have my own kids, and I have the Walton kids," she said,
She credits costar Ralph Waite with helping her get sober. “Ralph got me sober,” she remembers. “He said, ‘I'm going to A.A.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that's wonderful. You really need it.’ He grabbed me by the shoulders, and he said, ‘I think you should come.’ And I'm like, ‘Me?’
“But he got me sober, and I'm very grateful to him for that. And we were lovers, not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. We adored each other. We were like a married couple without all the baggage that you get when you're in a marriage.”
The show’s popularity is centered on family the star says. “We had a lot of imperfections as a family. And I think that's what people relate to. They don't relate to how perfect you are. They relate to the fact that you're flawed, and you still carry on.
“And I think that was the message of "The Waltons," that they loved each other, and there were times that Olivia was judgmental and stiff.”
Learned is now starring in a new film, "Second Acts" alongside stage, television and film veteran of John Wesley. According to the short film's website, the story follows two elderly adults, a Caucasian woman and African American man who, despite prejudices, strike up a charming love affair over the course of an evening.
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