‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Charlotte Stewart Won Over Michael Landon for the Role of Miss Beadle
Michael Landon had to hire an ensemble cast when he created Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Taking on the lead role of husband and father Charles Ingalls, Landon recruited actors from varying backgrounds to portray his family and neighbors for the historical drama.
When Charlotte Stewart tried out for the part of Walnut Grove’s school teacher Eva Beadle, she used a certain strategy to convince Landon she was the right pick.
Charlotte Stewart conducted her ‘Little House on the Prairie’ audition like a classroom
When Landon collaborated with Ed Friendly to get Little House on the Prairie up and running, they recruited Stewart for an audition after she had a guest appearance on Landon’s former show, Bonanza. Since she wasn’t familiar with the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder that the series was based on, Stewart didn’t have much material with which to prepare.
“Having never read the books, I knew little about the character, other than she was a teacher who worked in Walnut Grove’s one-room schoolhouse,” Stewart wrote in her memoir Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me. “With so little to go on, it can be challenging to breathe life into the dialogue on the page but I’d learned to go with my gut.”
When Stewart was called in to read in front of Landon and Friendly, she asked if she could rearrange the room to be more like a classroom. She proceeded with the audition treating the two show creators as students.
“I scooted Michael and Ed out from behind the big desk and arranged everyone like they were my pupils,” the Little House alum explained. “I scolded them for talking and laughing and making noise – I mandated that they all be quiet and mind their manners while I ran my lines. Michael was giggling, and I figured if nothing else I’d broken up their afternoon with a little comic relief.”
Michael Landon had ‘eyeball-drawing magnetism’
Stewart recalled first entering the room for her audition and seeing Landon, Friendly, and other show producers. But only one person was getting her full attention.
“When it was my turn, I went into the office, said hi to Ed Friendly, the show’s producer, and to some of the assistant producers,” she remembered. “But it’s a funny thing, with all those other people, my eyes went straight to Mike Landon.”
Comparing the late actor to current A-listers, Stewart saw Landon as having that “It” factor.
“His presence owned the room,” she wrote of Landon. “Some people just have that kind of enigmatic eyeball-drawing magnetism, and he had it in a way only a few people do. I met both Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington years later, and they had it too. What is that?”
Charlotte Stewart didn’t dress the part for her ‘Little House’ audition
Stewart recalled other potential candidates for the role donning period garb for their audition, yet she decided to go with her usual style.
“[I] found a waiting room filled with actresses in prairie dresses, bonnets, and other outfits of the period,” the Little House star remarked. “On this occasion, I hadn’t bothered to track down the right dress or any of that. I just showed up in one of my usual flowy, flowery, running-around-Santa-Monica outfits. … These guys had seen my work. Part of being a professional, in my opinion, is to let the work speak for itself.
After learning that she got the part of Miss Beadle, Stewart was stunned to find out it was more than just a one-time gig.
“What I’d thought was just a quickie ‘Movie of the Week,’ was instead slated to be a major television series,” she explained of the Little House role. “They wanted me to sign a four-year contract which guaranteed seven out of 13 episodes per season. I believe my jaw actually, physically dropped.”