Little House on the Prairie featured the daily challenges faced by the Ingalls family in the late 1800s. Based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series focused on faith and family as the means to getting through tough times.
Starring Melissa Sue Anderson as oldest daughter Mary and Melissa Gilbert as her little sister Laura, the show was created by Michael Landon, who also starred as the family patriarch Charles Ingalls. In Anderson’s memoir, she described Landon (whom she often called “Mike”) as a strong authority figure, yet recalled an incident where her co-star didn’t heed his directions.
‘Little House’ stars got invites to a party off set
In her 2010 book The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, Anderson shared that she and Gilbert were invited to the 12th birthday party of Landon’s daughter, Leslie. The celebration included a trip to the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park, that would follow a sleepover at the Landon home. Anderson described the actor’s house as a “stately English Tudor complete with motor court.”
“It had seven bedrooms and many formal living areas, as well as a large gourmet kitchen and servant’s quarters,” Anderson wrote of Landon’s estate. “There was a grand formal staircase and a small back staircase that led from the kitchen directly up to the bedrooms.”
Anderson noted that Landon’s kids were very well-mannered and down to earth, rather than being spoiled by their obvious affluence.
“This was a normal family,” the former Little House on the Prairie star remarked. “No one behaved as though they were better than anyone else. Mike and [Landon’s wife] Lynn were good parents, and their kids were exceedingly nice and polite.”
Ingalls girls headed to Magic Mountain
The day after the slumber party, the group of girls headed to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia via limo. Landon had some specific instructions for his TV daughters before heading into the park.
“Mike had asked that Melissa Gilbert and I bring hats and wear clothing that would disguise us a bit,” Anderson recalled, “so that we wouldn’t look so much the way we looked on television, and Leslie would be able to enjoy her birthday in relative peace.”
Anderson complied, attempting to conceal her identity as best as a 12-year-old could manage.
“Because I always wore my hair down on the show, I put it back in a ponytail and pulled my Budweiser bucket hat with fringe down over my forehead,” she wrote. “Sunglasses on kids, especially back then, looked really dumb and actually attracted attention, so we didn’t wear them. Mike did, with a bucket hat pulled down over that famous hair.”
Melissa Gilbert caused some unwanted attention
Apparently, Gilbert forgot Landon’s instructions about going incognito at the theme park.
“I can’t remember if Melissa [Gilbert] did anything with her hair,” Anderson explained. “But she certainly did not wear a cap or any other kind of hat, or clothing to try and conceal her ‘Laura-like’ appearance. She paraded around Magic Mountain smiling, making direct eye contact with everyone as if to say ‘Look at me!'”
Gilbert’s TV dad was less than thrilled with her behavior, though Anderson didn’t think it was purposely done in rebellion.
“Mike was furious,” the Little House alum recalled. “I don’t know what she was thinking. I’m sure that it wasn’t malicious, but it pretty much foiled any plan we had of going incognito and not being recognized.”
Anderson recalled the “no-win situation” this put Landon in, where he wanted to be kind to fans by signing autographs, but he needed his priority to be on his children for the day.
“He… signed autographs and posed for pictures as politely as possible,” Anderson wrote. “He tried to explain to the quickly gathering crowd that he was out with his kids, and could they please have some time to themselves.”
Little House on the Prairie’s last episode aired in March 1983.