‘Little House on the Prairie’: Secrets From the Set Revealed by the Actors Who Grew Up on the Show

Despite the fact that the TV series ended its network run 37 years ago — and the semi-autobiographical novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder began 88 years ago — the audience’s love for and fascination with Little House on the Prairie is running as strong as ever. Those tales of struggle and survival, and the dynamic between the Ingalls family, still resonate and, in fact, will be the subject of the new documentary, American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Premiering December 29 on PBS, the documentary will take an in depth look at the author’s life and her legacy, both of which have impacted so many, particularly the show’s cast. While Michael Landon, who played patriarch Charles Ingalls and served as series executive producer and frequent director, is no longer with us, most of the others are and they seem to have nothing but the fondest memories of working together.

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Humorously, Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, admits that at the outset she had no idea who Michael was when she auditioned for the show. “I had never seen Bonanza,” she tells Closer of the actor’s Western series, which ran from 1959 to 1973, the year before Little House premiered. “But I walked into the audition room and he smiled at me. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a star.’ I could palpably feel that this man was different. I just felt instantly safe and comfortable.”

Another memory that Melissa has of her first day on the set was Michael pointing out that there were two Melissas in the cast, the other being Melissa Sue Anderson, who plays Mary Ingalls Kendall — and whose nickname was Missy. “Michael took me aside and asked, ‘So, what’s your nickname? What would you like us to call you?’ And I said, ‘Well, how about Moesha?’ He looked at me and laughed and he said, ‘Moesha? Where did you hear that name?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I heard it somewhere. I think it’s kind of  cool’ and he said, ‘Honey, Moesha is a name of an old Jewish Man. We’re just going to call you ‘Half Pint.’ And there’s a whole group of people that I worked with so many years ago, who will not call me anything but Half Pint. And that’s perfectly fine with me.”

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For nine seasons, the Ingalls family inspired viewers with their strength and decency as they struggled to build a life on the American frontier. Not surprisingly, the behind the scenes story of Little House on the Prairie was much less perilous for the young viewers, but did have plenty of love, laughter and a family feeling.

Please scroll down for more from the cast.