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‘Little House on the Prairie’ Cast Reflects on Feeling “Very Protected” on Set as Child Actors

Photo Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

As the beloved television series Little House on the Prairie approaches its 50th anniversary, several cast members reunited at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival in Monaco to reminisce about their time on set. Karen Grassle, Alison Arngrim, Melissa Sue Anderson, Matthew Labyorteaux, Leslie Landon, and Wendi Lou Lee gathered to reflect on the unique behind-the-scenes culture and the fond memories that have stayed with them over the decades.

Smoking and drinking on set were normal

Portrait of the cast of 'Little House on the Prairie.'
The cast of the television series ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ (Photo Credit: Fotos International / Getty Images)

Karen Grassle, now 82, who portrayed the steadfast Caroline Ingalls, shared candid memories of the set’s environment during the 1970s. Grassle revealed that both she and the late Michael Landon, who played her on-screen husband Charles Ingalls, frequently smoked on set.

“Michael was smoking. We were smoking around the kids,” Grassle said. Alison Arngrim, known for her role as the mischievous Nellie Oleson, echoed this sentiment. “No one thought that was strange then, at all,” Arngrim, now 62, added. The idea of smoking on set, especially around children, would be shocking by today’s standards. Reflecting further, Grassle added, “We were putting out our cigarettes in the dirt of the Little House on the Prairie. Can you imagine? Sacrilege.”

Arngrim also pointed out that the 1970s set was a far cry from today’s health-conscious environments. “You go to a set now, and the craft services where they have the snacks and the food, there’s organic food, there’s gluten-free options. We had donuts and coffee, big sugary donuts and lots of strong coffee.”

Grassle and Arngrim’s recollections paint a vivid picture of a bygone era where smoking and junk food were the norm. “That’s how it was. We had junk food and we had cigarettes and beer. That’s just how people lived in the ’70s,” Arngrim noted. “By today’s standards, absolutely you’d say, ‘What is this, the set of Mad Men? How can this be Little House on the Prairie if they’re drinking beer and smoking?'”

The set was a protective place for the child actors

Group photo of the cast of 'Little House on the Prairie.'
Alison Arngrim, Leslie Landon, Karen Grassle, Wendi Lou Lee, Melissa Sue Anderson, and Matthew Labyorteaux attend the “Little House On The Prairie” photocall during the 63rd Monte-Carlo Television Festival on June 15, 2024, in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

Despite the casual attitude towards smoking and drinking, the cast emphasized that the set of Little House on the Prairie maintained a respectful atmosphere, especially towards its young actors. Grassle recalled that the more relaxed, adult behavior on set typically occurred in the evenings when the child actors had gone home.

“I must say that, from my point of view, it was after 4:00 when the kids went home that there was a much looser atmosphere on the set,” Grassle said. “There was a real respect for the fact that we had children all around us. And I was really glad about that.”

Arngrim affirmed that she always felt protected by the crew. “I always felt our crew was very protective of us children,” she said. Matthew Labyorteaux, who played a young Charles Ingalls, also praised the nurturing environment. Recalling his experience, he said, “Little House was unlike any set I’d ever been on. They were protective, they were caring and nurturing, they catered to young actors to give them a safe place to do their best.”

The actors’ memories highlight how Little House on the Prairie provided a supportive space for its young stars, which was not always the case in the industry. Arngrim wryly remarked that any inappropriate behavior towards the child actors would have been swiftly dealt with by the crew. “If someone had actually bothered me or the girls and the crew found out, you wouldn’t find the body,” she joked.

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The reunion at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival was not just a celebration of the show’s legacy but also a testament to the enduring bonds formed on set. As fans look back on 50 years of Little House on the Prairie, the cast’s reflections offer a poignant glimpse into the past, reminding us of the timeless charm and unique culture that made the show a beloved classic.

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June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News