What really went down on the set of “Little House on the Prairie?” Was it true a baby was used as a battering ram? Was Michael really an exhibitionist? Which star was tortured every time their costume was applied? This seemingly innocent family may not have been as pure as they led you to believe. They worked in nearly inhumane conditions and some pranks on set could be construed as cruel. Yet, no one can deny the appeal of the show that continues to be aired in syndication to this day.
Read more to learn all about the secrets “Little House” has kept all these years.
1. There was alcohol on set.
Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Olsen was the first to witness this particular secret on set. After a particularly tough day, she went to the prop truck to try to take a snooze. While there, she overheard voices and clearly heard Michael Landon say, “Hit me” to a prop man at the rear of the truck. She peeked out and watched as Michael had four fingers of Wild Turkey poured into his coffee mug. To be fair, it was 10 am and could clearly be mistaken for coffee. Maybe. That was until you got a whiff of him.
Melissa Gilbert has even said that that aroma could have been a factor in the types of guys she dated. As a young adult, she almost always chose to date men who smelled like booze.
When do you think she got the hint that may not be the best reason to choose someone?
What happened when there were tough days on set? Keep reading to find out more.
Michael was clearly not the only one drinking on set. It is well-known now that up to two cases of beer were finished off during the day. On particularly tough days, that went up to three. Don’t you wonder what constituted a bad day? Maybe if it was raining on a day that they needed sun? That sure sounds like a reason to drink more. Once filming wrapped, the real drinking began. Oh yeah, they hadn’t even started yet. A sawhorse would be set up at the end of the day to act as a makeshift bar.
This is the point when cast members other than Michael would begin drinking their hard liquor. Shockingly, despite all the alcohol consumption every single day, there was never any disturbance or interruption in filming the show. Many of them, however, went on to become alcoholics later in life. Guess it will catch up to you at some point, right Melissa Gilbert?
Which star was destined to become prematurely gray? Click next to find out.
2. Michael Landon’s head of gray hair.
Apparently, Michael Landon suffered from premature gray hair. No, no, it’s not as serious as it sounds. In fact, it doesn’t do any harm except maybe to the ego. He began going gray in his twenties, likely due to genetics. Although, in his case, it could have been the cigarettes, too. It has been proven that someone who smokes doubles their chance of going gray early.
Michael, certainly wasn’t helping himself or his looks. Some of the other factors that were not in his favor included being born a white male. Men begin to gray faster than women and Caucasians gray faster than any other ethnicity. Stress will do it, too. Wearing multiple hats on the set of “Little House on the Prairie” and drinking away his day had to have impacted his stress levels. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.
Keep reading to find out what went wrong with Michael’s hair in the sun.
Science, to this day, has yet to find a way to reverse gray hair. This was completely unacceptable to Michael, so he did what any sane man would do. He chose Clairol’s Medium Ash Brown. It seemed the perfect brunette color for him. He was quite content to dye and touch up his own hair, at least until it began to take on a lovely shade of purple in the sun.
Knowing he spent most of his day in the sun, something had to change. At this point, he relented and allowed one of the colorists on set to take over. Good thing he kept his day job.
Keep reading to find out which valley the outside scenes were shot in, Simi or Death?
3. Heatstroke on set.
Outside scenes were filmed in Simi Valley, California where the average temperature is 80 degrees. What a pleasant place to shoot, huh? Sure, if you were hanging out in tank tops sipping smoothies while lounging in a park. For the cast of “Little House,” however, things were quite different. For starters, there was no lounging to be had.
They were hard at work doing all the “chores” the Ingalls needed to do to survive on the prairie. All that activity made them work up quite a sweat. Of course, that was on the average days. There were many days the temperatures ran into the 90’s and even triple digits. Could you imagine having to work in such extreme heat day after day?
Which cast members couldn’t take the heat and wished they could get out of the kitchen? Read on.
It was especially difficult for the women. The costumes they wore consisted of layers upon layers of hot, sweat-inducing cotton. There were petticoats, pinafores, and bonnets, all of which are extremely heavy. Now, imagine all those layers with all that activity on days over 100 degrees. It would be a bit much for anyone.
Needless to say, both Alison Arngrim (Nellie) and an assistant director passed out on their first day of shooting. Luckily, it never happened again. Does that mean that the producers got smarter about how hard they worked the cast? Or, was it that they became more aware of the danger signs of heat stroke? You would think the flushed faces and odd behaviors might tip them off.
Which star won a scholarship for his mad javelin throwing skills? Read on to find out.
4. Michael Landon’s exhibitionist side.
When you have a physique like Michael’s, it’s an obligation to show it off, isn’t it? He sure seemed to think so. You would never believe how skinny he was in his youth. He dubbed himself “Supermouse” claiming to weigh little more than 100 pounds when he entered college. He wasn’t taken seriously until he out threw an athlete nearly double his size in a javelin throwing contest. This won him a scholarship that unfortunately was short lived due to torn ligaments in his arm.
By the 1960’s, he had gained 60 pounds and had a daily workout that he religiously adhered to. Every lunch hour he could be found in the gym lifting weights, swimming, or using the punching bag. From a skinny lightweight to a well-toned beefcake, the ladies couldn’t get enough.
Click next to find out more about Michael’s exhibitionist side.
Fortunately for his female fans, he enjoyed showing off the body that he worked so hard for. Every chance he got, he was sure to take his shirt off. As a farmer doing such grueling work, he was bound to get hurt every once in a while, on the show. Rather than accept a plotline that included a broken arm or leg, he made sure it was always a rib or two. After all, he needed a legitimate reason for his shirt to be off so often. Rumors have it he even went commando under his prairie pants. This was not just the case on “Little House,” but on “Bonanza” too.
Some people say that he enjoyed a soak in the hot tub after his workouts. In the nude. Oh, Michael, you sure know how to keep the ladies blushing.
Keep reading to find out if the staff really did curl Alison’s hair the old-fashioned way for authenticity.
5. Nellie’s wig.
Do any of you out there curl your hair every day? Or, even once in a while? Then, you know how aggravating and time-consuming it can be. If you’re a dude, just imagine it, will ya? Now, just imagine how it would be back in the time before electric curling irons. For the first few weeks of filming, the staff wanted to keep an authentic feel for everything, including Nellie’s curls. So, they would hunker down and begin the process of heating the old-fashioned curling iron in the oven.
After grueling sessions of torturing Alison and manipulating her hair into the sausage curls they needed, it was time for a change. The staff decided that a wig would be easier and more humane. That decision must have been music to Alison’s ears.
What type of trauma did Alison end up experiencing at the hands of the crew? Click next to find out.
The song Alison joyously heard after learning she would be allowed to wear a wig quickly turned into one of doom. The wig was custom-made. Only the best for Nellie, of course. It’s too bad it was purchased long before warning labels became standard on potentially dangerous products. Nellie had to endure daily torture by way of a hairpiece. The wig could only be held in by a gigantic metal comb and what likely felt like thousands of bobby pins. The comb and pins often caused injury to Alison’s head leaving her bleeding and sore.
After daily head trauma, you would think the staff would find another solution. Apparently, Nellie’s curls were more important than Alison’s head as the staff continued to make her wear the wig. That would be grounds for a lawsuit for sure these days.
What morbid ending was in store for an alarmingly high number of cast members? Click next.
6. The cancer curse.
It is difficult not to become invested in the families on shows like “Little House on the Prairie.” Their family becomes your family, and even after the show ends, you want to know how things worked out for them. Sadly, it’s not always a happy ending. Since the show ended, six cast members have been diagnosed with cancer. That seems like an awfully high number, don’t you think?
Unfortunately, most of the cast who were diagnosed also perished from the disease. If you didn’t know better, you might even think it was a cursed set. Michael Landon had pancreatic cancer and Victor French had lung cancer. Both died at the young age of 54. Merlin Olsen died of mesothelioma, and Kevin Hagen succumbed to esophageal cancer. Miss Beadle (Charlotte Stewart) fought the hard battle and became a breast cancer survivor.
Could the beautiful California set have been making them sick? Read on to find out.
With so much cancer running rampant it was only a matter of time before speculation set in. The cast began turning to one another wondering if there could be a connection. It appeared that Michael and Victor’s cancer was pretty cut and dry seeing as how they were both smokers. Merlin’s cancer likely came from asbestos while working in construction. But, that still left three.
Were their cases just random or was there something more going on? After a little digging, the cast learned that Simi Valley is near Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory. In 1959, this site experienced one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in America. There is no proof that this site could be the cause for the high number of cancer incidents, but it makes you wonder.
Did “Little House on the Prairie” attract Oscar winners or produce Oscar winners? Read on.
7. Oscar winners on set.
Did you know that there was an abundance of Oscar winners that graced the set of “Little House on the Prairie?” It seems as though no one could resist getting in on the action. Or, maybe, being in on the action propelled them to new heights. The list of stars who came to the show after establishing themselves as winners begins with Ernest Borgnine who won his first Academy Award as a butcher in “Marty” in 1955. Patricia Neal won her first Oscar in 1963 as Alma, the housekeeper in “Hud.”
Yes, Burl Ives also appeared on “Little House!” This was after his best-supporting actor award for “The Big Country.” Red Buttons won his first award for playing an American soldier in “Sayonara,” and Eileen Heckart received her Oscar just shortly before “Little House” aired for her role in “Butterflies are Free.”
Which actor got his role on “Little House on the Prairie” because of his dad? Click next.
The stars to garner an Academy Award after their appearance on the show begins with Louis Gossett, Jr who won a best supporting actor role for “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Ralph Bellamy won his Oscar in 1987 for contributions to the acting profession. Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn also found himself on the prairie at the beginning of his career.
It was an uncredited role given to him by his dad, who was directing the episode. Sean went on to win best actor for his roles in “Mystic River” and “Milk.”
Keep reading to find out which cast member was known to be a bit overbearing both on and off screen.
8. Mrs. Oleson’s change.
Mrs. Oleson wasn’t exactly the town saint. She could be a bit cranky, even with her husband, Nels. That’s just show biz, though, right? It doesn’t mean she was like that in real life, does it? It turns out, she wasn’t the most likable person on or off the screen. Mrs. Oleson was played by Katherine MacGregor, who was a very strong, independent woman, and she let everyone know it. That didn’t work so well for Michael Landon who had a tendency to be a control freak.
As the writer, director, and producer of the series; he insisted on the direction of well, everything. Katherine had her own ideas of how the show could be better and wasn’t timid in bringing that to Michael’s attention. Needless to say, the two clashed quite often.
Click next to learn which original religion had Mrs. Oleson changing her tune.
Katherine didn’t seem to mind ruffling a few feathers now and then. Her favorite description of Mrs. Oleson came from a fan who wrote that she was the “touch of pepper in the sweetness of the show.” After the show had ended, Katherine left the big screen, opting for local theater productions. She began teaching acting lessons to children through the Wee Hollywood Vedanta Players. She also took up practicing the oldest religion in the world, Hinduism, where she studied the four goals of human life, ethics, prosperity, desires, and freedom.
Perhaps this was a turnaround for her? Nowadays she can be found meditating, eating a vegetarian diet, and advocating for a clean, healthy lifestyle. Whoever said people don’t change, clearly never met Katherine MacGregor.
Did Michael ever entertain leg lengthening surgery? Keep reading to find out more.
9. Pa was short.
Did you know Michael Landon was only five feet nine inches tall? That’s pretty small for a dude. As someone who had a fairly strong ego, this just would not do. He must not have known there were things he could have done! Science suggests that growing taller than your genes would otherwise permit is possible before your growth plates have closed. Back in his 20’s, if he had gotten more sleep, eaten healthier, taken supplements to stimulate growth, and done more inversion exercises, he could have added an inch or so. Instead, he was a big meat eater, partied all the time, and smoked. Not exactly a formula for growth. He could have also opted for leg lengthening surgery.
The only things physicians would need to do for that would be to break his legs, insert a rod, subject him to rigorous physical therapy, and hope for the best. He could have added a whole three inches to his frame! Yikes.
Read on to find out what Michael did to appear taller than his co-stars on camera.
Instead of choosing an extreme method of adding inches to his height, he made do with what he had. His shoes all had a four-inch lift on them. Heck, that’s more than most women’s high heels. If the lift wasn’t enough, he would stand on mounds or stairs in the shot to make him appear taller in scenes.
Who can forget that hat? It was intentionally large adding another three to four inches of height to his frame. Imagine the shock his fans must have gotten upon seeing him in person for their first time.
How did Ma avoid the dreaded, “I don’t want to eat that” from her kids at every meal? Read on.
10. Dinner out of a can.
Whenever the Ingalls were seen sitting around the dinner table ready to break bread, it was under the assumption that Ma had slaved away all day on the meal. Back then, meals were prepared based on what was available. She would announce the specialty of the day which could range from chicken to squirrel, or any number of meats.
Knowing their options were limited, there was no complaining from the kids over wanting something else. That was their meal, or they got nothing. After slaving away on their chores all day, giving up a meal was surely not something they were willing to do.
Keep reading to learn exactly how Ma was able to prepare so many different types of meals on the show.
Did Ma actually slave away at the stove? No, of course not. Their secret was the same plain old cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew for every meal. It didn’t matter which meal she was announcing, the only thing that ever got served was the stew. That is, except for those moments when you might witness one of the Ingalls munching on a bone.
In those cases, Kentucky Fried Chicken was to thank. Yup, their meals consisted of Dinty Moore and KFC. Doesn’t that sound like good wholesome eats to you?
Read on to find out how did Alison Arngrim’s lack of skateboarding skills helpedher scenes.
11. The cruel joke.
Does anyone remember the “Bunny” episode? It’s when Nellie gets thrown from the horse she previously won from Laura. Nellie made everyone believe she was paralyzed. The producers lucked out when Nellie appeared on the scene with a cast on her arm adding to the drama. Alison Arngrim had recently broken her arm in a skateboarding accident, so it was used as a part of the plotline. Don’t worry, though; a stunt double was used to film the scene where Nellie was shoved down the hill in her wheelchair by Laura.
Why would Laura do such a thing? Why, to prove that Nellie was faking her own paralysis, of course.
Keep reading to learn about the cruel practical joke that garnered authentic screams.
Alison’s broken arm proved to work in the producer’s favor in more than one way. There was a lot of practical joking that would happen on set, which likely led to the producer’s next decision. They did use a stunt double for the tumbling scene, but needed to film Alison screaming her way down the hill in the rickety old wheelchair. Alison may have done a fabulous job all on her own, but the producers wanted it to be a little more realistic.
The wheelchair was rigged to safety ropes keeping Alison from plummeting down the hill and injuring herself further. On the second take, the director yelled, “Action!” and a cast member immediately followed up with, “Oh no, the safety ropes broke!” Needless to say, Alison’s screams were purely authentic as she flew down the hill. How much do you want to bet there were a few choice words after that scene?
Was a baby really used as a battering ram during a pivotal scene? Read on.
12. The extreme death scene.
Hersha Parady played visiting family friend Alice Garvey on the show. Her most famous scene for many reasons was in the two-hour episode titled, “May We Make Them Proud.” This was the episode when the School for the Blind tragically burned down.
For reasons still unknown, Mary and her husband Adam saved their students and themselves without returning for their infant. It was Alice to the rescue, or was it? Alice goes to save the baby but realizes there is no way out. With the window as the only option, she is seen banging on the glass. When it doesn’t give way, panic sets in and according to many fans, she resorts to using the baby. Alice appears to use the infant as a battering ram in her attempts to shatter the window.
Why would Alice’s death scene be her favorite scene? Click next to find out more.
What exactly happened that resulted in Hersha’s decision to use the baby to break the glass? The window was meant to be break-away glass. Hersha was not known to be very gentle on set, having broken numerous props including a water pump. It’s suggested that the cast members made the decision not to use break away glass because she would have no trouble doing it on her own. Real fire was used in this scene, so when Hersha attempted to break the window, and it didn’t fall away, she panicked.
She was determined to get out of that room come hell or high water no matter what she had to use. To this day, that is still her favorite scene even though it ends in her death.
What did Michael Landon do to seriously affect his relationship with Melissa Gilbert?
13. Michael Landon’s affair with the makeup girl
During her childhood and teen years, Melissa Gilbert famously became very close with Michael Landon’s family. In some ways, her TV dad became a father figure in her life. She was especially close with Michael’s children, Leslie and Michael Jr., who was her date to prom. To further intertwine Melissa and Michael, Melissa’s mom and Michael’s wife, Lyn, were the best of friends, and the families often vacationed together. Sounds like a happy story, right? Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as well as it might seem.
One day, Melissa’s mother, Barbara, broke the news to her that her Auntie Lynn and Mike were separating, and things would never be the same between Melissa and Michael, again.
Michael didn’t only lose friends due to his affair, he also lost what? Keep reading!
When Melissa heard the news, she realized that Michael had been quite attentive to “that makeup girl” on the set. The dirty dog was messing around behind his wife’s back with Cindy Clerico, who was, indeed, the makeup girl. She was also 20 years younger than Michael, and the funny thing is, he married Lynn when Cindy was only a year old. The tabloids picked up on the affair and the separation, and Michael soon divorced Lynn and married Cindy. What did Melissa Gilbert think about this? She took the high road.
She remained professional with him on set, but ignored him outside of the set. In fact, she didn’t even speak to Michael again until her friend Leslie, Michaels’ daughter, was married in 1990, a full seven years after the series ended. Michael didn’t only lose friends and respect, either. He also lost a number of highly lucrative endorsements, including his Kodak contract, which he had for many years.
Which “Little House” cast member had their first kiss on set?
14. The chemistry, or lack thereof, of Laura and Manly
It was not unusual for the real Laura Ingalls to marry 27-year-old Almanzo Wilder at the tender age of 17, as that was the custom of the times. What WAS unusual, however, was for a green, innocent, 15-year-old Melissa Gilbert to act as if she was married to 23-year-old Dean Butler, who played Almanzo. In fact, her co-star was the first man she ever kissed, and it took place on a sound stage.
To make matters even worse, during the scene, Melissa’s mother was off-stage watching the entire thing, and wailing “My Baby,” the entire time. How embarrassing.
What did Dean Butler do to help Melissa out during this awkward stage?
Melissa Gilbert was seriously creeped out by kissing Butler, and it was even a worse thought for her to have to cuddle in bed with him…after, of course, they were “married” on the series. Remember, this is a 15-year-old with a 25-year-old man. Aren’t people arrested for this type of thing? Butler understood, fortunately, that this was awkward for Melissa, so he tried to make a joke to make things a bit easier to handle, and he sang “Strangers in the Night” into her ear right before the scene began.
Unfortunately, the effect on Gilbert was the exact opposite, and she was creeped out even more. After this, she begged Michael Landon to limit the interactions between Manly and Laura to hugs and cheek kisses.
Keep reading to find out what major “Little House” story line differed from the real life of the Ingalls?
15. The marriage of Mary and Adam
For those who love the “Little House” series, but might not be familiar with the book series, they might believe that Mary and Adam were married in real life. The truth is, however, is that Mary Ingalls never married in real life. The entire story, therefore, of both Mary and Adam meeting at the school for the blind, falling in love, and getting married before Adam regained his sight was a total fabrication.
find out what other fabrication the show made up about Mary!
Poor Mary. Much of her life on the show was simply made up, this is in addition to her fictional wedding to Adam Kendall. The other major thing that the show took liberties on with Mary was the fact that she was a successful teacher. In real life, though Mary attended a school for the blind for about seven years, she ultimately graduated and moved back in with Ma and Pa. She lived with them making fly nets for horses until they both were dead, and then she moved in with her younger sister, Grace.
She lived with Grace for a while, and then moved in with her other sister, Carrie, until she died at the age of 63 of pneumonia.