‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Michael Landon and Richard Thomas of ‘The Waltons’ Share a Surprising Connection

In the 1970s, Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons were two of the most popular shows on television. Both were depictions of family life during supposedly simpler times — rural Minnesota during the late 19th century in the case of Little House and Depression-era Virginia for The Waltons. But the shows have something else in common. Richard Thomas, one of the lead actors on The Waltons would eventually go on to play Charles “Pa” Ingalls, a character made famous by Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie.  

Michael Landon played Charles Ingalls in ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie
Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank

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Little House on the Prairie premiered in 1974 on NBC. The series — which would go on to run for nine seasons — was based on a series of popular children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The books were inspired by her own life growing up on the American frontier in the decades after the Civil War. 

Bonanza star Michael Landon played Charles “Pa” Ingalls in the series, the father of Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson). Landon also directed many episodes of the show and was one of the show’s executive producers. Landon stopped appearing on Little House after season 8 and later starred in Highway to Heaven. He died in 1991. 

Richard Thomas played John-Boy Walton on ‘The Waltons’ 

Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas in The Waltons
Ralph Waite as John Walton and Richard Thomas as John Boy Walton in The Waltons |CBS via Getty Images

From 1972 to 1977, Richard Thomas played John-Boy Walton on The Waltons. John-Boy was the oldest son of John Walton (Ralph Waite) and Olivia Walton (Michael Learned). When the series begins he is 17 years old and dreaming of becoming a writer. As the show progresses, he eventually leaves home, attends college, and becomes a published author. (The character was played by Robert Wrightman in later seasons of the show.) 

After leaving The Waltons in 1977, Thomas continued to act. He played the older Bill Denbrough in the 1990 TV miniseries It and appeared in episodes of Law & Order, Touched by an Angel, The Practice, and many other shows. One of his most memorable recent roles was as FBI agent Frank Gaad on FX’s The Americans.  

Richard Thomas also played Charles Ingalls 

For fans of the Little House on the Prairie series, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Pa. But he’s not the only actor to portray the character over the years. In fact, Thomas himself stepped into the Charles Ingalls role in 2000 for the CBS television movie Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and its 2002 sequel, Beyond the Prairie, Part 2.  

The former star of The Waltons played Laura’s father in the adaption, which covers the last three books in the Little House series: The Long Winter, Little Town of the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years, as well as the posthumously published The First Four Years. Meredith Monroe played Laura and Waltor Goggins played Laura’s husband Almanzo Wilder.  Unfortunately, the TV movies aren’t available to stream, though a DVD version is available to purchase Amazon. Reviewers on that site had a largely favorable reaction to the movie. Several said it hewed closer to the stories in the book than the earlier TV show. 

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