In 1974, the series Little House on the Prairie first aired and served up a fresh batch of wholesome television viewing for the whole family. The series was an adaptation of the popular best-selling series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Television producer Ed Friendly is responsible for bringing the series to television. Not only did he create the television series, he was the Executive Producer alongside Michael Landon. Michael Landon also wrote and directed many episodes in addition to playing the role of Charles Ingalls, known also as Pa.
Unfortunately things got off to a bit of a rocky start between the two. It was actually more than rocky! They weren’t on the same page about a lot of things. It was a battle over who had creative control of the show. In one instance, after the pilot episode, Ed Friendly wanted to see the children running around dirty and barefoot but due to the extreme heat outside where they filmed, Michael Landon was against it. When Michael Landon told the studio he couldn’t work that way, he gave them an ultimatum and said either Ed Friendly does the show or he does the show. The studio ultimately sided with Michael Landon even though it was Ed Friendly’s money that bought the show. From that point on, Ed Friendly was never allowed on the set. Michael Landon took over and was even quoted in the Los Angeles times saying “I have a thing about control. The only times in my life when I was unhappy is when I didn’t have it. I like to have it.” Ed Friendly did however continue to get paid and made a good bit of money from the series.
Little House on the Prairie ran on the NBC network for nine seasons and had over 200 episodes plus a few television specials. This was one of the most watched television series of the 1970s and early 1980s. Even today, the show can be seen in reruns and is quite popular. Little House and the Prairie has never been off the air since its debut in 1974.
In this week’s episode of Trivia Rewind, we are taking a trip back to Walnut Grove. I will give you ten trivia questions from the show and a lot of fun facts. Find out who got grounded for telling Melissa Gilbert that she got the role of Laura when it was supposed to be kept secret. Find out about the awkward moment when Melissa Gilbert had to do her first onscreen kiss on the show. Plus, find out what horrible thing happened to the Little House on the Prairie set at the end of the series. It will blow your mind! Those are just a few of this week’s fun facts.
Links to things mentioned in the show:
- Watch Melissa Gilbert’s Audition with Michael Landon
- The research behind Mary’s blindness
- Allison Arngrim’s work with The National Association to Protect Children
- The explosion of the Little House on the Prairie Set
- Take a road trip to Walnut Grove
- See the Little House on the Prairie Cast Then and Now
Spoiler alert! Below, you will find the transcript for this episode. You can listen to Trivia Rewind on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. For more Oscar fun, look back at some of our previous episodes!
Trivia Rewind Episode 46 – Little House on the Prairie
[00:00:00] Welcome to Trivia Rewind. I’m Debi Jenkins, your host. Well in 1974, the series Little House on the Prairie first aired and served up a fresh batch of wholesome television viewing for the whole family. The series was an adaptation of the popular best-selling series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Television producer Ed Friendly is responsible for bringing the series to television.
[00:00:39] Not only did he create the television series, he was the Executive Producer alongside Michael Landon. Michael Landon also wrote and directed many episodes, in addition to playing the role of Charles Ingles, also known as Pa. Unfortunately, things got off to a bit of a [00:01:00] rocky start between the two. It was actually more than rocky.
[00:01:04] They weren’t on the same page about a lot of things. It was a battle over who had creative control of the show. In one instance, after the pilot episode, Ed Friendly wanted to see the children running around dirty and barefoot, but due to the extreme heat outside where they filmed, Michael Landon was against it.
[00:01:25] When Michael Landon told the studio he couldn’t work that way, he gave them an ultimatum and said either Ed Friendly does the show or he does the show. The studio ultimately sided with Michael Landon, even though it was Ed Friendly’s money that bought the show. From that point on, Ed Friendly was never allowed on the set.
[00:01:48] Michael Landon took over and was even quoted in the Los Angeles times saying “I have a thing about control. The only times in my life, when I was unhappy is [00:02:00] when I didn’t have it. I like to have it.” Ed Friendly did however continue to get paid and make quite a bit of money from the series. Little House on the Prairie ran on the NBC network for nine seasons and had over 200 episodes plus a few television specials.
[00:02:20] This was one of the most watched television series of the 1970s and early eighties. Even today, the show can be seen in reruns and is quite popular. Little House on the Prairie has never been off the air since its debut in 1974. In this week’s episode of Trivia Rewind, we are taking a trip back to a Walnut Grove.
[00:02:46] I will give you 10 trivia questions from the show and a lot of fun facts. Find out who got grounded for telling Melissa Gilbert that she got the role of Laura when it was supposed to be kept a secret. [00:03:00] Find out about the awkward moment when Melissa Gilbert had to do her first onscreen kiss for the show. Plus find out what horrible thing happened to the Little House on the Prairie set at the end of the series. It will blow your mind.
[00:03:16] Those are just a few of this week’s fun facts. So if you’re ready, let’s get started with the trivia. Here’s question one. What were the names of the Ingles family’s first three children?
[00:03:34] Question two. What was the name of the first dog that belonged to the Ingles family?
[00:03:42] Question three. What is the name of the man that Laura married?
[00:03:48] Question four. According to her doctor, what was the cause of Mary’s blindness?
[00:03:57] Question five. [00:04:00] What were the names of Nels and Harriet Oleson’s children?
[00:04:06] Question six. What was the name of the Walnut Grove doctor?
[00:04:14] Question seven. What was the name of the busy city that Charles Ingles often had to make deliveries to or where they’d go if they needed a doctor that could do more than their town doctor?
[00:04:28] Question eight. What is the name of the Ingles family friend that had troubles early on with alcoholism and depression after losing his wife and child to Smallpox? He was a good friend of the family, especially to Laura and he would often sing the song Old Dan Tucker.
[00:04:50] Question nine. When Laura needed cheering up after her porcelain doll broke, Mary brought her home an animal that Laura [00:05:00] named Jasper. What kind of animal was Jasper?
[00:05:05] And question 10. What was the name of the only general store in Walnut Grove?
[00:05:14] Those we’re our 10 questions. Let’s go back review, get the answers and fun facts. Question one. What were the names of the Ingles family’s first three children? The names of their first three children were Mary, Laura, and Carrie.
[00:05:32] Their fourth child, Charles Jr. died as an infant and then they had a daughter named Grace. The Ingles later adopted three children, Albert plus James and Cassandra Cooper. Out of all the children, the character Laura appeared in the most episodes. Actress Melissa Gilbert had the role of Laura. She was born on May 8th, 1964 and given up immediately for [00:06:00] adoption. The next day she was adopted by film and television actor Paul Gilbert and his wife, actress Barbara Crane, the daughter of the creator of The Honeymooners, Harry Crane.
[00:06:12] Her first steps into acting were in commercials where she was as young as two years old. In one commercial for Alpo dog food, she appeared with Lorne Greene the TV father of Michael Landon on the show Bonanza. Then along came the opportunity to audition for the New series, little House on the Prairie. 500 kids auditioned and Melissa Gilbert knocked it out of the park. Michael Landon knew that she was the one to play Laura. He was so convinced that he only sent her screen test to the producers.
[00:06:47] Watching her audition with Michael Landon really shows you how she was made for the part. If you visit triviarewind.com, you can see the actual audition. She was just nine years old when she [00:07:00] started her role as Laura. There’s a funny story about how Melissa Gilbert found out that she got the role of Laura.
[00:07:06] It just so happened that she went to the same school with Leslie Landon, the daughter of Michael Landon. Well, Leslie found her at school, introduced herself and couldn’t help but tell her that she got the role of Laura. Gilbert ran to the school office and called home to tell her family the good news.
[00:07:27] In a cheatsheet.com article they quote Melissa Gilbert saying “Leslie had told me even before my agents knew and boy, did she get grounded for that one.” What’s Melissa Gilbert up to today? She’s enjoying life with her husband, Emmy Award-winning actor Timothy Busfield, probably known most for his role on the show Thirtysomething. You can follow her on Instagram to keep up with what’s going on in her life.
[00:07:56] Question two. What was the name of the [00:08:00] first dog that belonged to the Ingles family? His name was Jack. Michael Landon fell in love with a dog named Barney and Barney took on the role of Jack. According to producer Kent McCrae, “The dog had a bigger contract than some of the actors did, but that was just the way it worked.” Sadly, in the fourth season of the series, Jack dies. Laura then gets a new dog named Bandit.
[00:08:30] Question three. What is the name of the man that Laura married? His name was Almonzo Wilder. Actor Dean Butler had the role of Almonzo and to Melissa Gilbert, a man he was. Things were a little awkward for her when it came to Dean Butler.
[00:08:50] When he arrived on the series, she was only 15 and he was 23. Then came the part in the series where they had to really [00:09:00] kiss, not just a peck on the lips. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Melissa Gilbert said, “I was kissing a man who had to shave that morning and I hadn’t even ever shaved my legs. It’s bizarre. I mean, he was a grownup person with a car. He golfed.”
[00:09:18] In one interview. Dean Butler said, “It was a big moment, but I don’t know if this was her first kiss or one of her first kisses in her life, but it was certainly treated as if it was her first kiss ever. Which certainly added a bit of responsibility to the whole thing.”
[00:09:35] Well, the whole thing had to have been a little weird. Supposedly Melissa Gilbert’s mother was standing on the set, crying my baby, my baby so hysterically that she had to be consoled. At the 2006 TV Land Awards, the kiss between Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert won for most memorable kiss.
[00:09:56] Question four. According to her doctor, what was [00:10:00] the cause of Mary’s blindness? Well, her doctor said that Scarlet Fever weakened to the nerves in her eyes, thus causing blindness. Well, back in 2016, CNN health had an article about Mary’s blindness. Researchers weren’t convinced that her blindness was caused by Scarlet Fever. The researchers dug through old letters and newspaper accounts from the time and came to the conclusion that the real cause of Mary’s blindness was Viral Meningoencephalitis. Reading those letters really paid off for their research. Of course, we’ll never really know for sure, but the fact that doctors actually researched this is pretty interesting. Actress Melissa Sue Anderson, known on the set is Missy had the role of Mary Ingles. She was 11 years old when she got the role.
[00:10:52] At the 1978 Primetime Emmy Awards, she was nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series [00:11:00] Emmy for her role on the series. She was the only person on the show to be nominated for an acting Emmy. Unfortunately, she decided to leave the show early. A UPI article quotes her saying “The writers have exhausted all the possibilities for Mary. First of all, she became blind. Then she had a miscarriage. She lost her mind. Another baby died in a fire. She’s had all kinds of diseases. It’s just a matter of moving on for me. I’ve done about everything I can do with the character.” Melissa Sue Anderson wasn’t friends with any of the other kids on set.
[00:11:39] It had been reported that nobody really was close to her and that she was standoffish. There has been speculation that her over-protective mother could have had something to do with it. You can find more information about their research into Mary’s blindness on triviarewind.com.
[00:11:57] Question five. What were the [00:12:00] names of Nels and Harriet Oleson’s children? Well, their children were Willy and Nellie later in the series, they would adopt Nancy. Actor Jonathan Gilbert had the role of Willie. Did you know that in real life, Jonathan Gilbert and Melissa Gilbert are brother and sister. Unfortunately, the last I read, they haven’t seen each other for years. In her memoir, Melissa says that when Jonathan turned 18, he left and dropped contact with the family. Occasionally over the years, he might turn up. He left acting to pursue an MBA in finance.
[00:12:41] Alison Arngrim had the role of Nellie when Alison auditioned for Little House on the Prairie, she actually auditioned for several of the roles, including Laura before finally getting the role of Nellie Oleson. Alison’s character Nellie was known for those perfect blonde curls.
[00:13:00] [00:12:59] Well, that was actually a wig. After a few weeks of filming the show, they realized that it would be too time consuming and painful for Alison if they had to curl her hair each time. So a wig it would be. Unfortunately, she still had to endure some pain. Metal hair pins were used to attach the wig to her own hair and often the hair pins would dig into her scalp and cause it to bleed. More than the curls, the character Nellie was known to be someone you couldn’t stand. On the show, Nellie was a character that most people found detestable. She was spoiled, bratty and unkind. Alison Arngrim has stated before that in real life, people would treat her as if she really was Nellie Oleson.
[00:13:46] She was once in a Christmas parade and someone threw a can of soda at her head. In the series, Laura and Nellie were enemies. However, in real life, they were best friends. As soon [00:14:00] as they met on the set they bonded. They would get together outside of the show and have sleepovers and tons of fun together. They were quite the pranksters on set too.
[00:14:09] In an interview with Megyn Kelly, Alison Arngrim said that her TV parents were great and like her second set of parents. She said that if any one of the actors was most like their character, it would be her TV dad Nels Oleson played by actor Richard Bull. She said he was calm and a sensible guy.
[00:14:31] Playing Nellie Oleson was actually therapeutic for Arngrim. As a child, she was abused by a relative. In a Huffington Post article, she says, “So here I was playing this girl that everyone was afraid of. And it’s great. I’m paid to play this person who screams, yells, throws things, vents her anger, just lets it out, doesn’t care who’s looking. Shows all the worst parts, makes terrible faces and doesn’t [00:15:00] care how awful she looks. It was absolutely therapeutic” she said. Nowadays, Alison Arngrim is making quite the difference, in a good way. She is the president of the National Association to Protect Children and has devoted her life to this effort.
[00:15:18] Visit triviarewind.com to find out more about The National Association to protect children. Their organization is doing some amazing things.
[00:15:29] Question six. What was the name of the Walnut Grove doctor? Well, his name was Dr. Baker. Actor Kevin Hagan played Dr. Baker also referred to as Doc Baker or just Doc. While we all probably remember Doc Baker as the kind, quiet town doctor, many of Hagan’s other roles were quite the opposite.
[00:15:54] He loved playing the villain. Not only was Doc Baker a doctor [00:16:00] to the people in Walnut Grove, he was also the veterinarian. A great piece of dialogue from the series is when Harriet Oleson asks, “What are you, a doctor or a veterinarian?” Doc Baker so perfectly responds, “Looking at some of my patients, sometimes I get a little confused myself.” A nice little jab at Harriet Oleson. Sometimes the quiet person can say it best.
[00:16:30] Question seven. What was the name of the busy city that Charles Ingles often had to go to, to make deliveries or where they go if they needed a doctor that could do more than their own town doctor? That town was Mankato.
[00:16:47] Another town he often traveled to was Sleepy Eye. Mankato is a real town in Minnesota and is about 90 miles from Walnut Grove. If you’re ever in [00:17:00] Minnesota and want to visit Walnut Grove, you can make a stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. None of the show was filmed in Minnesota. It was filmed in California.
[00:17:11] Interior shots were filmed at Paramount Studios. When they lost their lease at Paramount, the indoor scenes were moved over to MGM Studios. For the outdoor scenes, filming took place at The big sky Ranch in Simi Valley. This location was a very hot and a few of the actors fainted from the extreme heat.
[00:17:33] It was at this location where they constructed the town of Walnut Grove that we saw on the television show. What happened to the pretend Walnut Grove when the show was over will blow you away. According to Wide Open Country, “Producers agreed with the land owners before the first season that they would restore the land to its original condition after the series wrapped. At Michael Landon’s suggestion, [00:18:00] they just blew it up. However, that is not quite how Melissa Gilbert said things went down. In her memoir titled Prairie Tale, she tells what really happened. She said, “Michael Landon didn’t find out that Little House on the Prairie had been canceled from the network, he found out from her. For this reason he was furious.”
[00:18:22] So supposedly as payback, he wanted all the sets blown up and what a better way to do that than to work it into the storyline of the last episode. I don’t even think I saw that particular episode. I’m going to have to see if I can find that. In the very last postseason movie episode, 10.3 titled The Last Farewell, the town’s people see that a greedy railroad tycoon is going to take over their town, so they take matters into their own hands and dynamite the place. Everything except the church and the little house at Plum Creek were blown to smithereens. Well, that’s one way to [00:19:00] end a series. Actress Karen Grassley told Entertainment Weekly,” I thought it was a shame. We could have done annual specials about the characters, but once you blow up the town, you can’t do that.” Regardless of which reason it was, blowing up Walnut Grove definitely took it to the next level. If you’d like to see one of the pictures from this explosion, visit triviarewind.com.
[00:19:24] If you’d like to make a summer road trip and visit Walnut Grove, you can also visit triviarewind.com for more information and about the museum.
[00:19:33] Question eight. What is the name of the Ingles family friend that had troubles early on with alcoholism and depression after losing his wife and child to Smallpox? He was a good friend of the family, especially to Laura and he would often sing the song Old Dan Tucker. That person was Isaiah Edwards, also known as Mr. Edwards. Actor Victor French had the role of [00:20:00] Mr. Edwards. French’s father was a stunt man who appeared in many westerns. French followed in his father’s footsteps. It was his work on Bonanza where he met Michael Landon.
[00:20:11] When Michael Landon went off to work on Little House on the Prairie, he wanted Victor French to have a part. In a Cheat Sheet article, they quote Victor French saying, “The network wanted a name actor, but Michael stood by his guns.” According to a 1989 Los Angeles Times article, he said “That role changed my career. Michael is really my angel.” After the Little House series was over, French went on to star in another series with Michael Landon, Highway to Heaven.
[00:20:45] Question nine. When Laura needed cheered up after her porcelain doll broke, Mary brought her home an animal that Laura named Jasper, what kind of animal was Jasper? Well, Jasper was a [00:21:00] raccoon. Thanks to Pa, he allowed Laura to keep Jasper for a while until Jasper got unruly and bit not only the family dog Jack, he also bit Laura. Laura’s Pa wins the dad of the year award for letting her even keep a raccoon as a pet. Charles Ingles always tried to do what was best for his family, but a pet raccoon may have been at borderline bad decision. On TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads of all Time, Charles Ingles comes in fourth place.
[00:21:32] Michael Landon was loved for his role as Charles Ingles. The actors have said that although he meant business on the set, he also had a lot of fun. The crew was like a family. Michael Landon was born in 1936 and was actually given the name Eugene Maurice Orowitz. When he started acting, he chose a screen name. The way he chose the name Michael Landon was quite interesting. He found the [00:22:00] name in the phone book.
[00:22:01] Michael Landon did not like coming across as short. While he was five foot nine, he wanted to be taller. So in the series, he wore boots with four inch tall heels. Many say that’s what gave him that swagger when he walked. Melissa Gilbert had a falling out with Michael Landon after he left his wife for the show’s makeup artist. Melissa Gilbert’s family and the Landon family were quite close and this action really upset her. It wasn’t until right before his death, that she visited with him and they reconciled. In a CheatSheet.com article, they quote her saying, “He pulled me toward him and we hugged,” she said. “Nothing else needed to be said. That hug was more than enough. That’s all he wanted.” In April of 1991, Michael Landon found out he had pancreatic cancer and on July 1st of that same year, he died at the [00:23:00] age of 54.
[00:23:01] Question 10. What was the name of the only general store in Walnut Grove? Well, that was called Oleson’s Mercantile. Nels and Harriet Oleson were the owners of Oleson’s mercantile. They actually had the nicest house in town. It was attached to the store. In season eight, episode one, Nels and Harriet Oleson adopt a girl named Nancy. Just when you thought there was no child as bratty as Nellie Oleson, along comes Nancy. She was quite the disaster. Actress Alison Balson had the role of Nancy.
[00:23:40] Well a lot of young actors and actresses appeared on the series that would later go on to have big acting careers of their own. Jason Bateman had the role of James Cooper Ingles, the boy that would be adopted by the Ingalls family. He appeared in 21 episodes and would go on to have a successful career in shows [00:24:00] like Arrested Development and more recently, Ozark.
[00:24:03] Shannon Doherty had the role of Jenny Wilder in season nine. She was the little girl adopted by Laura and her husband. She’d go on to be known for her role in Beverly Hills 90210.
[00:24:16] Willie Ames appeared in one episode, he later went on to star in Eight is Enough. Todd Bridges appeared in one episode as the character Solomon Henry. He’d go on to be known for his role on Diff’rent Strokes. Sean Penn had an uncredited role as an extra, and that was his small screen debut. Those are just a few of the actors that appeared on the show that later went on to do great things.
[00:24:44] Just this past December, it was announced that a Little House on the Prairie reboot is in the works. I’ve read that it’ll be a one hour dramatic series adaptation and Ed Friendly’s son trip will be the executive producer. Not everyone is sure [00:25:00] that it’s a good idea. Actor, Dean Butler said, “The fact that it’s been so beloved for so long and it’s never gone off the air since 1974, it has been on the air somewhere around the world constantly, I think that says to a lot of people, this was done really well and why mess around with it?” Butler said, “The show is more beautiful now than it was when it was new. Why mess around with it? Why change it? Why do it again? I’m sure it will happen and we’ll all be watching closely to see how they do.”
[00:25:33] For a fun look at how the actors looked then and now, visit triviarewind.com. Well, that’s it for this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed this look back at Little House on the Prairie. You can visit Trivia Rewind on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can visit triviarewind.com for more information about things that I mentioned in the episode. I also post a [00:26:00] transcript there. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll be back next time for more Trivia Rewind.