“Waltons” star Michael Learned said she and onscreen husband Ralph Waite ‘were in love’

As Olivia and John Walton from the popular CBS sitcom “The Waltons,” they were portrayed on TV as a loving married couple and among the most well-known in television history.

They lived a far cry from the perfect life they portrayed on television, even though they were always surrounded by kids and each program emphasized the value of love and family.

From 1972 to 1981, “The Waltons” aired for nine seasons, becoming a beloved family favorite.

Michael Learned’s Olivia and Ralph Waite’s John Walton were a couple going through the Great Depression who shared a home in the made-up mountain town of Walton’s Mountain with their seven children and grandparents.

The cast of the hit television series "The Waltons" poses for a promotional photo on January 1, 1972. | Photo: Getty Images
When they were cast for the show, Learned and Waite found they had a lot in common. This was their first major break in acting, and they both hailed from large families.

Although Learned was raised mostly on a farm in Connecticut with her five younger sisters, she was born in Washington, D.C.

She traveled to Austria when she was 11 years old, where she studied acting at the Arts Educational School, Tring (now known as Tring Park School for the Performing Arts) in Tring, Hertfordshire, England.

However, she didn’t get the part for which she would become most famous until she was 33 years old. Waite, her on-screen husband, was 11 years her senior and the eldest child of a large family who had grown up in White Plains, New York.

Actress Michael Learned embraces actor Ralph Waite in scene from the TV series "The Waltons."
After dropping out of school, Waite joined the Marines, went to college, and had a brief career as a social worker. Later, he graduated with a master’s degree from Yale University and was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor.

He made the decision to pursue a career in acting, and in his mid-40s, after landing a number of TV and film roles, he was cast in the legendary role of John Walton.

The two clicked right away, and their on-screen chemistry made them popular with fans right away. For her portrayal of Olivia Walton, Learned won three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

However, while portraying the ideal family on television Learned had a turbulent personal life. She had three sons from her first marriage, which she entered into in 1956 at the age of seventeen, to Canadian-American actor Peter Donat. After 16 years of divorce, she went through two more marriages before finding a partner with whom she could genuinely be happy.

Michael Learned and Ralph Waite while filming the episode "The Parting" on November 16, 1978. | Photo: Getty Images
After a three-year marriage to actor-screenwriter William Parker in 1979, Learned remarried in 1974 to Glenn Chadwick.

Learned acknowledged being the victim of domestic abuse by a long-term partner—whom she declined to identify—in a 2017 interview. According to Closer Magazine, she claimed that after being choked by her partner, she realized she had to leave because she was no longer able to give “the other cheek.”

Waite assisted her in overcoming her addiction to alcohol following her divorce from her first husband, which was another challenge in her life.

“When the show started, I was drinking a lot, and Ralph saved my life.” Really,” she murmured.

ma and pa walton real connection
She described how, on their breaks, they would frequently go out to lunch, returning to the set inebriated. She was drinking too much, so after a while, Waite “straightened himself out,” encouraging her to follow suit. She then went to her ex-husband Donat’s remote cottage on the California coast to sober up, and she hasn’t touched alcohol since.

Waite had experienced heartbreak, having been married three times, and he acknowledged that the effects of his divorces were so severe that he was never able to entertain the idea of getting married again.

With their most recent unions, to 12-year-old lawyer John Doherty and 20-year-old lawyer Kerry Shear, the two did indeed find happiness.

However, Learned eventually acknowledged in 2019, five years after Waite passed away, what admirers had always suspected: that she and Waite were madly in love.

Michael Learned and Ralph Waite attend the signing of Mary McDonough's book at Book Soup on April 16, 2011 | Photo: Getty Images

However, despite their intense romantic feelings for one another, the stars never pursued their relationship because of their commitment to the show as professionals.

The Daily Mail was informed by Learned that they chose not to pursue the romance because it might “get messy” and damage the popular series. Rather, Learned emphasized that they treasured a deep connection that persisted until Waite’s 85th birthday in 2014.

Learned stated, “We would have ruined our deep love for each other if we had gone the extra mile, which we didn’t.”

“That’s not what we did. Though we didn’t, we gave it some thought. We became a spiritual husband and wife, if you will, for that reason, I believe, and I miss him tremendously. His spouse is an excellent friend. However, what Ralph and I shared was depicted on TV.

Although their on-screen chemistry is evident, their decision to keep their sentiments to themselves demonstrates their commitment to the program, which has charmed millions of viewers and is still broadcast on television today.

I’m happy that these two were able to find love in the end.

Tell all the fans of The Waltons that you know, please.

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