Did you like the Little House on the Prairie TV show? It doesn’t matter if you watched the show when it aired from 1974 to 1983, or whether you watched through reruns: all the fans of this famous show fell in love with Laura Ingalls and the other characters.
You might not realize that behind the show’s pleasant scenes of a calm life in the 1800s, lots of exciting things were going on behind the scenes. Check out what happened to the show’s actors after Little House finished, as well as what really went on when the cameras stopped rolling.
Michael Landon Was Jewish
Even though Little House on the Prairie celebrated a Christian message, actor Michael Landon actually identified as Jewish. His real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz if that didn’t give it away, but he changed it when he acted.
Being a professional, he had no problem acting as a Christian even though it went against his religious beliefs. Orowitz was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. His mother was a Catholic but he followed his father’s faith and identified as Jewish for much of his life.
Landon Wasn’t A Brunette
Those luscious, brown curls that Michael Landon had didn’t come as naturally as you might think. He was born as a light brown, almost ash, color hair. He went on to dye it for much of his career meaning that many thought he was a dark brunette for all those years.
Landon went through the trouble of going to a hair stylist each week to make sure his hair was the same color all the time, even if it meant he paid for it out of his own pocket. Must have been expensive!
The Show Didn’t Shy Away From Issues
Little House on the Prairie was generally a light-hearted show. The stories were calm and dealt with family issues in a funny way. That didn’t mean that the show kept away from some more serious topics.
It definitely addressed themes that would be considered un-PC or taboo today. These include racism, addiction, rape, and prejudice – quite the list! At the time, the show was considered groundbreaking for addressing issues that were never shown on TV before.
Do you remember Willie Oleson at all? Well, you might not know this but Laura’s nemesis’ brother in real life is he adopted brother of Melissa Gilbert – the actress who portrayed Laura.
It’s a small world in Hollywood! It must have been pretty great for these two to get to spend their days together as loving siblings at such an important time of their lives. Sadly, it appears the siblings lost touch with each other over time and are no longer speaking.
Mary and Laura Ingalls Were NOT BFFs
It’s quite upsetting to know that Melissa Anderson and Melissa Gilbert never liked each other when they were young. Over time, tension grew between the girls and never died town during the filming of the show.
Even though the young actresses acted opposite each other day after day, the conflict was never resolved. It must have been very tough to be in an environment where you have to work with people you don’t like.
Nellie’s Hair Made Her Bleed
The stunning curls worn by Nellie were far from reality if you thought they were. The curls were actually an impressive wig that would fit on Alison Arngrim’s head. She was, in fact, a natural blonde but had far too fine hair to hold curls the way that producers wanted.
To get the look they wanted, she wore a wig that would tightly be attached to her head. Just how tightly do you think? Well, it turns out it made her scalp bleed at the end of the day. Can you imagine wearing something all day that would make you bleed?
Cursed With Cancer
In a strange twist of fate, many of the cast members of Little House on the Prairie would end up getting cancer. Some even died of the disease over time, which is sad. Michael Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, as well as Victor French and Kevin Hagen.
These two both played Isaiah Edwards and Doc Baker, respectively. Charlotte Stewart was the only cast member who survived her cancer diagnosis. Many
Flat As A Pancake
Puberty doesn’t run on your time clock, no matter how you try to control it. When it comes to Melissa Gilbert, producers were at a loss at what to do once she hit puberty.
Even though she developed and her body developed into a more feminine shape, producers weren’t ready for her to grow up just yet. This meant they would often pad her down with a tight-fitting top that would keep her flat, as well as put her in baggy clothing. Not very fun if you ask us!
The Set Clown
Funnyman Michael Landon was often the clown on set, keeping people entertained for hours during shooting. He would often play pranks on people and was fond of making people laugh.
It can be tough to stay in good spirits for 10-hour days but Landon made sure that people were as comfortable as they could be. Have you ever been on a TV set? They are not as exciting as you think, so it’s important to keep it light.
Walnut Grove Got Destroyed
You might remember how the last episode of Little House on the Prairie had Walnut Grove blown up. The story suggested that the residents chose to blow up the town even though they are getting kicked off the land anyway. Well, it turns out it isn’t too far from the truth!
The land that they rented during production had to be returned as good as new, but they had spent years building on the site. It was Landon who had the idea to blow it up, and the rest is television history.
Mary, who was the oldest sister on the show, never seemed to make any meaningful relationships on the show. According to sources, actress Melissa Sue Anderson was standoffish and aloof – at least that’s the vibe she gave off.
Most of the time, people thought she was stuck up or mean to other people. We’re not quite sure why she would act like this but it’s a shame if you can’t make friends with people you spend all day with. Maybe it was due to her upbringing? Who knows.
Melissa Didn’t Like Michael
Of course, Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert were close on the show. When Melissa’s real-life father passed away when she was 12, Landon acted as her father figure. Apparently, as the show went on, their feelings only grew stronger for each other.
Eventually, Landon was to leave his own wife her Melissa! They had a 20-year age gap! Incidentally, Melissa was mad at Michael for doing this and she distanced herself from him after all those years. Wow!
Since they filmed Little House on the Prairie in California, the summers would get incredibly hot. This usually wouldn’t be a problem but it was made difficult since all the cast had to wear period outfits with thick materials.
When filming in Simi Valley, some of the actresses passed out due to overheating! Thankfully, it was on the first day of shooting so producers took important steps to make sure it never happened again.
Landon Liked His Physique
Michael Landon was proud of his figure, and wanted everyone to see just how healthy he was! On Little House on the Prairie, he had a plan for how he would show his body off. Every time his character had an injury, he made sure to take his shirt off!
He claimed this was to make it ‘cinematic’, but we see right through it, Michael! Do you think this made the show any better or worse? It was already considered revolutionary, so maybe now it’s not too bad.
Melissa Gilbert Didn’t Like Kissing
She was very inexperienced when it came to kissing, but she had to do it after her character married Almanzo. At the time of filming, she was 15 and actor Dean Butler was 23 – which is pretty weird if you think about it. We can understand why she would be nervous. Would that be allowed today?
Gilbert Was A Self-Confessed Groupie
Apparently, being young and on TV can bring out the wild child in us! Melissa Gilbert was a typical teen rebel and was the complete opposite of how she was portrayed in the show. This is all before social media, so she probably had a lot more privacy than teen stars today. She was even connected to Scott Baio and Tom Cruise!
The young actress was briefly engaged to West Wing actor Rob Lowe, although it didn’t last long. She eventually married his co-star, Timothy Busfield. Hollywood is a small place, indeed!
Some Accidents Stayed In The Show
Do you remember that famous shot of Carrie running and falling in the opening credits? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t planned! When the actresses were running up the hill, one of them fell accidentally and got back up. It turns out that the director liked the natural look of the shot and kept it in.
These two girls were Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush and they both portrayed the same character. This was because of child labor laws at the time. Using identical twins allows the production to film double the amount of shots without tiring out the same child.
We all try to make a name for ourselves in Hollywood. It turns out that Karen Grassle tired harder than any of us! The actress played Caroline ‘Ma’ Ingalls and she had a wild idea. At the time, her stage name was actually Gabriel Tree.
Now that’s one way to get remembered! Apparently, Michael Landon heard the name and recommended that she change it back to her original name, which sounded more normal. He said it was ‘too hippy and too strange.’ Ouch, Michael!
Inspiration For The Show
It’s totally normal for shows to take inspiration from other stories. Well, when it comes to Little House on the Prairie, there’s no exception. The series took a lot of its idea from another popular show at the time, Bonanza.
Incidentally, Michael Landon had previously appeared on that show which helped him become famous in the first place. ‘Script Recycling’ is pretty common among shows. Think of all the family/cop/doctor sitcoms: they’re all pretty similar. That’s what they did here.
Nellie Got What She Wanted
Alison Arngrim can get anything she wants. Although you probably know that by now! The actress originally wanted the roles of Laura and Mary, but never managed to secure the parts.
She never gave up and auditioned for a third time: this time for Nellie. Of course, Arngrim went on to get the role and the rest is history. We can’t imagine anyone else in the role, nor can we imagine the actress playing another part. We’re glad it all worked out!
Walnut Grove Is A Real Place
We love when places mentioned on TV shows are actually real places. This is the case with Walnut Grove, which is real even though it sounds fake. Over the duration of the show, the location was pretty important in establishing much of the character and story development.
Eventually, Laura Wilder revealed in her autobiography that she spent time living in Walnut Grove, Minnesota after the show finished filming. She lived there for a few years.
Even though the storyline showed Laura and Nellie to be enemies on the show, the two actresses were actually good friends off-set. Later in the show, Nellie got married to Percival who was played by Steve Tracy.
In real life Steve was gay – but that didn’t stop him from working on a compelling performance. The two actors liked to make out in front of Laura, whose love life wasn’t quite as intense with Almanzo, just to aggravate Melissa Gilbert.
Ask any man and they’ll tell you there’s a lot of pressure to look taller. While women can wear high heels to help them gain a few extra inches, men don’t have that luxury. Well, no man felt this more than Michael Landon!
The actor was only 5’9, which is average height but nothing spectacular. While filming, he would often wear platform boots or even stand on his tiptoes during filming. That way, he looked taller than he actually was. We all know that any man under 6’0 is short, anyway…
Don’t Forget To Recycle!
Not many people realized that Landon starred in, wrote, directed, and even produced Little House on the Prairie. Even before his work on this iconic show, the actor had experience in another show called Bonanza. In fact, some of the ideas from that first show ended up in this one!
It turns out that he would recycle some of the storylines that didn’t attract much of an audience. Taking advantage of the larger viewing figures for Little House on the Prairie, the stories enjoyed new lives through different characters. Good thinking!
Never Gets Old
Even though the last episode of Little House on the Prairie aired in 1983, that doesn’t mean the interest in the show has died down. Since 2016, COZI TV has been airing episodes four times a day! Certain episodes also broadcast on the Hallmark Channel and INSP.
Amazingly, there are still audiences today who enjoy the stories of the family today. In fact, some of the episodes – such as ‘I’ll Be Waving As You Drive Away’ – were included in a list of the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of all time.
Leaving The Little House
After the show’s iconic run the 1970s and ’80s, Michael Landon had an impressive career until his death in 1991. Landon teamed up with Victor French, one of his co-stars, and starred in a show called Highway to Heaven. It was about an angel who returned to Earth and partners up with a human.
By the time 1991 came around, Landon
Karen Grassle As ‘Ma’
Many people are unaware that Karen Grassle actually had very little acting experience before earning the role of Caroline Ingalls. When the show ended, Grassle decided to leave Hollywood and move to New Mexico. Quite the difference to the glitz and glam of California!
Once there, she opened a Theater company called the Santa Fe Resource Theater Company. Even though she tried to leave the acting life behind her, she did return to appear in shows like Murder, She Wrote and Harry’s War. Today, Ma remains her most popular role.
Melissa Gilbert as Laura
Whatever happened to little Laura Ingalls? Well, Little House on the Prairie was far from her career peak. After finishing her work on the sitcom, she went on to star in shows like Nip/Tuck, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and The Diary of Anne Frank.
Even though her love is still acting, Melissa Gilbert turned her attention to politics briefly in 2016. The actress ran as a Democrat in Michigan’s eighth congressional district but dropped out due to health issues. She has four children.
Jason Bateman as James Cooper Ingalls
Jason Bateman is probably one of the most successful stories from Little House on the Prairie. The actor has since appeared in more than 40
Today, Bateman can also be seen in Netflix’s Ozark. His film credits include comedies like Game Night and Office Christmas Party. Bateman has won several awards including a Golden Globe for his work in film and television.
Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson
Arngrom was famous for playing the blonde bully and frenemy Nellie Oleson in Little House on the Prairie. The actress continued to work in film and television as the years went by, earning several awards for her talents. Despite their on-screen relationship, Alison Arngrom and Melissa Gilbert remained good friends.
Briefly, Arngrim entered the world of stand-up comedy where she spoke about her life as a child star. In 2010, she published a memoir, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls
Melissa Sue Anderson is another star from the show who managed to continue acting after the show finished in the 1980s. Over time, Anderson became somewhat of a primetime TV star and earned an Emmy for some of her work on the small screen.
As years went on, Melissa Sue Anderson went on to star in shows like Murder, She Wrote, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Equalizer. In 2010, she also released an autobiography of her time on the show, called The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House.
Todd Anthony Bridges as Solomon Henry
You might remember when Todd Bridges made his special appearance in the sitcom. He played the son of a Mississippi sharecropper in The Wisdom of Solomon. The actor has since gone on to appear in shows like Everybody Hates Chris and Diff’rent Strokes.
Sadly, Bridges has spent much of his adult life battling a crack cocaine addiction. Because of this, he has had several incidents
Ernest Borgnine as Jonathan
Eager viewers of Little House on the Prairie might remember Ernest Borgnine from the special two-part episodes “The Lord Is My Shepherd”. In the episode, he played Laura Ingalls’ spirit guide. It turns out he’s quite a television star outside the show.
Overall, Borgnine had been working for more than 60 years, appearing in shows like Spongebob Squarepants. He even earned an Emmy nomination at the age of 92! Sadly, he died in 2012 at the age of 95 – an impressive age, indeed!
Merlin Olsen as Jonathan Garvey
Merlin Olsen had two impressive careers over his life, starting as a football defensive linemen for the LA Rams. After retiring from the sport in 1976, he joined the cast and played Jonathan Garvey in the episode Little House.
After Little House on the Prairie came to its end, Olsen continued acting until 1988, appearing in shows like Father Murphy and Aaron’s Way. Sadly, he died in 2010 after undergoing treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Dean Butler as Almanzo Wilder
Butler was best known for playing Laura Ingalls’ husband on the famous TV show. However, his career wouldn’t stop there! Now in his 60s, Dean Butler has appeared in a few films and television shows showing off his talents.
To date, the actor has appeared in shows like Who’s the Boss, Jag, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote. He even narrated a special -behind-the-scenes documentary about the show.
Shannen Doherty as Jenny Wilder
Shannen Doherty first made her debut as Jenny Wilder, the niece of Almanzo who he raised when her parents died. Well, since the show, the actress has built up quite a career for herself. Younger audiences will best know her as Brenda Walsh from the original Beverly Hills 90210.
Sadly, Doherty was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s. She battled and defeated the disease and is now a spokesperson for cancer awareness. Today, she remains an inspiration to most.
Kyle Richards as Alicia Sanderson Edwards
Kyle Richards joined the cast of Little House on the Prairie when she was only six years old! She starred as Alicia, one of Isaiah and Grace’s adopted children. Since the show finished, her career has only grown!
Richards has developed a reputation for appearing in horror movies. She has been in Halloween, ER, Down to Earth, Watcher in the Woods, and National Lampoon’s Pledge This. Recently, she appeared in the last season of The Apprentice with Arnold Schwarzenegger as host.
Melissa Ann Francis as Cassandra Cooper Ingalls
Melissa Ann Francis appeared in the seventh season of Little House on the Prairie, and actually started her career at 6 months old! Francis starred in a shampoo advert. After reaching success on the sitcom, she continued her career for many years.
Melissa Ann Francis starred in ALFIE, Mork & Mindy, Galactica 1980, and St. Elsewhere. Even though she had a talent for acting, Francis pursued a second career as a television journalist on weekdays.
Drugs and Alcohol
Many members of the cast and crew had some pretty serious addictions, often involving substances like drugs and alcohol. Most of the time, these problems made it on to set. According to sources, the crew drank two cases of Coors Beer every single day.
They even had a nickname for the more stressful days: “three-case days”. This was used to justify taking the edge off some of the stress that came about while they were shooting. Apparently, Michael Landon would often spike his coffee or soda with liquor.