Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale… of strife behind the scenes of Gilligan’s Island. Yep, things weren’t always peachy on set – or after the director called cut. Who knew!? And even if you’ve laughed along with Lovey for decades, you won’t have heard some of these crazy secrets about the castaways and the stars who played them.
40. Dawn Wells wasn’t allowed to sing
Dawn Wells may have had many strings to her bow, but singing wasn’t one of them. The actress was so tone-deaf, in fact, that Jackie DeShannon was recruited to redub her parts in songs such as “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” The only time you heard Wells’ true singing voice was in an episode when Mary Ann’s caterwauling was part of the narrative. Yikes.
39. Natalie Schafer really was a millionaire
Playing Lovey may not have been much of a stretch for Natalie Schafer. That’s because the actress was already a very wealthy woman when she landed the part of Thurston Howell III’s spoiled wife. Schafer and her husband had built their fortune in the post-war real estate market in Beverly Hills. No word on whether the couple got an oil company as a wedding present, though.
38. Gilligan’s first name remains a source of debate
Ever wondered what Gilligan’s first name is? Well, although there’s no official answer, Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, did call the hero Willy in an press release. But hold up! Later, Schwartz revealed that the only characters to be called by their surnames on screen were the super-rich Howells. So, maybe Gilligan’s first name is… Gilligan?
37. Two major characters don’t appear in the opening season credits
When Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells saw the show’s opening credits for the first time, they may have been bummed. Why? Well, do you remember the words of that iconic theme tune? While the rest of the show’s characters are individually named in the lyrics, the Professor and Mary Ann are simply referred to as “the rest.” That’s the case in the first season, anyway, but thankfully it was corrected after Bob Denver spoke out.
36. The story continues with a dark satire
If you’re a Gilligan’s Island purist, get ready to grumble. In 2003 Esquire’s Tom Carson reimagined the characters’ backstories – and they make for pretty grim reading. Gilligan’s Wake sees Mary Ann embark on an affair, Lovey admit that her marriage was a front and the Professor play a part in creating the atomic bomb that rained down on Nagasaki. As for poor Gilligan? Well, he spends time in a psychiatric unit undergoing electroshock therapy.
35. There were plenty of tie-ins with other TV shows
Gilligan’s Island may have ended in 1967, but that didn’t stop its characters from popping up on other TV shows years later. In the 1980s, the Skipper, the Professor, Mary Ann and Gilligan all rocked up to ALF for an episode in which the extra-terrestrial becomes infatuated with the show. Several cast members also appeared in a scene in Roseanne. Oh, and Denver reprised his most famous role for a McDonald’s commercial. Yep, it’s Gilligan you see biting into some French fries!
34. Schafer did all her own stunts
Natalie Schafer proved that age wasn’t nothing but a number during her time as Lovey. Yes, even though the actress was in her 60s, she was still game to do her own stunts. Lovey plunging into quicksand or a lake? That really is Schafer risking life and limb. The star once claimed that swimming and eating ice cream helped keep her trim.
33. Several bloopers made it into the final cut
If you’ve watched Gilligan’s Island over and over again, you may just have caught one or two bloopers. In “The Friendly Physician,” for instance, parts of LA hover over the trees of the supposedly deserted island. The very single Gilligan can also be seen sporting Denver’s wedding ring in “They’re Off and Running.” Oops!
32. Schafer lied about her age
Natalie Schafer and her on-screen husband Jim Backus may have looked the same age, but we have some shocking news for you. The Lovey actress was actually a whole 12 years older than Backus during filming. Scandal! But Schafer did everything she could to make this less obvious. Even her contract makes that clear by demanding she was never shot too closely. That way, viewers were less likely to spot her wrinkles.
31. Jayne Mansfield nearly played Ginger
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Tina Louise as Ginger. But, believe it or not, she very nearly lost out on the role to one of the era’s biggest sex symbols. Producers initially approached Jayne Mansfield to play the fictional movie star, but the blonde bombshell was advised by her third husband to pass on the opportunity.
30. It initially had to compete with a similar sitcom
CBS president Jim Aubrey wasn’t exactly the sitcom’s biggest fan. That whole island thing? He didn’t like it and thought the show would be better off set at a ritzy vacation spot. And to prove his point, Aubrey commissioned another sitcom with that exact premise. But The Baileys of Balboa was taken off the air after just one season. Following that flop, Aubrey also lost his job.
29. Jerry Van Dyke was the first choice to play Gilligan
Bob Denver may have made the Gilligan role his own, but he wasn’t the producers’ first choice. They wanted Jerry Van Dyke instead. But Dick’s younger bro turned the show down after claiming that the pilot script was “the worst thing [he’d] ever read.” Mind you, Van Dyke did go on to appear in the ridiculous My Mother the Car, so perhaps he didn’t have the best judgment.
28. Russell Johnson was once a military man
Russell Johnson had quite the career before Gilligan’s Island. But, to begin with, it didn’t involve TV or the movies. Straight after high school, the star actually joined the U.S. Army Air Force as an aviation cadet. And in a neat twist, he used the money he received from the GI Bill to fund his acting classes – and find fame as the Professor.
27. The show appeared to confuse some of its viewers
Some of Gilligan’s Island viewers seemed to have trouble, well, separating fiction from fact. Yep, when the show first aired, the American Coast Guard was accosted by concerned citizens asking them to help the “stranded” Gilligan. One particular message reportedly read, “Why not send one U.S. destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?” Because it’s just a TV show, Karen?
26. Carroll O’Connor auditioned for The Skipper
Carroll O’Connor finally became a household name after bringing the grouchy Archie Bunker to life. He nearly got his big break several years earlier, though, when he auditioned to play the Skipper in Gilligan’s Island. And while O’Connor did make the shortlist, producers were concerned that the actor’s portrayal of the character wasn’t likeable enough. That’s just as well, as we can’t imagine the Skipper ever saying the word “groinacologist.”
25. John Williams composed the original theme tune
Now, John Williams is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood composers of all time. Back when he was just plain Johnny Williams, though? He was snubbed by the producers of Gilligan’s Island. Yes, the music legend actually provided the show’s theme tune for the pilot episode! His contribution was replaced, however, before the sitcom made it to air.
24. The coconut cups were real
Let’s be honest: authenticity wasn’t one of Gilligan’s Island’s strong points. But from time to time, what you saw on screen was the real thing. In the early episodes, for instance, producers used genuine hollowed-out coconuts for the characters to drink from. These homemade props soon started to look a little grubby, though, and so they were eventually substituted with something more artificial.
23. The Professor was nearly given a nephew
The Gilligan’s Island producers initially toyed with giving the Professor a young family member on the desert island – a nephew, to be exact. Uncle Professor? It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Luckily, the bigwigs dismissed the idea, as they already had a big kid in the cast in the shape of Gilligan himself.
22. Schafer only signed up for the free vacation
Schafer has admitted that she only signed up for the Gilligan’s Island pilot because she was getting a free Hawaii vacation. That’s a woman after our own hearts! But, sadly, the ploy backfired. Once the show got picked up for a full season, the New Yorker had to move to Los Angeles – and she wasn’t happy. She cried so much, in fact, that the folks around her at the time thought there had been a death in the family.
21. The characters represented the seven sins
Of all the inspirations for Gilligan’s Island, this one is definitely the strangest. You see, Sherwood Schwartz claimed that each character was intended to represent one of the seven deadly sins from the Bible. So, alongside the sloth-like Gilligan, the greed and gluttony of the Howells and lustful Ginger, there was also the envious Mary Ann, proud Professor and wrathful Skipper. Actually, that kind of makes sense…
20. Tina Louise believed that the show damaged her career
Apparently, Tina Louise’s agent told her that Gilligan’s Island was her very own star vehicle. The actress got quite the shock, then, when she realized she had to share equal screen time with six other cast members. Even worse, Louise is said to have repeatedly disagreed with producers over her character. And to top it all off? The screen legend later said that the show had destroyed her career. Oof.
19. And the actress wasn’t popular on set
Louise’s attempt to distance herself from the show kinda explains why she wasn’t exactly a popular figure during filming. According to Bob Denver, while the rest of the Gilligan’s Island cast used to laugh and joke together in between takes, Louise was far happier being on her own.
18. Jim Backus was a cheapskate
Jim Backus was far more popular on set than Louise, even though he had a reputation for being stingy. How stingy? Well, Dawn Wells claimed that the actor regularly took her and Natalie Schafer out for lunch. When the check came, though, Backus would oh-so-conveniently find that he’d forgotten his wallet.
17. The pilot shoot was interrupted by the death of JFK
Gilligan’s Island’s cast and crew were forced to take a break from filming the pilot after the shocking death of JFK. Following the tragic assassination, the Hawaii navy base the team were shooting at was shut down for 48 hours by the U.S. government. It’s why you see a half-mast flag flying at the beginning of those first season episodes.
16. Mary Ann was originally a secretary called Bunny
Castmembers weren’t the only thing to change when Gilligan’s Island finally got the green light. And we could have had a very different show if the producers had run with the initial plans for Mary Ann and Ginger. Both of them were originally meant to be secretaries, you see. Mary Ann even had another name. To begin with, she was called Bunny.
15. The Pacific Ocean lagoon was actually in California
That uncharted Pacific Ocean island? Not real, sadly! After the original plan to film in Malibu was nixed, CBS ended up constructing a set for the show on its Studio City lot in California. And if you were lucky enough to visit the location, you could have played castaway yourself. The set survived for over 30 years before becoming a parking lot.
14. Producers turned down an unknown Raquel Welch
Raquel Welch was one of several actresses who auditioned for the part of Mary Ann, but producers felt she wasn’t suitably wholesome. Welch had the last laugh, though. Just a year before Gilligan’s Island was canceled, she landed a major contract with 20th Century Fox – and the rest is movie history.
13. Dawn Wells made a savvy business deal
Dawn Wells not only saw off a future Hollywood legend to play Mary Ann, but she also ensured she would forever be paid for doing so. Yes, thanks to some shrewd business sense, the actress was the only cast member who asked for more than just a fee and short-lived royalties. And the money kept rolling in for Wells every time an episode aired.
12. Alan Hale Jr. once broke his arm on set
The cast may not have been stranded for real, but that didn’t stop them from getting the odd island-related injury. A case in point? Alan Hale Jr. once broke his arm when he plunged from a coconut tree. Ever the hero, though, the actor continued to finish the day’s filming before getting any medical assistance.
11. Bob Denver was nearly attacked by a lion
Mind you, Hale Jr. wasn’t the only cast member to risk life and limb on Gilligan’s Island. During one particularly risky scene, Gilligan himself was lunged at by a lion! But the quick-thinking of the on-set trainer saved Bob Denver’s bacon. Thankfully, the only injuries sustained were to a pair of ripped-apart twin beds.
10. Bob Denver once threatened to remove his name from the credits
As well as being the most daredevil cast member, Bob Denver was also the most loyal. The actor once demanded to be removed from the show’s opening titles unless the names of the Professor and Mary Ann – who were only credited as “the rest” in the first season – were added too.
9. CBS assured producers there would be a fourth season
Gilligan’s Island’s third season was, sadly, a bit of a bust in the ratings. Even so, CBS convinced Sherwood Schwartz that it would be renewing the show for a fourth run. The moral of this story? Nothing’s safe in the TV business. After being forced to surrender Gilligan’s Island’s timeslot to Gunsmoke, the network canceled the sitcom before season four was ever made.
8. The cast bought houses near the set
That cancelation was made all the more painful for some of the cast members, who were on vacation at the time they heard the news. And when the stars returned, they may have had a few choice words to say to Schwartz. He’d told them a fourth season was on the cards, you see, and a number of the actors had snapped up homes near the California studio upon that reassurance.
7. The S.S. Minnow was named after the creator’s arch-enemy
The charter boat that shipwrecks the crew and passengers? Well, that was named after Schwartz’s arch-enemy, Newton Minow. The former president of the Federal Communications Commission had incurred Schwartz’s wrath after describing television programming as “a vast wasteland.” We bet he was soon laughing on the other side of his face.
6. CBS needed to be convinced to make the show
CBS’ ruthless decision to drop Gilligan’s Island perhaps wasn’t too surprising. After all, the network was skeptical about the series from the offset. Jim Aubrey didn’t help, either, with his grumbles about having to keep the characters on the island. Aubrey was eventually won round, however, when it was decided that the castaways would be rescued if ratings fell.
5. Natalie Schafer didn’t think the show stood a chance
But to be fair, CBS executives weren’t the only ones with reservations about Gilligan’s Island. Natalie Schafer was a skeptic, too. Reportedly, she didn’t believe that a show with such a silly premise would last the course. We couldn’t imagine anyone else as Lovey, though, so we’re glad she stayed on board.
4. Gilligan nearly had a pet dinosaur
Gilligan’s Island may have turned into a mini Jurassic Park if Hunt Stromberg, Jr. had his way. Yes, really! The producer had the brainwave of giving Gilligan a pet dinosaur, of all things. Much to Schwartz’s relief, though, budget constraints ultimately put paid to that bizarre idea.
3. Alan Hale Jr. had to secretly audition for his role
Alan Hale Jr. really wanted his Gilligan’s Island role bad. How bad? Enough to sneak away from the western he was filming in Utah when he was banned from leaving for his audition. But after a horseback ride, hitchhike and a flight to Los Angeles, the actor was finally rewarded for his efforts.
2. Gilligan’s name was picked out of the blue
You’d expect plenty of thought to go into the name of a lead character – especially one that features in the title of the show. Not for Sherwood Schwartz! He just selected Gilligan from the phone book. We wonder if the show would have been a hit if his finger had fallen on Kowalczyk…
1. The premise was inspired by a Lucille Ball movie
If you’ve ever watched the Lucille Ball movie Five Came Back, then the premise of Gilligan’s Island probably seems a little familiar. Yep, the sitcom didn’t just take its cues from the Bible. It was also influenced by that 1939 movie, which sees a group of plane crash survivors left stranded in the Amazon rainforest.
But that’s all nothing compared to Little House on the Prairie. While the show itself was wonderfully heartwarming and earnest, everything that went on behind the scenes wasn’t so… well, wholesome. And in this list of shocking and tragic Little House secrets, we take a look at some of the things that Pa Ingalls probably would have wanted to keep under his hat…
60. Melissa Gilbert had her first-ever kiss on screen
Your first kiss is a rites of passage that’s awkward enough without having it captured for millions of viewers. That’s the unfortunate situation that a 15-year-old Melissa Gilbert faced when she was required to pucker up with co-star Dean Butler on screen. The actress was understandably more nervous given her on-screen husband was eight years older and had a notable amount of stubble.
59. Michael Landon left his wife for the show’s makeup artist
Michael Landon made tabloid headlines in 1982 when he split up with his wife to begin dating Cindy Clerico, Little House on the Prairie’s makeup artist. And one of the cast members certainly didn’t approve. In fact, an upset Melissa Gilbert cut all ties with Landon. Furthermore, she only got back in touch with him on discovering that her on-screen father had been diagnosed with cancer.
58. Alison Arngrim wanted to date one of her co-stars
Alison Arngrim allegedly fell hard for her co-star Radames Pera, but sadly for her the feeling wasn’t mutual. The actor, who played John Sanderson in the hit period drama, believed that he was too old to date her. Perhaps this was just his way of letting Arngrim down gently as their age gap was no bigger than two years.
57. Nellie’s actress auditioned for three different roles
As Nellie, Alison Arngrim created a character everyone loved to hate. But what may surprise fans is the fact that Arngrim originally auditioned for the role of Laura and, later, for Mary. It wasn’t until she auditioned for awful Nellie, however, that she closed the deal.
56. The show gave Jason Bateman his first gig
Jason Bateman is now regarded as one of Hollywood’s most popular leading actors. But he was a complete unknown when he was cast as young orphan James Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie’s seventh season. In fact, the hit historical drama was Bateman’s first ever professional acting gig.
55. Michael Landon was a practical joker
Although he appeared at the height of respectability on camera, Michael Landon wasn’t afraid to get silly once the director shouted cut. Yes, the actor would regularly engage in games of chase with the younger members of the Little House on the Prairie cast. His mischievous nature appeared to rub off on Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim, too. The pair once covered one of the crew’s toilet seats entirely in plastic wrap.
54. Linwood Boomer created a classic sitcom
After playing Mary’s husband Adam Kendall on Little House on the Prairie, Linwood Boomer decided to move behind the camera. He served as a producer and writer on several hit shows. But his most impressive achievement was creating one of the 2000s’ most popular TV comedies, the madcap Malcolm in the Middle.
53. The food on display was anachronistic
Little House on the Prairie’s behind the scenes team appeared to get most things accurate regarding the show’s late 19th Century time period. But they were a little sloppy when it came to the Ingalls’ mealtimes. Instead of good old-fashioned American frontier food, the family would often be given Colonel Sanders’ chicken.
52. A love story was scrapped due to lack of chemistry
Mary Ingalls and John Sanderson were supposed to become husband and wife in the period drama. But the actors behind the characters, Melissa Sue Anderson and Radames Pera, had such little chemistry on screen that writers were left with no option but to abandon this storyline. Instead, they gave Mary a different love interest at the blind school she attended after contracting scarlet fever.
51. Melissa Gilbert once stepped into the shoes of Ma
Melissa Gilbert made her name playing Little House on the Prairie’s Laura Ingalls. But when the show was transformed into a musical in the late 2000s, the actress was obviously too old to reprise the role. Instead, she was cast as Ma in the sold-out Minneapolis production.
50. Michael Landon laughed like a girl
Apparently Landon wasn’t always the macho figure he presented on screen as “Pa” Charles Ingalls. In fact, according to his younger co-star Alison Arngrim, the leading man would often laugh like a little girl. “You could hear him for miles,” the actress once told magazine Closer Weekly.
49. Michael Landon had a novel method of getting the child actors to cry
Crying on cue can be one of the most difficult things for an actor. But Landon did his best to make the younger cast members shed a tear whenever the show required it. Melissa Gilbert once revealed that the actor would get misty-eyed himself before going face-to-face with her and asking, “Do you know how much I love you?” Apparently this would do the trick.
48. It was Ronald Reagan’s favorite show
Little House on the Prairie was reportedly one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite shows on television. And it turns out that the period drama’s leading man was one of the POTUS’s biggest fans, too. Indeed, Michael Landon was reportedly a proud Republican who supported both of the 40th’s successful presidential election campaigns.
47. Katherine McGregor was a disruptive influence on set
Katherine McGregor was cast as Harriet Oleson on the hit show but apparently fancied herself as a bit of a director, too. In memoir Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Alison Arngrim described her older co-star as nice but disruptive thanks to her habit of telling other actors what to do. In fact, McGregor was almost fired due to her clashing with the show’s real directors. But her villainous character was deemed to be too invaluable to let go.
46. Its explosive finale was born out of pettiness
Little House: The Last Farewell, the show’s 1984 TV movie, concluded in unlikely explosive style. But the blowing up of Walnut Grove came about due to practical rather than narrative reasons, as well as a little pettiness. Producers decided it would be much easier to return the set to its earlier state with a controlled demolition. This also suited Landon, who apparently wasn’t willing for the set to be used by other productions.
45. There was tension between Karen Grassle and Michael Landon
In her memoir, The Way I See It, Melissa Sue Anderson claimed that her on-screen mother and father didn’t get along. Apparently, Grassle didn’t appreciate her character being submissive to Landon’s and was jealous of the power that the actor held. “Theirs was not an equal relationship,” Anderson wrote.
44. Melissa Gilbert dated a rock wildman
Gilbert may be renowned for playing the innocent Laura Ingalls Wilder. But away from the Little House on the Prairie set she was a little hedonistic. Indeed, the actress was a regular presence on the Hollywood party scene, and she dated several high profile names, too. Alongside Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and her on-screen father’s son, Gilbert once stepped out with wild rock star Billy Idol.
43. One actor played five different characters on the show
Little House on the Prairie certainly got the most out of E.J. Andre. Incredibly, the actor played no fewer than five different characters across seven episodes on the hit show. Alongside Jed Cooper, Matthew Simms and St. Peter, the versatile Andre also assumed the roles of Zachariah and Amos Thoms.
42. Shannen Doherty slept with Melissa Gilbert’s husband
One of the juiciest revelations from Melissa Gilbert’s memoir Prairie Tale concerned Shannen Doherty. The Beverly Hills, 90210 star, who joined the show’s cast in the ninth season as Jenny Wilder, apparently jumped into bed with the actress’ husband at the time. After being confronted about the incident by Gilbert, Doherty reportedly responded, “Well, you know I always wanted to be you.”
41. Two episodes’ plotlines are identical
Little House on the Prairie’s scriptwriting team appeared to believe in recycling. In the first season’s 17th episode, “Doctor’s Lady,” an older man, Doc Baker, falls head over heels for a younger woman but decides against pursuing the relationship any further due to their age gap. Mr. Edwards then goes through the exact same scenario in the ninth season’s 10th episode, “Love.”
40. Michael Landon persuaded Karen Grassle to change her stage name
Karen Grassle reportedly bagged the role of Ma Ingalls with ease. However, her on-screen husband believed she still needed to make one significant change before showing up on set. Indeed, Landon felt that Grassle’s stage name, Gabriel Tree, was too bohemian and encouraged the actress to use her more traditional real moniker.
39. The costumes caused heatstroke
The Little House bonnets and petticoats may have looked charming and lovely, but wearing all that gear while filming in 90-degree heat was no picnic. In fact, the actress who played Nellie Oleson once collapsed from heatstroke.
38. The set may have been contaminated
Sadly, five different members of the cast developed cancer – with four of them, including Landon, ultimately dying from the disease. And there has long been speculation that the Little House set was contaminated by radioactive waste from the Santa Susana nuclear meltdown in 1959.
37. Melissa Sue Anderson wasn’t buddies with the rest of the crew
While most of the cast members happily recall the many friendships they made on set, the actress who played Mary isn’t remembered so fondly. Indeed, while Laura and Mary may have been close on the show, in real life Melissa Gilbert found Melissa Sue Anderson to be conceited. Alison Arngrim, meanwhile, dubbed Anderson a “frenemy” in a 2010 interview with Fox News.
36. Pa didn’t like Mrs. Oleson
Mrs. Oleson made a career out of being the uppity woman who no one liked, so it’s perhaps not that surprising that she wasn’t that beloved in real life, either. Not only did Katherine MacGregor clash with the actor who played her husband, Nels (Richard Bull), but she also apparently continually irritated Landon as well.
35. Every meal was canned Dinty Moore
When it came to dinner time on the prairie, it always looked like Ma Ingalls had slaved over the hot stove, cooking up whatever fresh kill Pa had brought home. But in truth, every meal this clan devoured came from a can. Specifically, a can of Dinty Moore beef stew.
34. Pa’s hair color wasn’t natural
One thing’s for sure about Michael Landon: he had a lustrous mane. But what many don’t know is that his head of hair went gray in his twenties. As a result, then, he used Clairol Medium Ash Brown dye for years to keep his locks looking youthful.
33. Willie was Laura’s real-life brother
Many of us know that the real-life sister of Melissa Gilbert – who played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the show – is Sara Gilbert, otherwise known as Darlene from Roseanne. But few people know that her real-life brother, Jonathan Gilbert, also appeared on Little House as the bratty Willie Oleson.
32. Pa had to wear platform shoes
Pa Ingalls may have been larger than life on the show, but he was actually on the smaller side in terms of stature in real life. Standing at only 5’9”, Landon added an extra four inches to his height by wearing lifts in his shoes.
31. A set of twins played the youngest Ingalls girl
Carrie Ingalls was the adorable youngest sister on the show, but many don’t know that there were two actresses responsible for her character. Yes, she was played by identical twins, since Californian labor laws would only allow very young children to work for short periods. And so at the age of three, Sidney and Lindsay Greenbush shared the role and alternated their time on the set.
30. Pa liked a smoke or two
Michael Landon was a man of many vices, and smoking was certainly one of them. In fact, Pa carried cigarettes in his work gloves and would chain smoke between takes.
29. Nellie’s hair was fake
Nellie Oleson was famous for her fat, blonde sausage curls. But many viewers probably didn’t realize she was wearing a specially-made wig. Moreover, while the style became famous as “Nellie Oleson curls,” it came at a price – the wig was incredibly painful to wear and made Alison Arngrim’s scalp bleed. Ouch!
28. Carrie’s tumble in the opening sequence was real
The day the crew were filming the opening sequence, the director awoke one of the twins who played Carrie from a nap and sent her running down the hill. During the shoot, though, the little girl groggily tripped and fell in a truly adorable fashion that was forever immortalized on film.
27. Pa was Jewish
Fans of the show might have assumed Michael Landon was Christian, as many episodes discussed Christian issues and morals. But Landon was Jewish: his real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz.
26. Nellie and Laura were best buds
One of the best parts of the show was the ongoing rivalry between nasty Nellie Oleson and sweet Laura Ingalls. But in real life, the two girls were the best of friends and adored each other. They even had slumber parties together!
25. Sean Penn was on Little House
We now think of him as the man who was once married to Madonna, who won an Oscar for Milk and who sometimes interviews drug lords on the run. But back in the day, young Sean Penn got his start by playing an extra on Little House.
24. Pa recycled Bonanza scripts
Before he became Pa Ingalls, Michael Landon used to write and act on the TV western Bonanza. And so when he began to do Little House and fell short of ideas, he simply plucked some of the old plotlines from his days as Little Joe.
23. Laura had to disguise her voluptuous chest
Melissa Gilbert began to blossom into a woman well before Laura Ingalls did, and it caused a few wardrobe problems. To hide her burgeoning new bod, then, Gilbert had to bind herself to keep things, ahem, under wraps.
22. Pa liked to show off his bod
Let’s face it: Charlie Ingalls was a bit of a babe. And he totally knew it. Actor Landon was proud of his buff bod, in fact, and was happy to show some skin for the show. That’s probably why whenever Pa got hurt, it most often required the removal of his shirt.
21. The cast and crew drank a lot on set
It appears that life on even the pretend prairie was hard, as many cast members imbibed during filming. In fact, together they’d plow through at least two cases of Coors beer in 24 hours. Even Pa Ingalls himself – played by Michael Landon – liked a nip of whiskey in the morning and was a known heavy drinker.
20. Walnut Grove is real
Who knew that Little House on the Prairie’s small-town setting Walnut Grove was actually a very real place? Yes, the author whose books provided the inspiration for the series, Laura Ingalls, used to live there herself. Walnut Grove is situated in Minnesota with a population of no more than 900 people, said the 2010 census anyway.
19. It only picked up one acting Emmy nod
Little House on the Prairie picked up 16 Emmy nominations during the course of its nine years. But only one of them was for acting. That’s right: while the show’s music and cinematography were regularly recognized, Melissa Sue Anderson was the only cast member to pick up a nod for the prestigious awards. The actress was singled out for the storyline in which her character Mary goes blind.
18. Scottie MacGregor injured herself after falling off a horse
Scottie MacGregor sure suffered for her art during the filming of one particular episode. The actress was injured for real when her character, the gossipmonger Mrs. Oleson, fell off a horse. So a fully costumed stand-in for the star had to finish the scene.
17. Kevin Hagen fought for the actors’ rights
The stars of today’s TV hits can demand six and even nine-figure sums per episode in royalty payments. But things were different back in Little House on the Prairie’s day. Kevin Hagen, who you may remember played the town’s resident doctor Hiram Baker, did once try to persuade NBC bosses to dish out more money. Yet sadly for the cast, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
16. Michael Landon regularly cast his daughter
The show’s leading man Michael Landon didn’t appear to be worried about accusations of nepotism. Because the star regularly gave his daughter Leslie the chance to display her acting talents on the show. Etta Plum, Pam and Marge were just a few of the minor characters that the youngster played.
15. Melissa Gilbert has undergone four spinal fusions
Poor Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the show, has had to go under the knife for no fewer than four different spinal fusions. The actress’ first bout of surgery was in 2001, and she went on to have similar procedures in 2010, 2016 and 2020. As Gilbert prepared for the latter, she told her Instagram followers, “I’m channeling my inner Halfpint for this one. The one who believes anything is possible.”
14. It predicted COVID?
Fans who were hoping to forget all about COVID-19 in 2020 by watching replays, were left astounded by two particularly prescient episodes. As their titles suggest, 1975’s “Plague” and 1977’s “Quarantine” both focused on epidemics that hit the Walnut Grove town. One of the show’s stars, Melissa Gilbert, acknowledged the similarities, too, telling the New York Post, “Even on that tiny scale, so much of what they were doing is now applicable.”
13. Albert’s character was Michael Landon’s idea
Matthew Labyorteaux joined the Little House on the Prairie family in season five as adoptee Albert Ingalls. And he apparently has his on-screen father to thank. That’s right: star and executive producer Michael Landon decided the show needed a bit more testosterone, and subsequently gave Ma and Pa a son.
12. Karen Grassle based Caroline on her mom
Karen Grassle didn’t look far for inspiration when it came to playing the show’s matriarch. In 2020 she told Closer Weekly, “I based her on my mother. If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy. My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse!”
11. Its cast included eight Oscar winners
Little House on the Prairie might not have picked up any major awards for its acting. But several cast members had previously won, or would go on to win, their craft’s ultimate prize. Yes, the show welcomed no fewer than eight previous or future Oscar winners over the years, including Ernest Borgnine, Eileen Heckart, Burl Ives and Sean Penn.
10. MacGregor missed the finale to go on a religious retreat
Ever wondered why show regular Mrs. Oleson doesn’t appear in the finale? Well, the woman who played her, Scottie MacGregor, was on a religious retreat at the time. The actress had converted to Hinduism as a way of dealing with her alcoholism. And despite coinciding with Little House on the Prairie’s conclusion, McGregor believed that a faith-based trip to India was more important.
9. Victor French left the show for a short-lived sitcom
After playing farmer Isaiah Edwards for the first three seasons, Victor French decided he wanted to try something new. So the actor left to showcase his comic timing as a police chief in small-town sitcom Carter Country. But the ABC show didn’t make it to a third season. Luckily for him, Landon and co. welcomed him back with open arms.
8. Landon didn’t want to pay Grassle any more money
As executive producer, Michael Landon was also responsible for some behind the scenes decisions. And his tight control of the budget didn’t go down well with his on-screen wife. In a 2017 chat with Closer Weekly, Karen Grassle revealed, “When we were in the top 10 [TV shows] and I said, ‘Gee, it is time to renegotiate my contract,’ Michael did not want to pay me. It was very difficult.”
7. They filmed on The Wizard of Oz’s set
Several cast members couldn’t contain their excitement when they discovered that The Wizard of Oz had been filmed at the MGM studios the show later transfered to. In 2017 Alison Arngrim, aka Nellie Oleson Dalton, told Closer Weekly, “They were ripping up the floor of the set, and what Melissa [Gilbert] and I see, lying beneath, was the Yellow Brick Road! Melissa and I went nuts. We were dancing around, singing the song, pretending to be Dorothy!”
6. There were several test runs of the house explosion
The show famously concluded in surprisingly spectacular style when the Ingalls’ family home blew up. Thankfully, the producers did their research beforehand to ensure that the big explosion went off without a hitch. In an interview with The New York Times, Landon revealed, “We did quite a few tests first to make sure nobody would get hurt. So when we finally blew everything up, it went off like clockwork.”
5. One of its stars kept its homestead
Stan Ivar, who played John Carter in the show’s last season, was so enamored with his character’s homestead that he actually kept it. Yes, the actor managed to disassemble the farmhouse and take it back to his home where he stored it in his barn. Ivar later attempted to give the homestead to the real Walnut Grove but was thwarted by the Prairie brand’s owner Ed Friendly.
4. Baby Grace published a faith-based book about the show
Wendi Turnbaugh was still in nappies when she was cast as the Ingalls family’s youngest member Grace. Nearly half a century later, the actress decided to pen a book which combined her Little House on the Prairie experiences with her faith. Turnbaugh was inspired to write A Prairie Devotional while recuperating from a tumor in her brain.
3. Nellie has been adopted as a gay icon
Alison Arngrim is fully on board with the LGBT community adopting her Little House on the Prairie character Nellie as a gay icon. She’s shown up at DragCon in Los Angeles, staged her one-woman show at an Orlando gay resort and been heavily involved with AIDS awareness charities. The actress, who had a gay father, told The New York Times, “I turned toward the people who were still clapping the loudest for her.”
2. There’s a Little House on the Prairie museum
Ever wanted to be transported back to the pioneer life of the late 19th century? Well, look no further than the Little House on the Prairie museum situated in the very real Walnut Creek. Fans can immerse themselves in the world of both Laura Ingalls’ books and their TV adaptations including a replica of the house the author grew up in.
1. Grassle was flat broke when she landed her role
The role of Caroline Ingalls came just in the nick of time for the woman who played her. Karen Grassle had barely a cent to her name when she landed the part that would launch her to fame. The actress explained to Closer Weekly in 2020, “I had spent a year in England, working with a Shakespeare company and teaching, and came back to the States flat broke.”