Little House on the Prairie, adapted from the Little House book series, chronicled the struggles of a pioneer family in the American West. Besides the history, the relationships and heartwarming nature of the show made it something parents and children could sit and enjoy together.
But the innocence and wholesome values captured onscreen weren’t always reflected in the behavior behind the camera. In fact, some of the secret ongoings both on set and off would shock even the most devoted Ingalls fans…
1. Michael Landon did more than play Pa Ingalls: He was also an executive producer, writer, and director for the series. When actress Karen Grassle auditioned for the role of Ma under her stage name, Gabriel Tree, Landon requested she drop it and use her real name.
2. All the hearty meals that Ma worked tirelessly over in the scenes were actually one food: Dinty Moore beef stew. The one exception? In an episode where Ma fried chicken, they used KFC.
3. Before Draco Malfoy and Joffrey there was the original blonde spoiled brat: Nellie Oleson. Serious credit must be paid to child actors Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim for their convincing animosity, particularly since they were real life BFFs!
4. Melissa was 15 years old when her character, Laura Ingalls, married her husband, Almanzo Wilder: Complicating things, the actor portraying Almanzo was 23-year-old Dean Butler. As any young teen would, Melissa felt super nervous about their first onscreen kiss. After that, she requested cheek pecks and hugs only.
5. The production team made sure everyone else was aware of that awkwardness: As if there wasn’t enough internal pressure on Melissa’s onscreen romance, productin sent out a memo stating their concern for the pair’s lack of believable chemistry.
6. Alison Arngrim wanted other roles: It’s hard to separate her from her perfect portrayal of Nellie, but before she embodied the utterly nasty character, she auditioned for both Laura and Mary Ingalls. Luckily for the fans, she was rejected.
7. Michael Landon wanted to be tall: By the time Michael Landon landed in Charles ‘Pa’ Ingall’s boots, he was already famous thanks to the hit show Bonanza. So when Little House began, he got to call the shots. Michael envisioned Charles with a certain swagger, which included 4-inch lifts in his boots so he was the tallest on set…
8. He also wasn’t shy about Pa flashing some skin: Michael reportedly enjoyed filming shirtless scenes to show off his physique. On occasion, he was even known to skip wearing undergarments with his costumes.
9. Before the Olsen Twins, there was another adorable identical TV duo: Rachel and Sidney Bush. Together, the twins shared the part of Carrie Ingalls. California labor laws required the director to rotate between the three-year-old girls every few hours.
Little House Wikia
10. Working with kids led to countless hilarious unintentional mistakes captured on film: During the opening credits, Carrie Ingalls trips while running down a hill. That was a real tumble! The director thought it was cute, and chose to keep in.
11. Melissa was a natural fit for the tough, can-do character, Laura “Half-Pint” Ingalls: In the storyline when Laura learns to drive a stagecoach, Melissa actually trained to do so in real life. She jumped on the opportunity to experience the authentic pioneer lifestyle.
12. Michael starred in the smash hit Bonanza right before beginning the Little House series: He carried over a lot from his previous show — including the scripts. Bonanza’s “A Matter of Circumstance” episode was repurposed and made into “A Matter of Faith” on Little House.
13. What happens on the prairie, stays on the prairie: The cast and crew were known to partake in a bit of drinking, and crushed over two cases of Coors most days on set. Sometimes Wild Turkey was in the mix. All the debauchery took place during the child actors’ nap times.
14. The show was actually filmed in Simi Valley, California: Big Sky Ranch served as the set for most of the series, and unbeknownst to the crew, it was also a former disposal site for radioactive materials. Some blame the radioactivity for high cancer rates amongst the production team.
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15. Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls, didn’t bond with the rest of the cast: Her mother kept a protective watch over her, which alienated her from the group. Even though Laura and Mary were close-knit sisters onscreen, Melissa Gilbert said her costar was conceited.
16.The closeness between Laura and Pa was real: Michael was a father figure to Melissa. Her own father died when she was just 11, so she spent many weekends at the Landon house and adored his wife and children.
17. That bond didn’t last: Michael had an affair with a makeup artist on set, which resulted in a divorce from his wife Cheryl. Melissa took her side and stopped associating with the actor off the set.
18. Nellie Oleson was rotten due to her excruciating hair styling routine: Alison suffered for the tight ringlet curls bouncing on Nelly’s shoulders. Hairdressers used authentic old-fashioned curling irons that were heated inside an oven. The painful process was abandoned but the replacement wasn’t much better…
19. After a few episodes, Nellie wore a wig: The problem? Metal combs and pins were used to fasten it to Alison’s head. These dug into her scalp, resulting in bleeding.
20. The fireworks were real: In the series finale, the townspeople of Walnut Grove enact some revenge on the land-grabbers taking the city for their own when they rig dynamite and blow all the buildings to smithereens. Well, those explosions were real! They used footage of the actual sets being demolished.