Were you a fan of the Little House on the Prairie TV show? Whether you watched the show during its original run from 1974 to 1983 or watched through reruns, all fans fell in love with Laura Ingalls and the rest of the Ingalls family (not to mention a few favorite foes like Nellie)! It turns out that behind the show’s idyllic scenes of settler life in the 1800s, plenty of interesting things were going on when the cameras stopped rolling. Read on to find out what happened to the show’s stars after Little House came to an end and learn what really went on behind the scenes.
1. Irritating Melissa
Despite that the storyline depicted Laura and Nellie to be rivals on the show, the two actresses were very good friends off-set. Later on, Nellie married Percival, who was portrayed by Steve Tracy. In real life, Steve was gay, but it didn’t matter.
The two actors loved to make out in front of Laura, who’s love life wasn’t nearly as passionate with Almanzo, just to irritate poor Melissa Gilbert. The two on-screen lovebirds made extra effort to make their kisses over the top, and did so only to agonize the young and innocent Gilbert.
2. Drugs and Alcohol on set
Many of the cast and crew members had some intense addictions, mostly involving substances like drugs and alcohol. Therefore, there was a lot of both on the set. Apparently, the crew managed to finish two cases of Coors beer every day. They even nicknamed the more stressful days, “three-case days” to justify numbing some of the stress that came about while shooting.
In particular, Michael Landon was quite fond of drinking, and Melissa Gilbert admitted in her autobiography that she had no idea just how much Landon was drinking. It turns out that he would spike his coffee or other soft drinks with vodka, and not many were fully aware of the extent to which he drank on-set, as well as off it.
3. Michael Landon was actually Jewish
Michael Landon may have spread a Christian message through his character on the show, but in real life, he identified as Jewish. His real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz, which is pretty telling of his Jewish roots. The actor, however, apparently didn’t find this a conflict of interest.
Eugene was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, and although his mother, Peggy O’Neill, was Catholic, his father, Eli Maurice Orowitz was Jewish, and culturally, he took after his father. In general, he never devoted himself to any organized religion but did state that he believed in god, but it was only his cultural identity that was Jewish. How strange is that?
4. Landon wasn’t really a brunette
If you assumed that Landon was born with those luscious, brown curls, just be aware that you were wrong. He was actually a bottle brunette, but hey, that’s the beauty of dye jobs. The exact shade was a kind of ash brown.
Landon was so serious about his hair color, that he even went to a professional colorist to get the job done. Once his hair started to go gray, Landon’s dye job got a strange purple-green hue when lit by the bright sun. That’s when the show’s producers sought professional help for him.
5. The show dealt with some serious issues
Despite the fact that the show was generally a pretty light story, it definitely touched upon themes that were considered to be quite taboo and not very politically correct to bring up for the time period that the series aired.
Some of these topics were addiction, racism, prejudice and rape, among other serious topics. It is good, though, that these themes were brought up because no other show of its time offered to do something similar. It was and still is, considered groundbreaking.
6. Actual family ties
Remember Willie Oleson? Well, turns out that Laura’s nemesis’ little brother, in real life, is the adopted brother of the actress who played Laura (Melissa Gilbert), Jonathan. How crazy, right? Just think about how long it must have taken the cast members to process this one?
Unfortunately, though, as it happens, the siblings are no longer in touch with one another, as confirmed by Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography. How sad, that siblings that loved each other so much at one point, stopped being in touch with each other.
7. Mary Ingalls and Laura Ingalls weren’t BFFs
When Melissa Anderson and Melissa Gilbert were young, they never got along with each other. The tension between the two grew to be so immense, that it remained for the entire duration of the show. No one likes dealing with mean people.
Imagine spending years working with the same person and on the exact same show, and constantly being in a fight with them. That’s exactly what happened with the girls, and we hope never ever happens to you or your daughters.
8. Walnut Grove is real
Did you know that Walnut Grove actually exists in real life? It sounds too fake to be true, right? However, Walnut Grove is a pretty real place in fact. Laura Ingalls also lived there. This location holds a lot of significance to the story told in the series.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the book on which the series was based, dealt with a good amount of moves in her lifetime. As a child, however, she lived for a few years in a place called Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
9. Nellie’s hair made her bleed
Nellie’s stunning curls were far from real. They fooled you, though, right? That’s because wigs can work wonders. The actress who played Nellie, Alison Arngrim, is actually a natural blonde, but had much finer hair that wouldn’t hold the curls so nicely.
In fact, the actress who played Nellie, Alison Arngrim, revealed in her autobiography, that the particular wig she wore on the show was so tightly attached to head, that it often times was the cause of scalp bleeding, which is no fun.
10. The cancer curse
To everyone’s misfortune, several cast members ended up being diagnosed with cancer, and some eventually passed away from the disease. Michael Landon got pancreatic cancer, among other cast members like Victor French (who played Isaiah Edwards) and Kevin Hagen (Doc Baker).
The only one who got cancer, but managed to survive is Charlotte Stewart, who played Miss Beadle. While it’s just a theory, many believe that so many members of the cast got cancer, due to the radioactively contaminated materials that were far too close to the set.
11. Flatten that chest
There’s not much one can do about puberty when it comes, and Melissa Gilbert was no exception. This is one of the less pleasant parts of growing up as a child actor, especially on a show with such a tight-knit cast who went through everything together.
Despite the timeline on the show, Gilbert, like all child actors, continued to grow and her figure became more and more feminine. However, she had to bind her chest, as the script didn’t allow for her to mature just yet. Imagine wearing binds around your upper half every day. Not cool.
12. Michael Landon was the set’s clown
Michael Landon liked to keep things interesting on set, by constantly playing pranks on his co-stars and staff. This guy was pretty fond of messing with everyone, and never left the set without either pulling a prank or making fun of someone.
One prime example of his antics on set is chasing Laura Ingalls after the camera had been turned off if she had been running in the first place. As if it’s not exhausting enough to run, poor Laura had to continue running!
13. Walnut Grove was actually blown up
According to the storyline, the last episode of the show shows that the residents of Walnut Grove choose to blow up the town, regardless of the fact that they are being kicked off of the land. Doesn’t that sound juicy enough, in and of itself?
Well, little did you know that the land on which the filming occurred was rented out by the show’s producers, and they had to return it as it was when the time came. So, Michael had the idea to implement utter destruction of the town during the last episode.
14. Mean Girls…or girl
The oldest of all of the sister on the show, Mary, was portrayed by actress, Melissa Sue Anderson. Unfortunately, she never joined in on the close relationships formed between castmates. She appeared standoffish, and somewhat aloof, at least the other cast members thought so.
Most of the cast just thought that this came from her upbringing, which was very overprotective, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t excuse anything. Some of her castmates described her as mean, stuck up, or someone that just needed to chill. That’s what it sounds like, too.
15. Melissa had issues with Michael
Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert were pretty close on the show. Melissa’s father passed away when she was only 11, so she claimed that Michael acted as a paternal figure that she lost far too early. Well, as the show progressed, so did their feelings for each other.
Michael, however, left his wife for Cindy Clerico, who was the makeup artist on the set. She was 20 years younger than him! After the incident, Melissa was so mad at Michael that she distanced herself from him and his family, eventually dropping all forms of contact.
16. Passing out
Simi Valley, located in California, is a beautiful place for shows to be shot. It is empty, big, and is gorgeous, complete with clear skies on most days. However, nothing is perfect, and this did mean that the area was quite hot.
Not to mention that shooting the series on this set was extra-difficult, because the women wore periodic outfits with lots of layers, making things far more uncomfortable. Actress, Alison Arngrim actually passed out on the first day of shooting, as well as an assistant director! I wonder if there was a doctor on set.
17. Michael Landon liked to show off his physique
Michael Landon had quite a figure and boy, did he enjoy showing it off (especially on camera)! He did the same on Bonanza, but on LHOTP, every time his character had some sort of injury, like a broken rib or an arm, he did something very specific.
An injury on the show automatically meant that he must take his shirt off to provide the full cinematic effect. There were even rumors floating around that he actually went commando, as well. Wonder if those rumors had any truth to them…
18. Melissa Gilbert wasn’t a fan of on-screen kissing
Poor Melissa had her first on-set kiss (and real one) on Little House On The Prarie. She was very inexperienced when she was expected to shoot the wedding night scene after her character got married to Almanzo Wilder she was incredibly nervous.
Not only was she inexperienced, but also quite young compared to Dean Butler, the actor who played Almanzo, making things even more uncomfortable for her. She was only 15 at the time, and he was 23. I can’t blame her anxiety around the matter, I would have been uncomfortable, too.
19. Melissa Gilbert was a bit of a groupie
Melissa Gilbert was the typical “wild child”, despite what her character on the show was like, which was the complete opposite of who she was in real life. She had a thing for bad boys, and not just any bad boys, but Hollywood bad boys. Her dating repertoire consists of going out with Scott Baio, Tom Cruise, and Michael Landon Jr.
She also was engaged to Rob Lowe for a time, but it didn’t last for very long. Following the engagement, she was married three times: to Bruce Boxleitner, Bo Brinkman, and she is currently married to Timothy Busfield. Way to go, girl.
20. Carrie went up the hill and…fell?
Two people actually played the character of Carrie. The twin child actresses were Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush. The only reason there were two girls playing one character, was all a matter of the law. So, the director needed two girls in order not to violate any child labor laws.
When shooting the famous scene that was later used for the opening credits, one of the girls tumbled downhill accidentally. The incident, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t scripted at all. The director liked the shot, decided to used it, and the rest is history.
21. What a name
Caroline “Ma” Ingalls’ character was played by actress, Karen Grassle. However, she used a different moniker during her audition. Her stage name was actually Gabriel Tree! Now that’s a stage name that really stands out from the rest! But also at the same time sounds a bit odd…
After Michael Landon heard of this nonsense, he advised her to change it back to her real name, just because it sounded way too hippie and strange. After all, what kind of last name is tree? Landon just felt that it was too far out there.
22. Taken from Bonanza
The series got a lot of inspiration from another show that was popular at the time, called “Bonanza.” Michael Landon originally became famous from his appearance on “Bonanza”, and he would take scripts that were intended to be used for that, and made some changes.
These script changes were later used on Little House on the Prairie. This is what we call “script recycling”, and it was used for many episodes on the show. Back in the day, this practice was very common among popular TV shows. Some shows even went as far as to recycle scripts from their earlier shows and use them for later seasons.
23. Tenacious Nellie
If there’s anything you should take from this article, it’s Alison Arngrim’s determination. If you want something, then do everything possible to get it, no excuses. She auditioned for several parts on the show before finding the perfect one for her.
She was originally turned down for the role of Laura, as well for the role of Mary, which she also never got. However, upon returning for an audition a 3rd time, she eventually got the role of Nellie, and owned it perfectly.
24. Looking tall
Men often end up in a sticky situation when they want to look taller, but can’t wear heels, like women can. This is probably one of the things that suck about being a guy. What options do they have to appear taller when they want/need to?
Well, Michael Landon was no different, and in order to compliment his pretty average height of 5’9, he wore platform boots, and went far out of his way to stand above the ground in some way. Sheesh, men can get touchy about their height!
25. The Benefits of Recycling
Michael Landon boasted the title of writing, starring in, directing, and producing Little House on the Prairie, however, he was a star before this show when he wrote and acted in the show, Bonanza as Little Joe Cartwright for 14 years. His ideas proved successful in the latter, so he was determined to recycle some of the episodes to secure a positive reception from the audience for LHOTP.
Some of the LHOTP episodes he adapted from Bonanza were “A Matter of Faith” taken from Bonanza’s “A Matter of Circumstance”; “Someone Please Love Me” adapted from the original “A Dream to Dream”, “The Silent Cry” based on “The Sound of Sadness”; “He Was Only Twelve” recycled from “He Was Only Seven”; “Little Lou” inspired by “It’s a Small World.” This just goes to show: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
26. A Classic Never Goes Out of Style
Since September 19, 2016, Little House on the Prairie airs on COZI TV in loops of four every day, with the exception of seasons eight and nine. The reason for these syndicated reruns was a result of the show’s popularity in the U.S. The show also airs on the Hallmark Channel and INSP.
The episode “I’ll be Waving as You Drive Away” was so memorable that the TV Guide placed it at 97 in the ‘100 Greatest Episodes of All Time’ list of 1997. The show was such a hit that it made it to Spanish shores in the late ’70s as one of the most popular TV shows. They called it La Casa de la Pradera and the audience watched every episode religiously. It was so popular that several cast members won prestigious Spanish television awards.
27. Michael Landon after Little House
Landon is one of those stars who will forever be remembered for his larger than life career and personality. When Little House on the Prairie came full circle in 1982, he went on and teamed up with his co-star Victor French (Isaiah Edwards) to star in Highway to Heaven as an angel returned to Earth where he pairs up with a human partner. Landon also starred in the 1991 show Us which tracks the life of a man freed from prison after he was wrongly convicted.
In 1991, Landon was voted one of TV Guide’s 50 Sexiest Stars of All Time, so the fact that he married three times and had eight children doesn’t come at much of a surprise. Sadly, that same year he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He passed away within a few months of his diagnosis, but he left behind a legacy of writing, directing, producing, and acting. He also made the cover of Life Magazine in which he spoke about his life, career, and his battle with cancer.
28. Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls or “Ma”
Believe it or not, the matriarch of the Ingalls family didn’t have much acting experience before the show, but that changed very quickly after her claim to fame on Little House on the Prairie. She actually bade farewell to Hollywood after the conclusion of the series and moved to New Mexico where she opened the Santa Fe Resource Theater Company, but soon after she returned to California and landed a part in Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp.
She became a successful stage actress and starred in a few movies and shows, including Harry’s War, Hotel and two episodes of Murder, She Wrote. Ma Ingalls was loved by all that the Grassle was honored for her role and inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
29. Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls
Now for the star of the show who enraptured the hearts of one and all: Melissa Gilbert. Gilbert’s skill and penchant for acting never failed with age, and she went on to star in The Diary of Anne Frank and Heart of the Storm. She also landed roles in the TV shows 7th Heaven, Nip/Tuck, Batman: The Animated Series, and Babylon 5. The actress even appeared on season 14 of Dancing with the Stars with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and got eliminated during the eighth week; on her birthday of all days.
Gilbert’s first love is still acting, but she turned her attention to politics when she ran as the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s eighth congressional district in 2016. She won her primary, but was forced to drop out because of health issues. Since LHOTP, Gilbert’s love life was somewhat tumultuous. She had an on-and-off relationship with actor Rob Lowe and then married three times: first to the actor Bo Brinkman, then to the actor Bruce Boxleitner, and in 2013 to another actor, Timothy Busfield from thirtysomething. She also has two children from both of her first marriages.
30. Jason Bateman as James Cooper Ingalls
Since the conclusion of Little House on the Prairie, Jason Batemen became one of the most successful stars from the show. He is most famous for his role as Michael Bluth in the comedy series Arrested Development, which was revived by Netflix in 2016 for one season, but also became a star by appearing in the TV shows The Gift and The Family Fang.
Over the years, Bateman has appeared in over 40 movies including: Horrible Bosses, Couples Retreat, and Tropic Thunder. His most recent roles have been in Office Christmas Party, Central Intelligence, and the Netflix show Ozark released in 2017. The actor has also won several awards including a Golden Globe, and in 2013, he turned to the world of directing with his debut movie Bad Words.
31. Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson
Alison Arngrim, renowned for being the golden-locked town bully and frenemy of Laura Ingalls, continued to act in many theater, TV, and film projects throughout her life, for which she won several awards. Despite playing enemies on screen, Melissa Gilbert and Arngrim were close friends, and the two talk regularly today. Arngrim also embarked on a career as a standup comedian and humorously recalled how playing Nellie on Little House on the Prairie was “like having PMS for seven years.”
Arngrim composed an album Heeere’s Amy and wrote her own comic memoir in 2010 called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated about her time as child star. She used the book to publicly name her childhood abuser, but what critics loved the most about the text was the subtle combination of a tragic and light-hearted tone.
32. Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls
Hot on the heels of Little House on the Prairie’s, Melissa Anderson became a prime TV starlet and took the Emmy for the Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series in 1980 for her role in the ABC Afterschool Special Which Mother is Mine? She also starred in Murder, She Wrote, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Equalizer. Anderson landed her first movie role in Happy Birthday to Me and since then boasts over 57 acting credits, with her latest appearance in The Brits Are Coming.
Like a lot of the other LHOTP stars, Anderson penned her own autobiography in 2010 called The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House about her time on the show and how the role affected her personal role. Today, she lives in Canada with her screenwriter and television producer husband Michael Sloan and their two children. Like Karen Grassle, Anderson was also inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
33. Todd Anthony Bridges as Solomon Henry
Todd Bridges made a special guest appearance on Little House of the Prairie as the son of Mississippi sharecroppers in the episode “The Wisdom of Solomon.” Since the show, the actor became notable for his frequent appearance on the TV show Everybody Hates Chris. He is also well-known for playing Willis Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes.
For most of his adult life, Bridges has struggled with a crack cocaine addiction which resulted in several run-ins with the law. He was even arrested and tried for the attempted murder of an LA drug dealer. His lawyer got him off and claimed that Bridges was abused as a child which led him to drugs, but that he was being framed for the crime. Bridges was eventually acquitted. In 1998, the actor and his brother were accredited for saving a paraplegic woman from drowning.
34. Ernest Borgnine as Jonathan
Many might remember Ernest Borgine in the special two-part episode “The Lord is My Shepherd” on Little House on the Prairie in which he played Laura Ingalls’s spiritual guide. If not, the actor is a Hollywood legend for more than 60 years, so he is surely remembered for his other roles on the silver screen.
Some of his prolific roles include voice acting for Mermaid Man in Spongebob Squarepants and his role in the American TV sitcom McHale’s Navy. Borgine won a handful of awards during his career, including an Oscar Marty, the 1955 movie. He was also nominated for an Emmy award at the age of 92 for his role in ER. Sadly, he passed away of renal failure in 2012 at the ripe age of 95.
35. Merlin Olsen as Jonathan Garvey
Olsen knew he was destined for the screen and made a drastic career from a pro hall of fame football defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams (1962-1976) to farmer Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie in the episode “Little House.”
Olsen had the propensity for acting and went on to star in the TV shows Father Murphy and Aaron’s Way before he also gave up this career choice in 1988. Olsen died after undergoing treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2010.
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