The time was
the late 1870's and the locale was the American West, but Little House on the
Prairie was not a Western in the usual sense. There were no cowboys,
Indians, or cow town saloons in this version of frontier life – it was more like
The Waltons in a different setting, the story of a loving family in
Ingalls was a homesteader struggling to make a living for his family on a small
farm near the town of Walnut Grove, Plum Creek, 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 were his wife, Caroline, and their three
daughters, teenagers Mary and Laura, and little Carrie (played alternately by a
pair of identical twins). Stories related 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 community in which they
lived. Among the Ingalls’s new friends were Mr. Hanson, the mill owner; Nels
Oleson, the proprietor of the general store; and Mr. Edwards, a nearby farmer
who became a good friend, despite his rather harsh exterior.
happened on Little House after that simple beginning, as the program came
to resemble a serial. First, Mr. Edwards left in 1977 (Victor French got his own
series, Carter Country), and was replaced by Jonathan Garvey (played by
former Los Angeles Rams star Merlin Olsen). Garvey had a wife named Alice and a
young son, Andy. In 1978 Caroline gave birth to a fourth daughter, Grace, but
oldest daughter Mary lost her sight and was sent to a school for the blind. Mary
promptly fell in love with her instructor, Adam Kendall, and they moved off to
were they gone than the town of Walnut Grove fell on hard times, and Charles and
his family (along with some other regulars) had to pack up and move to the
bustling frontier city of Winoka, where their household was enlarged again by
the addition of Albert, a young orphan they adopted. City life didn't sit well
with the family, however, so 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 (along with Alice Garvey) when the school
for the blind where Mary was teaching burned down.
out amid all this travail, 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 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 they raise the son as a Jew and the daughter as a
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.
Meanwhile, over in the Mary and Adam subplot, 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 forever. Nellie and Percival were also in New York,
where he had taken over his late father's business. Jonathan and Andy Garvey
were no longer seen, while Hester Sue Terhune, who had worked at the Sleepy Eye
school for the blind, moved to Walnut Grove to work, along with Caroline Ingalls,
at Mrs. Oleson's restaurant.
more adoptions in the 1981-1982 season, with Charles and Caroline adding
recently orphaned James and Cassandra Cooper to their household, and lonely Mrs.
Oleson taking in an orphan named Nancy – who bore a striking resemblance to her
departed Nellie, in both looks and nastiness. Mr. Edwards, whose problems with
drinking had cost him his marriage, returned to Walnut Grove the following
spring, and Laura gave birth to a daughter, Rose.
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 principal stars. Economic problems forced
Charles to sell the “little house” 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, who was orphaned when Almanzo's brother,
Royal, died. Laura's replacement at the school, Etta Plum, was portrayed by
Michael Landon's daughter Leslie.
audience had been declining for several years, and the revised version lasted
only a single season.
told on Little House were originally based on the "Little House" books by
Laura Ingalls Wilder, which contained her recollections of growing up on the
American frontier. On the TV series, the actress playing Laura functioned as the
narrator. Michael Landon, who starred in this series, was also its executive