1 9 7 4 – 1 9 8 3 (USA)
183 x 60 minute episodes
Based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this series purported to show what life was like on the frontier in the late 1870s.
Many children grew up watching Michael Landon (real name Eugene Maurice Orowitz), Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert deal with the joys and sorrows of life in the little town of Walnut Grove (population 127), but the show was basically a soap opera.
Debuting on NBC on Wednesday 11 September 1974, Little House On The Prairie was certainly not a Western in the usual sense. There were no cowboys, Indians or saloons in this version of frontier life.
There were, however, many illnesses, deaths, misfortunes, miracles and ‘heart-warming’ moments.
Charles Ingalls was a homesteader struggling to make a living for his family on a small farm in Minnesota.
The Ingalls had moved from the great plains of Kansas to Walnut Grove in search of a future in a young and growing community.
With Charles was his wife, Caroline, and their three daughters: teenagers Mary and Laura, and little Carrie (played alternately by identical twins).
Stories revolved around the experiences of family life and growing children, the constant struggle against natural disasters and ruined crops, and the dealings with other members of the little town in which they lived.
Among the Ingalls’ friends were: Mr Hanson, the mill owner; Nels Oleson, the owner of the general store (and husband of the hag Harriet and father of the junior-hag, Nellie) and Mr Edwards, a nearby farmer who became a good friend despite his harsh exterior.
And what a shining example Charles Ingalls was to the youth of today. Working six hours a day for some lumber company, then another six hours stacking grain, then another few ploughing his farm . . . all to keep his family together and raise a crop to feed his little women.
Even when he fell out of a tree and broke his ribs he still dragged himself to work and carried on stacking the corn sacks in agony.
In 1978, Caroline gave birth to a fourth daughter, Grace. The oldest daughter, Mary, lost her sight and was sent to a school for the blind where she fell in love with her instructor, Adam Kendall, and they moved off to the Dakotas.
No sooner were they gone than the town of Walnut Grove fell on hard times and Charles and his family – along with some of the other cast regulars – had to pack up and move to the bustling frontier city of Winoka, where their household was expanded again by the addition of Albert, a young orphan they adopted.
City life didn’t sit well with the family, especially Albert who had to battle to overcome severe drug addiction.
Eventually, they all moved back to Walnut Grove, which had miraculously recovered from its problems. Mary and Adam moved back too and had a baby boy, who unfortunately perished when the school for the blind where Mary was teaching burned down.
Feeling left out by all of the turmoil, daughter Laura decided to become a teacher and was courted by and eventually married Almanzo Wilder, in the fall of 1980.
Even nasty Nellie Oleson (pictured below left) got married, although problems arose when it was discovered that her husband, Percival, was really Jewish (Isaac Cohen) and a decision had to be made about how to raise their children. Since Nellie had twins, everything was resolved by deciding to raise their son as a Jew and their daughter as a Christian . . .
Jonathan Garvey, now a widower, moved to nearby Sleepy Eye to manage a warehouse and convinced Charles to set up a freight business between there and Walnut Grove. Amazingly Adam regained his sight in a freak accident and was accepted to law school.
In the fall of 1981, Adam’s father offered him a job with his law firm in New York, and Adam and Mary left Walnut Grove permanently.
There were more adoptions in the 1981-1982 season. Charles and Caroline added recently orphaned James and Cassandra Cooper to their household, and lonely Mrs Oleson took in an orphan named Nancy – who bore a striking resemblance to her departed daughter, Nellie, in both looks and nastiness. Laura meanwhile gave birth to a daughter, Rose.
Michael Landon’s decision to leave Little House prompted a number of changes in the fall of 1982.
The title was changed to Little House: A New Beginning, and Laura and Almanzo became the major stars. Economic problems forced Charles to sell the farm and move to Burr Oak, Iowa, where he had found a job.
Moving into the former Ingalls home were John and Sarah Carter, who ran the town newspaper, and their sons Jeb and Jason.
Laura gave up her teaching job to raise both Rose and Jenny (played by a very young Shannen Doherty), who was orphaned when Almanzo’s brother, Royal, died.
Laura’s replacement at the school, Etta Plum, was portrayed by Michael Landon’s real-life daughter Leslie. This new series lasted only one season.
Michael Landon went on to Highway To Heaven before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1991. He died the same year, aged just 55.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mary Ingalls Kendall
Melissa Sue Anderson
Nellie Oleson Dalton
Reverend Robert Alden
Eva Beadle Simms
Don “Red” Baker
Hester Sue Terhune
Eliza jane Wilder
Lucy Lee Flippin