‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why ‘Mary Ingalls’ Actor Melissa Sue Anderson Turned Down This Brooke Shields Classic

Melissa Sue Anderson captivated viewers when she played Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. The role landed Anderson an Emmy nomination, as well as critical acclaim. In 1981, she decided to leave the series after seven seasons. 

Following her exit, Anderson shared that she was offered many opportunities outside of Mary. However, she said she couldn’t fathom playing one role that eventually went to Brooke Shields

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- "The Wedding" Episode 9 -- Aired 11/6/78 -- Pictured: (l-r) Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, unknown
Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls|NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal

Melissa Sue Anderson wanted more challenging roles

Anderson booked the role of Mary Ingalls when she was 11. Little House on the Prairie executive producer and star Michael Landon picked Anderson as the eldest Ingalls sister. Although her character didn’t have much to do at first, Landon made sure that Anderson worked her acting skills on the show. As the series progressed, Mary went blind, had a miscarriage, and lost a baby in a fire. 

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During a 1981 interview with People, Anderson shared why she left Little House on the Prairie. She expressed that she wanted to stretch out more as an actor. Toward the end of her contract, Anderson said she grew tired of the extreme storylines her character endured. 

“It’s no fun,” she said. “When they run low on story ideas, someone says, ‘What can we do to Melissa Sue that’s really awful?’” 

Melissa Sue Anderson turned down ‘The Blue Lagoon’

Following her exit from Little House on the Prairie, Anderson searched for other opportunities. During her time on the show, she guest-starred on several TV series and movies. However, she didn’t book a recurring role like her NBC character. 

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While she wanted to explore new roles, Anderson admitted that one movie wasn’t for her. Anderson turned down playing Emmeline Lestrange in the 1980’s film, The Blue Lagoon. The part eventually went to Shields. 

Even though The Blue Lagoon made Shields a star, Anderson doesn’t regret turning down the iconic film. 

“[I] didn’t regret it,” she said of turning down the role. “Brooke was beautiful—she went with the scenery—but it wasn’t right for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do nudity further down the line if it was necessary.”

Melissa Sue Anderson wanted to venture out of ‘teen roles’ 

In addition to being uncomfortable with the nude scenes in The Blue Lagoon, Anderson had another reason for turning down the movie. Anderson said she wanted to play mature roles to be taken seriously as an actor. The Mary Ingalls actor said she didn’t want to get stuck as a teenager for her entire career. 

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To ensure that she booked adult-friendly roles, Anderson told People that she hired talent manager Jay Bernstein. Before Anderson, Bernstein worked with stars like Farrah Fawcett, Three’s Company star Suzanne Somers, and former First Daughter Patti Davis. 

“I told him no teen roles, no posters,” Anderson said, adding that she didn’t “want what Shaun Cassidy gets. I am a serious actress. I’ve already played a 22-year-old. Why go backward?”