For nine seasons — between 1974 and 1984 — the Ingalls family of Little House on the Prairie was the personification of wholesome family values. The story of a 19th-century family settling in the old American West was based on children’s novels. And it gave viewers a look at life on a farm during simpler times.
The heartwarming storylines centered on Laura Ingalls Wilder growing up as a young girl in Walnut Grove, Minnesota with Ma and Pa and her sisters Carrie and Mary. But behind the scenes of the NBC drama, things weren’t nearly as wholesome as portrayed on screen. Here are 10 behind-the-scenes secrets about Little House on the Prairie that would make Pa Ingalls Blush.
10. This ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star was a chain smoker
Michael Landon starred as Charles “Pa” Ingalls on LHOTP. He was also the executive producer, writer, and director, and he had the nasty habit of chain-smoking. According to Melissa Gilbert — who started playing Laura Ingalls at the age of 10 — Landon would impress her by putting out his cigarettes in his leather gloves.
9. Skirting child labor laws
The role of Carrie Ingalls went to identical twins Rachel and Sidney Bush. Landon decided to cast the three-year-old sisters and have them share the part because of California child labor laws. The girls would rotate on set every few hours.
8. Using a repurposed ‘Bonanza’ script
The season 2 episode “A Matter of Faith” featured Ma getting a scratch on her leg that turns into a possibly fatal infection. The script actually came from Landon’s time on Bonanza and the episode “A Matter of Circumstance.” He repurposed that Bonanza script for Little House, turning it into one of the series most memorable episodes.
7. Michael Landon liked to go shirtless
Landon makes this list again thanks to his pride in his physical fitness. The Hollywood legend loved to show off his physique. He would keep his tops loosely buttoned. And, if the scene would allow it, he would go completely shirtless. He was also known to go commando in some scenes.
6. High cancer rates among ‘Little House on the Prairie’ production team
The Big Sky Ranch was the main location for shooting Little House on the Prairie. But what the cast and crew didn’t know was that the site was a former disposal site for radioactive materials. Some believe the radioactivity at the ranch is the reason for the high cancer rates among the cast and crew.
5. An extramarital affair
During Little House on the Prairie’s run, Landon had an affair with a makeup artist on set, Cindy Clerico. This led to Landon divorcing his second wife, Cheryl, in 1982. Just a few months later, he married Cindy. They remained married until Landon’s death in 1991.
4. 1 ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star wished he was a little bit taller
When Landon created LHOTP, he saw his character of Charles as a father figure with a certain swagger. To make himself taller, the 5’9″ actor put four-inch lifts in his boots in every single episode.
3. Ma’s home-cooked meals
According to Boredom Therapy, the hearty, home-cooked meals that Caroline “Ma” Ingalls (Karen Grassle) worked tirelessly over were always the exact same thing — Dinty Moore beef stew. The only exception was when she made fried chicken. That’s when they would use KFC.
2. A massive age difference
Gilbert was just 15 years old when it was time for Laura to marry her husband, Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler) on Little House on the Prairie. At the time, Butler was 23. In real life, there was a ten-year age difference between Laura and Almanzo, so the age gap was fairly accurate.
But being a young teen, Gilbert was extremely nervous about her and Butler’s first on-screen kiss. After that episode titled “Sweet Sixteen,” Gilbert requested only pecks on the cheek and hugs.
1. The cast and crew of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ loved to drink alcohol
Between filming their scenes at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California, the cast and crew regularly enjoyed drinking alcohol. According to Little Things, on most days they would crush more than two cases of Coors. Sometimes, they would even add some shots of Wild Turkey. This all took place when the child actors were taking naps.
All nine seasons of Little House on the Prairie are available on Peacock.