‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Once Explained Why She ‘Detached’ From Her Co-Stars

Melissa Sue Anderson played Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie for seven seasons. She portrayed Laura Ingalls’ (Melissa Gilbert) eldest sister. While they were sisters on-screen, both Anderson and Gilbert shared that they didn’t have a friendly relationship when they stopped shooting. 

In a 1981 interview, Anderson once shared what caused the disconnect between her and many of her co-stars

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melisssa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendal
Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melisssa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall|Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Sue Anderson often kept to herself 

Anderson landed her spot on Little House on the Prairie before she was a teenager. Before getting her big break, the actor appeared on shows like The Brady Bunch. Although there were other kids on the Little House on the Prairie set, Anderson’s cast members recall her inability to open up to them.

“There was a distance to her, a coldness, though sometimes I wonder if it was just that I never knew how to get her to let me in,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “She wasn’t easy to get along with. I think her reserve came across on-screen and was certainly apparent offscreen.”

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Gilbert continued to write that Anderson possibly kept her distance from everyone because of her mother. Her mother frequently visited the set, and Gilbert said she often kept Anderson to herself. While they were taping Little House on the Prairie, Gilbert recalled Anderson’s mom having a license plate that read, “3MISSY,” which was her daughter’s nickname. 

“Melissa and her mother were more contained, more controlled, more private, more connected. She was her mother’s universe,” Gilbert said.

Why Melissa Sue Anderson ‘detached’ from her co-stars

In 1981, Anderson opened up about how she navigated working with her Little House on the Prairie co-stars. At the time, Anderson had announced that she was leaving the show after seven years. She expressed that she was frustrated with where her character’s story was going. Throughout the series, Mary experienced blindness, losing a child in a fire, and having a miscarriage.

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To get through her frustration, Anderson told People that she needed to isolate herself from her cast. Because of the long hours they experienced, Anderson said she wanted to avoid any chances of on-set conflicts. 

“I’m calculating, self-sufficient, reserved, and I enjoy being alone, Anderson said. “Staying detached is the only way I can work with people that close and that long and not have arguments. I’m not angry—I just take my career very seriously.”

How Melissa Sue Anderson feels about her ‘Little House on the Prairie’ co-stars

Anderson released a memoir called The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House in 2010. In the book, she reflected on her time on Little House on the Prairie and the relationships she formed along the way. Although she shared how Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon affected her life, she didn’t have much to say about her on-screen siblings. 

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During an interview with AJC’s blog, Anderson shared why Gilbert wasn’t a significant part of her book. 

“I honestly do not have a lot of memories of the two of us,” she said. “We were very, very different.”

Although she didn’t have much to say about Gilbert, she applauded another of her former castmates. When asked about Arngrim, Anderson said her role as Nellie still resonates with the show’s fans. 

“She made a career being nasty Nelly,” Anderson said. “She’s completely perpetuated that. She was a nice girl, kind of shy in the beginning. But she got through it. She was very zany, very off the wall. She and Melissa got along quite well.”