‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Michael Landon and Kent McCray Scared Melissa Gilbert and the Kids One Halloween

The cast and crew of Little House on the Prairie became a family while filming nine seasons of the classic series. Filming in remote locations, they often only had each other. Michael Landon was known for playing pranks on the cast. One Halloween, he enlisted production manager Kent McCray to give the kids in the cast a good scare. 

Michael Landon with dirt on his face and shirt
Michael Landon | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, shared the story of Landon and McCray’s Halloween prank. On the April 18 episode of her Gilbert & Busfield podcast, Gilbert told her husband, Timothy Busfield, and listeners about the big scare. 

Michael Landon encouraged the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ kids to go out for Halloween

Little House on the Prairie filmed many scenes on location in Sonora, California. Red Hills Movie Ranch was one of the show’s standard locations, and the cast and crew stayed at a motel. There weren’t houses around for the young cast to go trick or treating, but the production still gave the kids a Halloween experience. Then Landon had another idea. 

Little House on the Prairie: Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert ride in a covered wagon
L-R: Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank

“This Halloween we did our trick or treating in the motel,” Gilbert said. “Behind the motel in Sonora was this really old graveyard on a hill with dilapidated, crumbling tombstones. So when we went to Michael’s room, he said, ‘You guys should go up to the graveyard in the dark on Halloween. That would be really scary.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s go! Come on!’

Michael Landon prepared to scare the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ kids 

Gilbert described her Halloween excursion. It sounded like a perfectly quaint Little House on the Prairie episode. It sounds like it would have been a perfectly spooky Halloween treat even without Landon’s extra scare, but we’ll get to that. 

“So we all went trudging up the hill towards the graveyard,” Gilbert said. “As we got closer to it, you could start to see in the moonlight, it was really eerie. You could see the graves and the gravestones and all the adults stayed back watching because they knew what was going to happen.”

Kent McCray was Michael Landon’s henchman

Gilbert caught onto the ruse before her costars did. She would have been older than Sidney and Rachel Lindsay Greenbush. Gilbert also recognized the crew member.

“We’re walking up towards these things and from behind one of the tombstones rose this huge white ghost going ‘Ooooooooh,’” Gilbert said. “The ghost raised his arms and the kids started running, I mean like so fast some of them by me but I kind of kept going. I saw this stomach under the sheet. The sheet came up and there was this big Tummy. Kent McCray had a big tummy back then. It was McCray.”

Kent McCray sits at the Autry Museum
Kent McCray | Brandon Williams/Getty Images

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Even though she recognized him, McCray still got Gilbert. She admits that recognizing McCray didn’t spoil the scare, or the fun. This actually sounds rather mild compared to Landon’s pranks involving live frogs and fire

“Michael sent us up there to get scared,” Gilbert said. “I still, even though I knew it was him, it was a combination of scared but I knew it wasn’t real but I still was. So I turned and ran. I got about three steps and went, ‘Wait, that was Kent.’ Then I just fell laughing.”

Source: Gilbert & Busfield podcast