How The Waltons Almost Had A Stunning On-Set Romance

Fans of "The Waltons" loved following the exploits of the famous TV family as they navigated the Great Depression in the backwoods of Virginia. The show aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981, spanning nine seasons and 221 episodes (via IMDb). 

Over the years, "The Waltons" touched on serious issues, from financial woes to World War II, while celebrating the powerful bonds of family in the face of hardship and occasionally featuring one of the seven Walton children in a comedic side plot.

As with any cast that spends so much time together, there are, of course, reports of behind-the-scenes drama. According to Eric Scott, known for his portrayal of middle child Ben Walton, the actors playing the Walton children were "loved by the public" but "never felt the studio appreciated [them]," per Closer Weekly

Much of the younger cast members were underpaid compared to their adult counterparts, he said, however, that didn't seem to prevent the cast and crew from connecting during production (via Outsider).

During the early years of "The Waltons," in fact, there was even a stunning on-set romance in the making.

Ralph Waite and Michael Learned had a special connection

On "The Waltons," actors Ralph Waite and Michael Learned played husband and wife John Walton Sr. and Olivia Walton — known simply as Pa and Ma — sharing many affectionate scenes as they parented their seven children (via IMDb). But the pair's chemistry extended beyond filming hours.

In an exclusive 2019 interview with the Daily Mail, Learned commented on the fictional romance that almost became a reality. "What Ralph and I had was something that came across on screen," she said, calling him her "spiritual husband."

Though they were close and helped each other through various personal struggles — including her years-long struggle with alcoholism (via Outsider) — Waite and Learned decided not to take their attraction any further so as to avoid potential complications on set. 

Learned told Daily Mail, "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.'" Ultimately, rather than becoming involved romantically, the pair forged a strong friendship.

In the years since Waite's death in 2014, Learned has reflected on the romance that could have been. "If we'd been married or something, I might have had a problem with his complicatedness and he might have with mine," she said (via the Daily Mail).

The Waltons inspired other shows

"The Waltons" was such a hit that its legacy is still going strong today, with the made-for-TV movie, "The Waltons: Homecoming," debuting in 2021 (via IMDb).

Originally known as the Spencers, the family was first depicted on screen in the 1963 film "Spencer's Mountain," based on Earl Hamner Jr.'s 1961 novel of the same name (via IMDb). 

The book was so wholesome that New York Times reviewer Orville Prescott said that criticizing it would be like "kicking a cocker spaniel," and then-president John F. Kennedy called the novel "representative of American culture" (via Television Academy Foundation). 

Less than a decade later, the Spencers evolved into the Waltons. By the early 1970s, they had become TV's favorite wholesome family (via Entertainment Weekly). Set against the cultural unrest of the time, the rural life depicted in "The Waltons" was a comforting, nostalgic watch. Though critics initially expected it to fail, the show was a hit among family viewers, especially those in Middle America (via Everything Zoomer). 

By the end of its run, "The Waltons" had been nominated for 37 Emmys, outperforming many of its competitors, including "The Mod Squad" and "The Flip Wilson Show" (via Showbiz CheatSheet). It event inspired other feel-good family series like "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Cosby Show" (via Entertainment Weekly).