Melissa Sue Anderson landed the role of Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie when she was just 11 years old. The young actor already had some television guest appearances on her list of credits before starting on the series in 1974.
Mary Ingalls wasn’t a main focus in the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The historical drama set in the 1870s was based on the series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mary Ingalls was not as prominent a figure in the books as her younger sister Laura, played by Melissa Gilbert.
“I’m lucky that there even was a character to play, because in the book, there isn’t much of one,” Anderson told PopEntertainment.com. “Laura was quite an 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.”
Though Anderson didn’t get many complex storylines at first, she was able to flex her acting muscles in season 4. Her portrayal of Mary going blind from scarlet fever ended up earning Anderson an Emmy nomination, the first and only cast member ever to receive such an honor.
“I’m fortunate that [the writers] discovered that I could act,” the Little House alum remarked. “Eventually, I was able to prove myself in the first year, and then I got some really great meaty episodes.”
Melissa Sue Anderson felt she missed out on a ‘regular’ childhood
Anderson didn’t follow a destructive path like many other child actors, and never made the tabloid headlines for any negative press.
“I was raised well as a kid,” she said. “A lot of people ask me, ‘How come you didn’t get into trouble?’ Frankly, I was just too afraid. I didn’t want to get into trouble. I was afraid of the consequences. And I was a good kid overall.”
While Anderson enjoyed her career, she later reflected that her youth lacked the normalcy that most kids have during their formative years.
“The one thing that was missing from my childhood, the one thing that I didn’t focus on enough as a child, was a regular life, having a regular childhood,” Anderson explained. “However, I loved what I had. I loved working professionally. I wanted it to be my career, so that life was fantastic. But when I became an adult, I strived for ‘regular.’ That’s what I wanted. I wanted to make sure that I was treated however I was for me, and not for what people perceived me to be.”
‘Little House’ alum left the spotlight to raise her kids
Anderson married producer Michael Sloan in 1990. The couple welcomed two children – Piper and Griffin. Once the Little House star became a mother, she knew she wanted her kids to have a different upbringing from her own.
“I had a pretty normal life, but you never know if people are your friends for the right reasons,” she shared. “When I had my own kids, I was out of the business, removed. I only worked occasionally so that my kids could have a really normal upbringing. I certainly didn’t want them to become actors, and I know that they’re not going to be.”
The former NBC star felt she got a second chance to experience her youth, thanks to her kids.
“You want something a little more stable for your children,” Anderson commented. “It’s nice for me to have kids and live a regular kind of life through them.”