Little House on the Prairie is a famous drama series about the Ingalls family’s experiences at the turn of the 20th century that an entire generation of TV viewers vividly remembers.
It’s a show that frequently leaves viewers thinking, “Where are they now?” due to its large ensemble of endearing characters and performances.
One of the performers that left show business behind was Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls on the program. Recently, she explained why she departed Hollywood and the spotlight.
In Berkeley, California, Melissa Sue Anderson was born on September 26, 1962. She was an introverted child who preferred reading books to climbing trees. However, the young lady with the marble-clear blue eyes quickly caught the attention of everyone around her for her stage presence. One of the girl’s dance instructors suggested to her parents that they speak with an agency.
Anderson, an A-student, started her acting career as a child actress, playing the character of Millicent on The Brady Bunch and Bewitched, where she gave Bobby his first kiss. However, after being cast as Mary Ingalls, one of the main characters, in Little House, she had her big break and defining role.
She had a starring role for the first seven seasons and guest roles for the last eight. Anderson was nominated for the award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series as well.
“I’m lucky that there even was a character to play, because in the book, there isn’t much of one,” she tells me from her home in Montreal. “Laura [Ingalls, author of the Little House novels upon which the series was based and the story was centered] was a quite older woman when she wrote the books. She was remembering the best of her life. The characters of Ma and Mary didn’t factor in a lot. There was a lot of Laura and Pa and Laura and Jack the dog and Laura and Mr. Edwards, but there wasn’t a lot of Mary. I’m fortunate that they discovered that I could act,” Anderson told Pop Entertainment in 2010.
It wasn’t simple for the young actress, who was still in high school, to rise to fame as one of the nation’s most recognizable faces.
”A lot of kids at school are curious and ask inappropriate questions, like, ’How much do you make?’ That’s embarrassing. I’ll just give them a look that lets them know what I think of the question or tell them it’s none of their business,” she told Iowa City Press-Citizen in 1977.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Anderson made almost $1.5 million during the course of her Hollywood career. But the young actress’s pay wasn’t all that high when she worked at Little House.
”Everybody thinks actors make a lot of money. But we don’t. At least, not by the time we pay certain costs. Twenty-five of my pay goes into a trust fund. 10 percent to my agent and I spend a lot – too much – on my fan club which has 1,500 members. The initial cost people pay for belonging to the club is one thing, but we spend extra to send out letters, bulletins, Christmas cards. It’s publicity and everything, but it’s costing a lot. Plus, I pay my mom for coming to the set every day, because I’d hire someone to take me here and home anyway,” she said in 1977.
Its cast of adored characters and the performers who played them, all of whom achieved breakthrough fame as a result of the show, are a major factor in its popularity and durability. Young performers like Melissa Gilbert Sue became household names thanks to the program, which also handed veteran actor Michael Landon his most iconic role to date as the family’s “Pa,” Charles Ingalls.
The actors’ on-screen chemistry was so strong that you would have thought they were a genuine family, and the co-stars spent a lot of time together off-screen. The actors didn’t always get along, though. Melissa Gilbert once discussed her true feelings toward the actress who played Mary Ingalls.
“She is hateful, horrid, mean, terrible, difficult. She hated me. She knocked me off the wagon when I was nine,” Gilbert explained.
Anderson’s most notable roles after Prairie’s finale appeared in television movies like Which Mother is Mine? and Survival of Dana. She continued acting, but, like most child and teen actors, she was unable to land another job with the same level of notoriety as her Little House one.
For a brief period in the 1980s, Melissa Sue Anderson dated Frank Sinatra Jr. They first connected when Melissa, who was 17 at the time, appeared as a guest on The Love Boat. When they first met, Frank Sinatra Jr. was 19 years her senior.
”Frank Jr. stood right next to the camera and cheered me on,” Melissa said.
”He was a great help.”
But according to Melissa, the alleged romance was blown out of proportion.
”He is just a very good friend,” she said. Melissa wed television producer Michael Sloan in 1990. They have a boy named Griffin (born 1996) and a daughter named Piper (born 1991). She decided to become a Canadian citizen as a result of family life. The family relocated to Montreal in 2002, and in 2007 they were granted citizenship.
“The whole family is Canadian exactly now, and my husband and I had to take the test, and we studied and studied and studied,” she said in an interview with E-Talk.
She also admitted that she intended to take a break from the entertainment industry while her children grew up in order to spend more time with them and prevent any pressure to follow in her footsteps and become child stars.
“I really stepped away for a long time,” she said. “That was really for the kids so they would have their own sense of who they were as opposed to being with me.”
She claimed that her children are no longer interested in performing, yet despite this, she has returned to the spotlight by taking on modest TV and film roles. The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House is another memoir Melissa, now 60, wrote on her time on Little House on the Prairie.
Melanie -Your beauty will never fade, you still have a youthful appearance, and most importantly, you have a nice soul! She is sensible, humble, and realistic. She is a genuine person! I value actors who aren’t overly glossy or plastic.
Finding out what the cast members of our former favorite shows are doing is always interesting. I’m glad to hear Melissa Sue Anderson is doing well.
Share this story with all the Little House on the Prairie fans in your life!