‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Answers ‘One of the Most Frequently Asked Questions’ About the Deadly Fire Episode

Michael Landon assembled an ensemble cast when he created Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Putting Melissa Gilbert in a lead role as his onscreen daughter, Laura Ingalls, Landon based the series on the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder but took plenty of creative license during the show’s nine seasons. Gilbert shared some insight from a legendary episode that left viewers shaken.

Melissa Sue Anderson and Linwood Boomer of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Sue Anderson and Linwood Boomer of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | Bruce Bermilen/NBCU Photo Bank

‘Little House’ season 6 — ‘May We Make Them Proud’

In the sixth season of Little House, the episode “May We Make Them Proud” featured Albert Ingalls (Matthew Labyorteaux) experimenting with smoking in the basement of the School for the Blind. The building was also where Mary Ingalls Kendall (Melissa Sue Anderson) and her husband Adam (Linwood Boomer) lived with their baby son.

When the school later erupts in a fire due to remaining embers from the pipe Albert used, the residents escape from the spreading flames unaware that the baby was still in his crib. When wife and mother Alice Garvey (Hersha Parady) races to rescue the infant, she tries to escape the inferno by what appears to be an attempt to break a window by using the child as a “battering ram”.

The two end up perishing in the fire, leaving Mary in a devastated trance and Alice’s husband Jonathan (Merlin Olson) and son Andy (Patrick Labyorteaux) grief-stricken.

Fans were stunned by the tragic storyline and vividly remember the episode decades after it aired in 1980.

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Melissa Gilbert sets the record straight on ‘Little House’ episode

Gilbert maintained her starring role on Little House for all nine seasons of its run. Still associated with her iconic character, Gilbert has received her fair share of questions about the show and noted that fans continue to ask her about the tragic outcome of “May We Make Them Proud”. She raised the topic of the episode in a 2014 book.

“Okay, I am going to end this section by addressing one of the most frequently asked questions,” the Little House alum wrote in My Prairie Cookbook. “In the season 6 episode ‘May We Make Them Proud’, Albert accidentally sets the blind school on fire, and Mrs. Garvey and Mary’s baby are trapped inside. People ask all the time, ‘Why did Mrs. Garvey use Mary’s baby as a battering ram against the window to try to escape the fire?’ “

Pointing out how Landon often went way outside the real-life stories from Wilder’s books, Gilbert explained that the entire plot line was fabricated.

“Here’s my final work on the subject,” she remarked. “There was no Mrs. Garvey. Mary Ingalls never married, so there could never have been a baby. There was no Albert to start the fire in the blind school that didn’t really exist. … It was all made up! All of it, from the whole cloth.”

Matthew Labyorteaux of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Matthew Labyorteaux of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

‘Little House’ alum took a closer look at the scene

For fans who are still troubled by the harrowing scene, Gilbert recommended zeroing in on certain aspects of Alice Garvey’s actions.

“If you look really, really closely, you can see that Mrs. Garvey is using her own arm and elbow to try to break the glass,” the former Little House star shared. “Yes, it’s the arm that’s holding the baby, but it’s still her own arm. It’s a really scary moment — acted perfectly, in my opinion. It never even occurred to me that she had used the baby to break the window. Not until all of you started asking me about it!”

Gilbert reiterated that the entire storyline was manufactured by Little House producers, right down to the location of the bogus blaze.

“The bottom line is NO,” she wrote. “Made-up Mrs. Garvey did not use Mary’s made-up baby as a battering ram to break the window of the burning made-up school for the blind!”

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