Childhood & Early Life
She was born as the oldest daughter of Elizabeth Duane and Bruce Learned in Washington, D.C. Her father was a diplomat in the U.S. State Department. She had five sisters.
The family moved to Austria when Michael was 11 due to her father’s job responsibilities.
She was always interested in pursuing acting as a profession and thus went to Arts Educational School in England.
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Married as a teenager, she began appearing in stage productions along with her husband during the 1960s. She mostly performed with the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco.
She was once performing in a production of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’ when producer Lee Rich noticed her. He recognized her potential and cast her as Olivia Walton in his new television series, ‘The Waltons’.
’The Waltons’, which premiered in 1972, was about the story of a large family during the Depression era, and Michael was chosen to play the matriarch, a mother of seven children. Since Michael too had married early and become a mother, she could relate with the character she played.
With her soft features and pleasant though not glamorous looks, the actress fit the role perfectly. She played a patient, soft-spoken and loving woman in the series and soon became synonymous with Olivia Walton. She remained with the series till 1979.
She played the role of Sister Janet in the religious anthology series ‘Insight’ which was about man’s search for meaning, freedom and love. She appeared in two episodes during 1973-74.
In 1978, she played a supporting role in ‘Little Mo’, the biographical TV film about the story of Maureen Connolly Brinker, the tennis player who became the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year.
She played Nurse Mary Benjamin in the American medical drama, ‘Nurse’ that premiered on CBS in 1981. It was about the story of a supervising nurse at a major hospital who returns to work following the death of her physician husband.
The year 1986 saw her perform a role in the drama film ‘Power’ which was about political corruption and how power is yielded by the ones holding it. She co-starred with prominent actors like Richard Gere and Denzel Washington in the film.
She played Trish Carlin, the owner of a modeling agency in the sitcom, Living Dolls’ whose first episode was aired in 1989. It was the show in which Halle Berry made her acting debut.
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In 1993, she played a supporting role in the biographical drama film, ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ which was written and directed by Rob Cohen. It was about the story of the actor and martial artist Bruce Lee.
In the television movie, ‘A Father for Brittany’ (1998), she played the role of Edna Humphreys. The movie was about a childless couple who choose to adopt a baby and what ensues when the baby arrives and the mother gets diagnosed with cancer.
She appeared as Judge Turner in one of the episodes of ‘All My children’, a soap opera in 2005 and acted in two episodes of ‘One Life to Live’ the same year.
In spite of her advancing age she remained active on television and in 2011 she appeared in 11 episodes of ‘The Young and the Restless’ as Katherine Chancellor.