‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Said Karen Grassle Was the ‘Best Part’ of This ‘Awful Episode’
The family drama Little House on the Prairie showcased life in rural Minnesota in the late 1800s. Based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series starred Michael Landon and Karen Grassle as Charles and Caroline Ingalls raising their daughters in the small town of Walnut Grove. On the air from 1974 to 1983, the historical drama often delivered quality episodes that were both heartwarming and authentic.
Playing the oldest Ingalls daughter Mary, Melissa Sue Anderson considered one storyline early in the series to be a bit below par.
‘The Voice of Tinker Jones’
In her 2010 memoir, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, Anderson described an episode in season 1 that involved the townspeople and a church bell.
“A mute metal crafter who rides around in a wagon loaded with hanging pots and kettles is the catalyst for ‘The Voice of Tinker Jones’,” Anderson wrote of the plot line. “Our Reverend Alden, always played to perfection by the late character actor Dabbs Greer, suggests that a special collection be taken toward the purchase of a church bell.”
When the haughty Mrs. Oleson offers to pay for the bell, many community members disagree with the gesture, prompting a town-wide argument. When a compromise amongst the adults can’t be met, Reverend Alden tries to serve as mediator.
“Poor Reverend Alden thinks that it is best that he leave his ministering duties in Walnut Grove,” Anderson explained, adding, “to put an end to this ridiculous (my word) conflict.”
Karen Grassle helped salvage ‘Stinker Jones’
Giving props to her co-star, Anderson credited Grassle for her performance in the not-so-stellar episode.
“Karen Grassle seems to be the best part of this awful episode,” the Little House alum remarked. “She is great in a scene with Mike [Landon] where she is ranting about being verbally abused by the horrible husband of one of her friends. It’s just a short scene, but Karen really made the most of it.”
Revealing a nickname for the episode created by the crew, Anderson placed her trust in their director, who brought along his now-famous son for the day.
“If anyone could breathe life into ‘Stinker Jones,’ as the crew called it, Leo Penn was the guy,” Anderson wrote. “In a scene with all of us kids and Tinker Jones, a prominently placed Sean Penn was working as an extra. … I presume that it was fun for him to be able to come to work with his dad.”
‘Little House’ kids ‘sweated off pounds’
Toward the end of the episode, Tinker recruited the Walnut Grove kids to help him make the bell. The group collected all the metal and tin they could find to melt down in a huge fire. Anderson recalled the toasty temps while filming those segments.
“Between the blazing sun, the big arc lamps… and that fire, it’s not hard to see how hot we all were in those scenes,” the Little House star commented. “We sweated off pounds, for sure. When I said that I thought Sean Penn probably had fun, I certainly hope he did, because he sure earned his paycheck that week. We all did.”
Anderson was glad to see the episode wrap, sharing her gratitude for the show’s patient fans.
“Tinker Jones crafts a beautiful bell for the church and brings our little town back together again,” she explained. “Luckily our loyal viewers ‘kept the faith’ and stuck with us. Well, they can’t all be Shakespeare, can they?”