Some TV shows are just so popular and beloved, they take on a special kind of status in popular culture. Little House on the Prairie is one of those shows. Even people who never even saw the show will be familiar with the name because it ran for such a long time and had so many fans.
Based on the ‘Little House’ stories, written by Laura Ingalls, the show was all about a family living together on a farm in Minnesota in the late 19th century. The show began in 1974 and ran all the way through to 192, with reruns still being shown to this day and the show still earning new fans and followers in the modern era.
It’s a special show that touched the hearts of people young and old and told us all some amazing stories. Meanwhile, behind the scenes of the show, a lot of interesting tales were also unfolding. Read on to discover a lot of fascinating stories regarding the cast, crew, and the production of the show, as well as some mind-blowing facts you would never have guessed.
It was also just recently announced that a film based on the series is in its beginning stages at Paramount Pictures. The studio picked up the movie adaption after Sony Pictures dropped it in 2012.
Michael Landon Cast His Own Daughter
Michael Landon had worked hard to get to where he was in life after enduring a difficult childhood. When he became a father, he vowed to do all he could to provide for his kids and help them enjoy a positive start to life.
So, when he got a chance to cast his own daughter in Little House on the Prairie, he took it. Leslie Landon appeared in the show a few times as one of the school teachers, Etta Plum. She later studied psychology and ended up getting a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy.
An Oscar Winner Appeared in The Show
There are many cases of big-name actors appearing in minor roles when they were first breaking into the industry, and we can see one incredible example of that in Little House on the Prairie. Iconic actor Sean Penn actually appeared in the show. He played a schoolboy in just one episode.
At the time, everyone must have just seen him as another kid on the set. Little did they know that he would grow up to become a real Hollywood legend, winning two separate Academy Awards for his starring roles in Milk and Mystic Rover, as well as many other Oscar nominations.
Little Cassandra Ended Up at Harvard
Melissa Ann Francis played the part of little Cassandra Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. She first got into acting when she was just a baby, appearing in a shampoo commercial at just six months of age. She appeared in various other movies and shows over the years, including the likes of Galactica 1980 and St. Elsewhere.
As well as being highly talented in the acting department, Francis was also blessed with a lot of intelligence. She went to Harvard University to study economics and has also spent time working as a TV journalist. She published a fascinating memoir in 2010 entitled Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir.
Paris Hilton’s Aunt Appeared on The Show
One of the young child actors on the show eventually developed a rather unique claim to fame as the aunt of socialite and model, Paris Hilton. Kyle Richards appeared in Little House on the Prairie as Alicia Edwards, one of the adopted children of Isaiah and Grace Edwards.
After the show, she appeared in various high profiles movies and TV series like Halloween, ER, and National Lampoon’s Pledge This. She has also collaborated with her niece, with the pair appearing together in shows like The Simple Life and My New BFF.
Almanzo Wilder Became Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Dad
Dean Butler played Almanzo Wilder on the show. Almanzo was the primary love interest for Laura Ingalls, and the pair eventually got married. When the show finished filming, Butler continued to get one role after another and build up quite an impressive resume.
One of his most memorable roles was as Hank Summers, the father of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the popular TV show. He has also appeared in Who’s The Boss, The Love Boat, and JAG. Butler met actress Katherine Cannon while auditioning for yet another part and ended up marrying her.
A Former NFL Footballer Made an Appearance
Merlin Olsen appeared as a guest star on Little House on the Prairie. He starred as a character named Jonathan Garvey in an episode entitled ‘Little House.’ Olsen had spent many years of his life in the NFL as a defensive lineman with the LA Rams, but always felt a calling for acting and decided to give it a try when he was finished with football.
He ended up starring in several shows including Father Murphy and Aaron’s Way. Sadly, Olsen was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and died from the disease just one year later.
Nellie And Laura Still Keep in Touch
On-screen, Nellie Oleson was seen as a real rival to Laura Ingalls, but behind-the-scenes, the actresses playing these roles – Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert – were close friends and still keep in touch nowadays. Alison has worked in a lot of different movies and shows since Little House ended.
She’s also done some stand-up comedy and makes a lot of jokes about her time playing Nellie on the show. She also wrote a comic memoir entitled ‘Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated’ which was a fascinating read for fans of the show.
James Became A Big Movie Star
James Ingalls was played by none other than Jason Bateman, who is an actor most recognizable to modern audiences for his starring roles in popular TV shows like Arrested Development and the Ozarks, as well as his many appearances in various movies like The Gift and Horrible Bosses.
Bateman is one of the Little House cast members who has really enjoyed the most success as he’s grown older. He’s appeared in dozens of very popular comedy movies and has won multiple awards, including a Golden Globe. He’s also turned his hand to directing.
Melissa Gilbert In the Modern Age
Melissa Gilbert was only a child when she was cast in the show, and it was her charm and grace that really helped Little House on the Prairie become such a hit. Casting child actors isn’t always easy, but Melissa really owned the role and made a lot of friends behind the scenes.
Since Little House ended, she’s enjoyed a lot more success in various movies and shows like Nip/Tuck, Babylon 5, and 7th Heaven. She appeared in Dancing with the Stars as well and made it to the eighth week. Gilbert has also taken an active role in politics, running as a Democratic candidate in Michigan back in 2016.
Karen Grassle Called It Quits
Karen Grassle (“Ma” Ingalls) didn’t have much experience of acting at all before her time on the show, and when Little House on the Prarie finally finished, she decided to call it a day on her TV career and left LA to lead a quieter life in New Mexico.
She opened up a theater company in NM, but later decided to go back to California and appeared in the Wyatt Earp movie in the 1990s. Since then, she’s been mainly focused on theater productions but has appeared in some ads and shows.
Michael Landon Enjoyed an Amazing Life
Michael Landon was one of the star’s biggest shows, having already made a name for himself on Bonanza. In the years after Little House on the Prairie ended, he continued to enjoy success. He appeared in shows like Us and Highway to Heaven.
He was also voted as one of the sexiest men alive and had no less than eight children and three different wives throughout his rich, full life. He died of pancreative cancer in 1991 but is still remembered as a legend of the small screen.
A Very Successful Show
Little House on the Prairie was one of the biggest hits of the 70s and early 80s, but its success has endured over the years. Episodes of the show still air on various networks all over the world, every single day.
One episode, “I’ll Be Waving As You Drive Away” has been ranked in the top 100 TV episodes ever made and the show has been a raging success in other countries too. Over in Spain, the show is called ‘La Casa de la Pradera,’ while French audiences know the show under the title ‘La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie.’
Not Quite Tall Enough
One issue that often comes up during film and TV production is that the heights of actors can all be quite different, but the use of certain tools, techniques, tricks, and camera angles can help to deal with this issue.
This was an issue on Little House on the Prairie for Michael Landon. Landon was just 5’9″ and wanted to look taller on-screen. To this end, he would wear platform boots which would usually be hidden away off the bottom of the shot, so the audience had no idea. Landon also insisted on several scenes and shots that placed him in higher areas to the rest of the cast.
Third Time’s A Charm
Alison Arngrim is an amazing actress, and we all loved her portrayal of Nellie Dalton on the show, but if not for her determination and drive to succeed, we might never have seen her at all! Alison has actually turned away from auditions twice before finally landing a role on the show.
She tried out for the part of Laura but didn’t make the cut. Then she came back and read for the role of Mary, but was rejected once again. Undeterred, she came back a third and final time to try out for the role of Nellie and managed to get it.
More Than Just Inspiration
There were a lot of links between Little House on the Prairie and another very popular show at the time: Bonanza. The biggest connection between the two shows was the fact that Michael Landon starred in both, but there was a lot more going on behind the scenes.
Due to his position on Bonanza, Michael Landon actually started taking unused scripts from that show, making some edits, and using them as episodes for Little House on the Prairie! In the business, this is known as ‘script recycling,’ and it was actually quite common back in those days.
A Very Strange Stage Name
Karen Grassle played the role of Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, but when she first auditioned for the part, this actress chose to use a very odd stage name. She called herself Gabriel Tree. Many actors and actresses of the time used to use stage names, but this was definitely a strange one.
When Michael Landon heard about this name, he actually went and spoke with Karen and told her to lose it. He thought it just made her sound like a hippie and wouldn’t help with getting future roles, so she decided to drop it.
A Happy Little Accident?
Twin girls named Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush played the character of Carrie Ingalls. One of the girls was involved in a very memorable moment in the opening credits of the show. During the intro sequence, we see a young girl falling down a hill. Many people thought that this was scripted, but it was actually just one of the twins falling over accidentally.
Another fun fact about the twins is that their names appeared together in the credits as ‘Lindsay Sidney Greenbush,’ so many people just thought that there was only one actress playing the role of Carrie and that she had a particularly long name.
Melissa Gilbert’s Real-Life Romances
On Little House on the Prairie, Almanzo is the only one for Laura Ingalls, but in real life, Melissa Gilbert has had a long line-up of relationships and high-profile marriages. She dated the likes of Tom Cruise and Scott Baio, as well as Michael Landon Jr.
She also got engaged to Rob Lowe and has been married on three separate occasions, with her current husband being Timothy Busfield. The pair got married in 2013 and live together in Michigan. Busfield is an actor and director who has appeared on The West Wing.
An Awkward First Kiss
Melissa Gilbert was faced with some tough situations during her time on the show, and one of those big days came when she was scheduled to shoot her first ever kiss scene with Dean Butler, the actor playing her new on-screen husband, Almanzo Wilder.
Melissa had actually never kissed anyone before and was only 15 at the time, while Dean was 23. The age difference was a scary factor, made even worse by the fact that this would be her first ever kiss. It was a very stressful situation for her, and she had a lot of nerves leading up to the big moment.
Michael Landon Was Always Taking His Shirt Off
Michael Landon spent a lot of time staying fit and working on his figure, and he liked to show it off whenever he got the chance. The producers of Little House on the Prairie also thought that it couldn’t really do any harm to make use of the sex appeal of their leading man.
This meant that whenever Charles Ingalls got any kind of injury in the show, Michael would get a chance to take off his shirt and show off his muscles to the cameras, much to the delight and appreciation of his many admirers.
Dealing with The Heat
Little House on the Prairie was filmed in Simi Valley, California. It’s a beautiful area with lots of lovely scenery all around and plenty of great weather throughout the year, but that weather actually proved to be a bit of a problem for both the cast and crew of the show.
Due to the high temperatures, combined with the old-timey outfits worn by many of the female members of the cast, shooting scenes could be a very uncomfortable process. The crew suffered too, with one assistant director passing out on the first day of shooting.
Melissa And Michael Had A Real Relationship
On-screen, the characters of Charles and Laura Ingalls were naturally close as father and daughter, but off-screen, Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert also developed an exceptional bond of their own. Melissa had lost her father at an early age, and Michael helped to fill that paternal void in her life.
They became very close, but they had a big falling out when Melissa saw that Michael was leaving his wife to be with Cindy Clerico, a make-up artist who worked on the show and was 20 years younger than Michael. Melissa was shocked at Michael’s behavior and stopped talking to him for a while.
Never Quite Fitting In
Melissa Sue Anderson played the role of Mary Ingalls. She appeared in many, many episodes of the show and spent a lot of time with her fellow cast members. You might imagine that they were all good friends behind-the-scenes, but in fact, the truth was very different.
Despite spending so much time with the rest of the team, Melissa just never managed to fit in. Other cast members described her as standoffish and difficult to talk to, so she went through all those years of production without really making any friends.
Albert Ingalls Was A Pac-Man Superstar
Matthew Labyorteaux played the role of Albert Ingalls. Interestingly, Albert wasn’t actually in the original Little House stories, so his character was totally invented for the show itself. Matthew first appeared in season five and went on to get roles in other shows later in life.
He had a voiceover role in the Disney classic Mulan but pursued some other interesting avenues in life as well. He was particularly skilled at playing old arcade games and actually became the national Pac-Man champion in 1982 when he hit a high score o 1.2 million.
Michael Landon Was A Real Joker
Every classroom has a clown, and apparently, even the sets of major TV shows can have a clown or two of their own as well. In the case of Little House on the Prairie, Michael Landon was the joker in the pack. He loved to play pranks around the set and make people laugh.
Some cast and crew members even said that Landon simply couldn’t go a single day without pulling a prank. One time, after the filming of a scene in which he had to chase Melissa Gilbert around, he fooled her into thinking the cameras were still running and kept on chasing just to tease her.
Hiding the Signs Of Puberty
Part of the problem involving long-running shows with children in leading roles is that those kids are growing every single day and are eventually going to develop into adults, which might not necessarily fit in with the plans of the production. This is what happened with Little House on the Prairie and Melissa Gilbert, in particular.
As she started to get older and show the physical signs of developing into a young woman, the actress was actually forced to start wearing binding around her chest because, according to the show’s timeline, she was still too young to be going through puberty and the scriptwriters hadn’t planned so far ahead.
Is There A Curse on The Cast?
Sometimes, strange things happen to the people who worked on certain shows and films. These things are likely little more than coincidences, but they sometimes seem strange that it almost looks like a curse was placed upon the whole production. The same is true for Little House on the Prairie, as many of the cast members later developed cancer.
Michael Landon, for example, got pancreatic cancer. Victor French and Kevin Hagen were also diagnosed with cancer and eventually died from the disease. In fact, the only person who was diagnosed but managed to beat the cancer was Charlotte Stewart, who portrayed Miss Beadle.
A Very Painful Head of Hair
Nellie is instantly recognizable with her beautiful golden curls, but there was actually a very dark and painful side to that head of hair that viewers of the show could never have imagined!
The actress who played Nellie, Alison Arngrim, is a true blonde in real life, but her hair was too fine to be curled properly, so she needed to wear a wig. She later revealed in her autobiography that the wig she was given was so tight that it could actually cause her scalp to bleed. Sounds very painful!
Todd Bridges Has Had A Big Battle with Addiction
Todd Anthony Bridges appeared in Little House on the Prairie as Solomon Henry in an episode entitled ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’. Back then, nobody really recognized the young actor, but he went on to make a big name for himself in the show. Everybody Hates Chris. He also appeared Diff’rent Strokes, among other shows.
Unfortunately, Bridges has had some big personal battles to face. He’s spent many years suffering from a cocaine addiction and was even arrested at one point and charged with the murder of a drug dealer. He was eventually acquitted and is still making shows and movies to this day.
Melissa Sue Anderson Has Enjoyed A Lot of Success
Melissa Sue Anderson played the role of Mary Ingalls on the show. When Little House on the Prairie ended, the actors all had to head off and do their own things. It wasn’t clear if they’d all enjoy the same levels of success in later life, but Melissa certainly did.
She appeared in various TV shows and won an Emmy for her role in ‘Which Mother Is Mine?’ She has also appeared in shows and films like Murder, She Wrote and The Equalizer. She wrote an autobiography back in 2010 called The Way I See It: A Look Back At My Life On Little House.
Walnut Grove Is A Real Place
Many people wrongly assume that the show’s location, Walnut Grove, was merely invented for the story. In actual fact, Walnut Grove is an authentic location. Not only that, but the real Laura Ingalls actually lived there herself, so it was essential for her to that the show is set in a place of real significance to her.
Walnut Grove is located in Redwood County, Minnesota. The population of the town was less than 1,000 at the last official count, and the town’s main claim to fame is the fact that Laura Ingalls spent some of her life there. The show, of course, was filmed in California, not Minnesota.
The Twins Are All Grown Up
We’ve seen that Carrie Ingalls was played by a pair of twins: Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush. So whatever happened to them after the show? Well, it was actually Lindsay who did most of the work on Little House, as Sidney broke her arm and had to wear a case during significant periods of filming.
However, they both carried on with acting when the show ended. Sadly, acting didn’t quite work out the way either of them hoped. In the end, they pursued totally different paths. Lindsay went on to become a boxing trainer, while Sidney opened up her own horse ranch and breeds racehorses.
An Off-Screen Sibling Rivalry
On-screen, the characters of Mary Ingalls and Laura Ingalls were sisters and relied on each other for support and help. They were shown to be very close at times and trusting of each other, but off-screen, the actors portraying these roles (Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Anderson) really didn’t get on at all.
A lot of tension built up between the two stars, who just couldn’t develop any kind of friendship away from the cameras. It can’t have been easy for either of them to cope with that kind of situation, especially as they both had to film so many scenes together each day.
A Real Family Connection
Long-time fans of the show will remember the character of Willie Oleson. He was played by Jonathan Gilbert, the brother of Melissa Gilbert (Laura). This was quite a funny coincidence as it means that Jonathan actually played the little brother of his sister’s on-screen enemy.
In real life, the pair were quite close at the time but have since fallen out. In her autobiography, Melissa revealed that they’d stopped talking to one another. Jonathan gave up on a career in TV and now works as a stockbroker. His role as Willie Oleson was his biggest acting job.
Almanzo’s Sister Had A Great TV Career
Lucy Lee Flipping appeared in the show as Eliza Jane Wilder, the sister of Almanzo. A skilled actress who once performed alongside Richard Gere in her early theater days, Lucy got plenty more roles in various big shows after her time on Little House came to an end.
Some of the top shows in which she appeared include Golden Girls, Beverly Hills 90210, and Full House. She has also spent time performing on stage and in movies, so has really dedicated her entire life to the craft of acting and given a lot of joy to countless audiences over the years.
The Show Got Dark from Time To Time
When people think of Little House on the Prairie, they tend to associate the show with very charming, wholesome, positive family stories. A lot of the time, the show was quite light and cheerful, but it could get pretty dark and dramatic every now and then as well.
Some episodes went into some very serious themes, especially given the period in which it was produced. For instance, subjects like rape, racism, and addiction were all touched upon in individual episodes. These episodes shocked audiences of the time, but the show’s writers and producers deserve a lot of credit for pushing the boundaries of the genre.
Michael Landon Dyed His Hair
Michael Landon is well-known for his luscious locks and earned a lot of admirers for his hairstyle over the years, but did you know he actually had to dye it while filming Little House on the Prairie? His real shade of hair is a lot lighter and brighter than what we see in the show, so he resorted to coloring products to keep it that distinctive dark shade.
Over the years, however, as he started to develop more and more gray hairs, his hair began to give off a strange, purple-green hue on-camera, so the crew had to arrange more professional hair treatments for the actor.
Different Beliefs Off-Screen
As Charles Ingalls, Michael Landon played a devoutly Christian character who spread a lot of positive Christian messages. Off-screen, however, the actor was actually Jewish. It’s a little-known fact that Landon’s birth name was actually Eugene Maurice Orowitz and he was raised to follow the Jewish faith.
His mother, Peggy O’Neill, was Catholic herself, but his father, Eli Maurice Orowitz, was Jewish. Landon was questioned about the conflict of interest that came from playing a character with a different faith, but he said he never thought of it as an issue, keeping his own beliefs and his on-screen persona totally separate.
Off-Screen Addiction Problems
Little House on the Prairie is such a wholesome show with old-fashioned family values, it’s hard for us to realize and accept that off-screen, a lot of the actors (and plenty of the crew too) were dealing with quite severe alcohol and drug addictions.
This meant that all kinds of substances could routinely be found around the set of the show. There was especially a lot of alcohol, with the crew often getting through multiple cases of beers in a single day. Michael Landon also used to drink a lot and could be spotted adding vodka to his coffee.
Passionate Kisses with A Secret Meaning
On the show, Laura and Nellie were seen as enemies, but in reality, the actresses playing them were quite close. They did, however, like to tease each other from time to time, and we could see this teasing right on our screens.
Later in the show, after Nellie had married Percival, she would make sure to give him very passionately, dramatic kisses on-screen just to tease Melissa Gilbert, whose own on-screen romance with Almanzo was a lot less exciting and fiery.