Whether you were a fan of the Little House on the Prairie TV program during it’s first run on the air between 1974 and 1983, or if you later fell in love with Laura Ingalls and her family through reruns, you will probably be shocked to learn that the series that perfectly captured the heartwarming quaintness of settler life in the the late 19th century wasn’t quite the pastoral picturesque portrayal of the olde-worlde that it touts itself to be. Behind the scenes, when the cameras weren’t rolling, dark secrets, disturbing scandals, and sad truths haunted the stars of the historical drama series for years to come. Of course, not everything was terrible on the set. The series did after all last for 9 seasons.
Let’s take a closer look at what it was really like on and off the set of Little House on the Prairie. And make sure you watch the whole video if you want to find out what the real Walnut Grove was really like.
Pushing Melissa’s Buttons
Laura Ingalls and Nellie Dalton depict as being each other’s arch enemies on the show. The two actors are in fact the best of friends off-set. At a later point in the series, Nellie and Percival marry. Despite the fact that Steve Tracy – the actor who plays Percival – is actually gay. Of course, that didn’t matter much.
The two characters can – in a clear attempt at aggravating Melissa Gilbert – make out in front of her. Laura and her love interest Almanzo’s love life isn’t nearly as spicy as Percival and Nellie’s. They go out of their way to make their on-screen displays of affection as in-her-face as possible. Of course, Gilbert being the youthful and innocent actress that she was, was absolutely agonized by their emotionally insensitive cruelty.
Booze and Drugs
You might be appalled to find out that many of the cast and crew members of Little House on the Prairie had some fairly disturbing addictions. Most of those vices involved chemical dependency on booze and drugs. As such, it wasn’t uncommon to find both on set.
Reportedly, the crew polished off 2 30-racks of Coors beer every day. Some especially stressful days were even dubbed ‘3 case days’.
According to Melissa Gilbert’s memoir, Michael Landon was one of the heaviest drinkers on set. he would start his day off with a coffee spiked with liquor and would keep the drinks flowing throughout the rest of the day. Most folks on set had no clue how much he was drinking. He kept it under wraps for quite some time but eventually, the full extent of his alcoholism became evident.
Michael Landon Was Actually Jewish
Even though his character on the show was often seen pushing a Christian message, in real life he was actually Jewish. Michael Landon was actually just his stage name. He was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz. Despite having to play a Christian on-screen, Landon didn’t find that to be in conflict with his cultural identity or beliefs.
Landon grew up in New York and New Jersey. His father, Eli Maurice Orowitz, was Jewish, although his mother was Peggy O’Neill was a practicing Catholic. He was later quoted as saying that he took after his Father’s cultural identity but didn’t personally subscribe to any particular religious beliefs. He was a believer in God but only identified as Jewish in the cultural sense.
Landon Dyed His Hair
Landon’s curls were something to marvel at. But, if you assume that Landon’s lush brunette mane was au naturale then you are sorely mistaken. His signature look actually came from a bottle. His actual hair color was a muted ashy brown.
He took his hair color very seriously. He routinely went to a professional stylist to get the dye job done right. Even so, when he started to get some grays, the set lights and natural sunlight would make his dye take on a peculiar purplish hue. Producers would have to call in extra help from professional colorists to fix the issue.
The Series Dealt With Some Very Serious Issues
Sure, in general, Little House on the Prairie took on a pretty light-hearted tone, but from time to time it actually dealt with some pretty risque themes. This was an era where TV was beginning to push the boundaries of what was considered socially and politically acceptable.
Sexual assault, drug addiction, racism, prejudice, adoption, and disabilities became frequent topics of consideration for the trailblazing series. Very few programs at the time were willing to touch on these subjects, so in a way, Little House on the Prairie was ahead of its time.
On the show, Willie Oleson, played by Jonathan Gilbert, was the younger brother of Nellie. In real life, he was actually the adopted sibling of Melissa Gilbert. Sadly,, the two actors are no longer in good standing with each other. The two had a falling out after Little House on the Prairie wrapped up. Jonathan went on to get his MBA in finance and is currently working as a stockbroker in New York City.
Melissa continued life working as an actress. Additionally, she served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005. In 2016, she ran a campaign for a seat in the US House of Representatives for Michigan’s 8th congressional district. Even though she was the presumptive Democratic nominee for her district, she was forced to drop out of the race because of injuries sustained in a 2012 accident.
Mary Ingalls and Laura Ingalls Weren’t Fond of Each Other
When Melissa Anderson and Melissa Gilbert were still young actresses, they couldn’t stand each other. The divide between the two became so fiery that no one else on set even wanted to deal with them. Their feud continued for the whole duration of the series.
Can you picture working alongside someone for years on end that you absolutely despise? Well, some people don’t have to struggle to imagine such a scenario – as you probably can think of a co-worker or two that rubs you the wrong way. But, these two young girls not only had trouble getting along, but they were constantly fighting and bickering with each other for 9 whole years.
Walnut Grove is a Real Place
The Ingalls family lived on a small farm near the village of Walnut Grove. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the original semi-autobiographical book series that the show was based on had lived in Walnut Grove, Minnesota for several years of her childhood, although much of her books were based upon other locales that were also significant to her story.
The real Walnut Grove was founded in 1874 and incorporated in 1879 and is in Redwood County, Minnesota. The town is fairly tiny, with a population of only 806 as of 2019 and a total land area of 1 mile.
Oh! And If you’ve been enjoying this video so far, make sure you give it a like and subscribe to our channel, and you’re going to want to keep watching to find out why producers of Little House on the Prairie decided to blow up the set-version of Walnut Grove for the series finale.
Nellie’s Hair-do Made Her Bleed
Just like Michael Landon’s hair, Nellie’s distinctive curls were also fake. Wigs can be very convincing indeed. Alison Arngrim, the actress who played the part of Nellie is in fact actually a blonde and her hair was much too fine for curls.
According to Arngrim’s autobiography, the wig that she wore for Little House on the Prairie was so tight that it would often make her head bleed. Talkin’ about taking one for the team, right? That’s committing to your role on a whole ‘nother level.
The Cancer Curse That Plagues The Cast
Quite a few Little House on the Prairie cast members have tragically been diagnosed with cancer. Some even have died from the awful disease. Michael Landon for example died of pancreatic cancer in 1991. Victor French, who played Mr. Edwards, died of lung cancer in 1989. Kevin Hagen, who played Doc Baker, passed away in 2005 after a painful battle with esophageal cancer.
Charlotte Stewart, who played Miss Beadle, was the only cast member to win her battle with cancer. There is actually a theory that proposes that so many cast members got cancer because of filming so close to a radioactive facility. Little House on the Prairie was filmed only 15 miles away from the Santa Susana Nuclear Laboratory.
When you reach a certain age, your body goes through some changes. That’s a universal part of every young person’s coming-of-age. When Melissa Gilbert went through this process, however, producers tried to hold on to her younger childlike look as long as they could to fit in with the story-line outlined in their script. Gilbert’s chest had to be tightly bound every day. Can you picture having to wear painful binds at work every day? That had to be miserable.
Michael Landon Was The Clown of the Bunch
On set, he was a bit of a practical jokester of sorts. He figured it spiced things up a bit. No one was immune from his shenanigans. If you were a cast or crew member, you were on his radar, and he would never leave the set without making sure that he had the last laugh.
One time, in particular, the script called for him to chase Laura. When the camera stopped rolling and ‘cut’ was called, he kept chasing her all over the set. Once he stopped chasing her, she was so annoyed at him that she punched him in the arm.
They Blew Up Walnut Grove
Well, obviously not the real-world town in Minnesota but they did blow up the set. The last episode shows us that the residents of Walnut Grove chose to blow their little village up instead of being kicked off their land. It’s one of those ‘If we can’t have it, then you can’t either” kind of scenarios.
Michael Landon thought up the idea of blowing the town to smithereens when he found out that the landowners that were renting out the plot in Simi Valley, California wanted it cleared after NBC was done with it.
Talking about going out with a bang!
Little House on the Prairie is one of those rare shows that could never be re-created. The chemistry with its cast was impeccable, the poignant timing of its thematic elements seemed to hit audiences at just the right time, and it’s setting in rural America left viewers longing for simpler times.
It’s actually rumored that a remake film could be in the works but production talks seem to have gone cold in the last couple of years and maybe that’s for the best.
Would you watch a Little House on the Prairie remake or do you think nothing could ever live up to the original?
Let us know what you think in the comments section
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