The TV series Little House on the Prairie was a smash hit for NBC that lasted for nine seasons. We got to witness the adventures of the Ingalls family as they built a life on the Midwestern frontier. It was a must-see, feel-good television that the whole family could (and did) watch together. There may, however, be some interesting and unusual facts about the series you may not know.
Little House On The Prairie was filmed on an old rented ranch in California. It was the fictional locale of Walnut Grove. However, Walnut Grove is a real town in Minnesota, where author Laura Ingalls Wilder lived for a time. They kept the real-to-life name of the town, but the set was closer to Hollywood.
In the final episode of Little House on the Prairie, the residents blew up the town despite being forced to leave. Since the crew had built on rented land, they got the idea to film the set’s destruction and use the footage for the show. It was pretty good action considering the times and technology.
Most of you prairie lovers already know Melissa Gilbert played the infamous leading role. However, as the years went by, Melissa Gilbert entered her teen years well before her TV counterpart was supposed to in the episodes. To make sure she still kept her youthful looks, she had to bind her chest tightly.
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Michael Landon was a fine physical specimen, and loved to let people know it! Pa Ingalls had a lot of shirtless scenes in the show. There was a rumor that Landon also liked to go sans underwear, as well. This little factoid is just one of the many secrets of Michael Landon!
Karen Grassle, who played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, auditioned for the show under her stage name Gabriel Tree. Michael Landon reportedly wanted a more wholesome, less “hippy-dippy” name and asked her to change back to her given name. Well, you know what they say: the grass doesn't fall far from the tree (nobody says that).
Melissa Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls, dropped the “Sue” from her professional name in her adult years. She continued her acting career, appearing in several TV shows and doing voice works for animated series. We think it has a nice ring to it, though. Does it seem more wholesome like Michael wanted of Ma's name?
Lindsay and Sydney Greenbush, the twins who played Carrie Ingalls, often took turns onscreen due to child labor laws. During filming, one of the girls tripped on her way down the hill and tumbled to the bottom. The director thought it was adorable, and used the clip. To be honest, it is quite a memorable moment.
The Ingalls family ate whatever they could get -- rabbit, possum, you name it. Whatever the script might have said, the food on the plate was Dinty Moore beef stew. For school lunch scenes, the kids had chicken wings from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Maybe that is why they were so happy every time they received squirrel!
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Michael Landon was a writer and director as well as an actor. He also wrote episodes for his previous television hit series, Bonanza. As a Jack of all trades in show business, Michael Landon rewrote several of the unused scripts he wrote for that series and adapted them for the Prairie.
Following her years on Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert had a very successful acting career. She was able to branch out of her childhood character and ventured into directing and voice work as well. She took a brief hiatus from acting to serve as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005.
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Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on the show, was not the only performer in her family. Alison’s mother, Norma McMillan, was an actress as well. She was very in demand as a voice actor, voicing such characters as Underdog and Casper the Friendly Ghost. These are two of the most well-known characters still to this day!
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The strong sisterly bond between the Ingalls girls sadly did not extend off-screen. Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Laura and Mary Ingalls, did not get along at all. The tension between them lasted for the entire run of the show. It's safe to say they both were great actresses!
Surprising, Melissa Gilbert did have a close friendship with the actress who played Laura’s archnemesis. She and Alison Arngrim were very close and remained in touch well after the series was over. Who’d have thought Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson would be besties? Once again, they both were very talented young ladies then and now.
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Actor Jason Bateman, who got his most significant break as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, had quite the career as a child actor. One of his early roles was as James Cooper Ingalls. If the name doesn't ring a bell right away, he was one of the Ingalls’ adopted children during Season 9 of the series.
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With many children in the storylines, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of kids that many Hollywood kids passed through the show. One you might not expect is Shannen Doherty. Although she played little Jenny Wilder on the prairie, this dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty starred in a string of other shows in the '90s like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Charmed.
Following the prairie life, Michael Landon went on to have another hit series in Highway to Heaven. Aside from his co-star Victor French, who played Isaiah on Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, many of his Little House co-stars also passed through in guest roles. Some of them included Richard Bull, Matthew Labyorteaux, and Moses Gunn.
Melissa Gilbert also has actors in her family. Her adopted brother Jonathan Gilbert played Willie Olsen on Little House on the Prairie. She also has a younger sister in the business -- Sarah Gilbert. You probably recognize her from both the 90s version of Roseanne as well as the short-lived reboot. She is also a regular voice on the popular daytime panel The Talk.
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Charles “Pa” Ingalls cut a very imposing figure onscreen. However, actor Michael Landon was, in reality, five feet and nine inches tall. Apparently, the actor wanted a bigger presence. He used several tricks on set to make himself look taller including putting 4-inch lifts in his boots!
The ranch where the series was filmed was contaminated with radiation from a 1959 nuclear meltdown. Many believed this contributed to serious illness later in life. A number of the show's actors and some of the crew would develop some form of cancer, with only one actress surviving her battle with the disease.
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The Ingalls encounters lots of different people over the years. Among them was the Henry's, a family of sharecroppers who had a son named Solomon. Young Solomon was portrayed by none other than Todd Bridges, who would famously represent Willis Jackson Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes. His little onscreen little brother is notorious for saying asking him this question.
Ms. Stowe had a role in the later seasons of Little House on the Prairie as Annie Crane. She went on to have a respectable movie career, most notably starring as the female lead in the movie 12 Monkeys. She went on to star as Victoria Grayson in the TV series Revenge.
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Dean Butler portrayed Laura’s husband, Almanzo, on the series. However, he also continued his acting career well into his adulthood. One of his more notable roles was Hank Summers, father of the titular character in the TV series Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Depending on when you were born and your overall interests, you might recognize him from either of the two quite opposite roles.
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Little House on the Prairie exemplified the idyllic, romantic view of 19th century Americana. However, the show did not shy away from some more difficult and controversial for the time subjects. Some episodes of the show tackled the issues of rape, racism, alcoholism, and drug addiction. This straightforward concept was new but powerful.
Though actress Alison Arngrim had blonde hair like her character, it was way too delicate to hold Nellie’s signature sausage curls. So a wig was tightly secured to her head with metal combs and pins. The hairpiece was so attached to her head so tightly that Alison’s scalp would bleed from it.
The costuming was quite authentic to the 19th century American Midwest. This style was ideal for the period of the overall plot and setting. Unfortunately, wearing all of those layerings of heavy clothing in the California heat took a toll on the cast. Alison Arngrim reportedly passed out on set once.
After the show, Alison Arngrim continued to act in spite of the public’s sheer hatred for her bratty character. She used that experience to not only become a headlining stand-up comedian but to pen a novel. Her book, "Confessions of A Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated," is a New York Times bestseller.
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Of all of the actors to get their early start on this series, none is a bigger surprise than Sean Penn. The way everything worked out was simple. Sean Penn’s father, Leo, directed an episode of the show. So naturally, he cast his son as an uncredited school kid in that episode.
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Following her turn as Grace Snyder Edwards on the show, Bonnie Bartlett continues to act today. One of her most notable post-Little House on the Prairie roles was Ellen Craig on the NBC drama St. Elsewhere. She played the wife of Dr. Mark Craig, opposite her real-life husband, William Daniels.
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Miss Alison Arngrim was determined to be a part of the Little House on the Prairie cast. She auditioned twice for the roles of Laura and Mary but did not get the parts. However, she did not give up. The determined young actress had a third audition for Nellie, which clearly did the trick.
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