The Waltons enjoyed a long-run on CBS from 1972 to 1981, led by stars Michael Learned and her onscreen husband, Ralph Waite, but now the former is admitting that their love was more than just TV magic.
The 79-year-old recently spoke to Daily Mail and revealed that she and Ralph, who passed in 2014 at the age of 85, were “in love” off-screen, but never took the next step for fear that something would go wrong, thus ruining the series. According to Michael, instead of allowing things to “get messy,” they focused on their close friendship.
“We had a deep love for each other that we would have ruined if we had taken that extra step, and we didn’t,” the Golden Globes nominee told the outlet. “We never did. We thought about it, but we didn’t. And I think that’s why we became a spiritual husband and wife if you will … His wife is a very good friend. But what Ralph and I had was something that came across on screen.”
The Young and the Restless alum, who confessed that at one point she was “going to tear up” just thinking about Ralph, did add that the actor had his faults too.
“He was a complicated man,” she explained. “He had a lot of issues. He lost a daughter from leukemia and I think that’s when he started drinking. He was a minister before he became an actor. He had so many colors to his life and his character and he was deeply honest with himself and God conscious I think, and complicated. And because we remained the kind of friends we remained, none of that bothered me.”
She continued, “But if we’d been married or something, I might have had a problem with his complicatedness and he might have with mine. We’re both very flawed human beings, but I loved him dearly, what can I say? And he loved me.”
Once the director yelled cut, the pair did consider exploring their feelings for one another. “We thought about it. We did,” the actress said. “There was a period where Ralph and I were both single and we did love each other so we made a date and it was going to happen and we got together and we looked at each other and went, ‘Nah, this will never work.’ Thankfully, we had the good sense to not take it the next step, because I think it would have gotten messy. It might have gotten messy, but our love was very deep and true.”
She added, “The smart thing was we were smart enough not to carry it to the next step, because I think it could have really turned bad. I’m not sure, maybe, but our love was very deep and very special and I miss him terribly.”
In 1988, Michael married John Doherty. They do not have any kids together but the former does have three children with her first husband, the late Peter Donat.
The Waltons was about a Depression-era family living in Virginia.