‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim Hid Their Braces on the Show

Michael Landon launched Little House on the Prairie in 1974 and recruited an ensemble cast that included many child actors. With the kids going through physical changes as the series went on, Landon had to come up with creative ways to hide certain features that weren’t readily available in the late 1800s. Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim, who played main characters Laura Ingalls and mean girl Nellie Oleson, had to endure a tiresome daily ritual when they got braces.

Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim in a scene of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

‘Little House’ was ‘hardly a play land’ for child actors

Charlotte Stewart starred as Walnut Grove school teacher Eva Beadle for the first four seasons of Little House. She had frequent scenes with the show’s younger set and noted that the environment was not all fun and games.

“For anyone who was a kid watching Little House on the Prairie, it was probably easy to imagine that the lives of the actors who played Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura, Nellie, or any of the others were really fun and exciting,” Stewart wrote in her memoir, Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me. “The truth is it was mixed.”

The Little House alum praised Landon for mentoring the kids and also sharing his love of jokes and pranks. Still, he treated everyone on set as a professional regardless of their age and expected them to work.

“For the most part though, life on the Little House set was hardly a play land,” Stewart remarked. “The show was run as a tight ship in all ways including expectations for the children. They were either shooting scenes, in their on-set school, or on a union mandated break. There was very little goof-around time except scripted moments in front of the camera.”

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‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast had a specific dental routine

With the younger Little House on the Prairie cast members inevitably going through physical changes as the series continued, certain adjustments or makeup tricks had to be utilized to reflect the show’s time period.

“Growing up on the set came with other unusual challenges,” Stewart wrote. “At one point both Alison and Melissa Gilbert had braces, which of course didn’t exist in the 1870s. The makeup people solved that by applying white candle wax to their braces, requiring the poor girls to spend the end of their day getting that gunk out of their teeth in addition to shedding the pounds of pancake makeup we all wore.”

While the makeup artists were experts in the industry, sometimes even the best techniques could encounter a mishap.

“If you keep an eye out, you can sometimes see the braces,” Stewart revealed. “There’s a scene in [season 3] ‘Bully Boys’ in which Melissa Gilbert sits up in bed at night with an idea she wants to tell Mary about. The light hits her teeth just right and you can see the glint of metal.”

The young actors of ‘Little House’ were professionals — except one

Stewart raved about the work ethic of the kids on the show and how they behaved as consummate professionals.

“Even with these and other things to deal with, the young actors all rose to the challenge,” she wrote. “They knew their lines and worked hard … no one messed around.”

The Little House star recalled one incident where a young guest star didn’t comply with the rules of the set and ended up getting the boot.

“I only remember one child actor in my four years on the show who was cast in a guest role, who showed up not knowing his lines and thinking this was a place to have some fun,” Stewart explained. “He was replaced after one day.”

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