10 Things you didn’t know about The Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls, Michael Landon
“I hate that Nellie Oleson!”

Little House on the Prairie might look a little out of place set among my other favourite TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s. After all, what is a sickly sweet, moralising family show doing in a list of TV series that include The Sweeney, Minder and The Professionals? Well, something about Little House did catch my attention as a kid. Maybe it was the fact that I could almost pretend that the show was a proper Western.

Based on the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House on the Prairie TV show got its first outing in 1974 and didn’t come off the screens until 1982. The show followed the story of the Ingalls family; Charles Ingalls, his wife Caroline, and their four daughters, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace, plus the children they adopted in later seasons. While I wouldn’t put Little House on the prairie in my top ten favourite TV shows of all time, it was hugely popular and, when I recently caught a re-run episode by accident, I will admit to tuning in and catching the next one too.

So, let’s take a look back on the Ingalls family and the other residents of Walnut Grove, with these ten little known facts about Little House on the Prairie.

1. Michael Landon was Jewish
Despite the distinctly Christian message that was given Little House in the Prairie, and Michael Landon’s later show, Highway to Heaven, Landon was officially Jewish. Michael Landon’s real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz. He was born on October 31, 1936 in New York to a Jewish father, Eli Maurice Orowitz, and a Catholic mother, Peggy. When Landon’s son was asked about Landon’s faith after the death of his father in 1991, he said that Landon believed in God, but did not follow any organised religion.

2. The show explored some pretty serious issues
Although Little House on the prairie was, for the most part, lightweight, family entertainment, it didn’t shy away from serious issues. During its fairly long history, the show included storylines that covered alcoholism, rape, drug addiction, and prejudice.

Little House on the Prairie, Willie Olsen3. Laura Ingalls and Willie Oleson were really brother and sister
The nasty little Willie Oleson, who always had it in for the cute ‘half pint’ Laura Ingalls, is actually the adopted brother of Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura. Apparently, though, the siblings have no love for each other today, as Melisa Gilbert says in her autobiography that two are no longer in touch with one another.

4. Mary Ingalls and Laura Ingalls didn’t get along
When they were children, Melissa Anderson, who played Mary, and Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, didn’t get along with each other at all. There was a long lasting feud between the two actors that began early in the show’s run and continued throughout much of the rest of it.

5. There is a real Walnut Grove
There really is a Walnut Grove and Laura Ingalls really did live there. In reality, the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the books that Little House on the prairie was based on, moved around quite a lot, but they did settle in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, for a while in 1874, when Laura Ingalls was aged seven.

Little House on the Prairie, Nellie Oleson
6. Nellie’s hair wasn’t real
Nellies golden curls weren’t her own hair, she wore a wig. In her autobiography the actress who played Nellie Oleson, Alison Arngrim, explains how it was a wig and that was fitted so tightly to her head it sometimes made her head bleed.

7. Several episodes were recycled Bonanza storylines
Michael Landon got his first TV starring role, playing the part of Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza. Landon reused several scripts that he had originally written for Bonanza in episodes of Little House in the Prairie. Examples of this were the episode of Little House on the Prairie called “A Matter of Faith” was a Bonanza episode called “A Matter of Circumstance” and “He Was Only Twelve” was originally a Bonanza episode entitled “He Was Only Seven”.

8. Melissa Gilbert had to bind her chest when she started to grow up
Unfortunately for Melissa Gilbert, real-life puberty came on before the scripts had allowed for Laura Ingalls maturing. That meant that, not only did only did Gilbert, now a young woman, have to continue wearing braids, she also had to bind her chest to hide her developing figure.

9. Michael Landon was a bit of a comedian on the set
Michael Landon was a bit of prankster in the set of Little House on the Prairie. He used to play jokes in the cast and he even used to make poor little Laura Ingalls keep on running, even after the camera had finished shooting the shot.

10. They really did blow up Walnut Grove
In the final episode of Little House on the prairie, “The Last Farewell”, the residents of Walnut Grove decide to blow up the town to spite property developers who are forcing them off the land. When the producers had originally leased the land that was to be the set for the show in the Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, they had agreed that it would be returned to its original state when it was handed back. Michael Landon decided to incorporate the demolition of the set into the plot and so the town of Walnut Grove was spectacularly destroyed in the final episode.

The Blowing Up of Walnut Grove

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