Michael Landon cast several unknown actors when he created Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Alison Arngrim was just 12 years old when she starred as Nellie Oleson on the historical drama and recalled some of her co-stars feeling that they weren’t being given a fair wage.
Michael Landon was careful with money while being ‘generous’
Arngrim spoke of Landon in a 2004 interview with Larry King and described how the Bonanza alum had two sides when it came to money.
“He was generous and stingy,” Arngrim told King. “We’d get these fabulous Christmas presents, it was just wonderful — I got a stereo one year. But he also ran the tightest ship in town.”
The Little House alum pointed out the exorbitant salaries actors are paid today in comparison to when the family-friendly drama aired in the 1970s, and noted that some of her co-stars weren’t happy with their earnings.
“There are many actors in Little House who will complain to you bitterly that they were underpaid,” Arngrim said. “The salaries that are on Friends simply did not exist for anyone at that time. But absolutely, by today’s standards people would actually fall over dead if they made what we made in Little House.”
Many ‘Little House’ cast members were ‘only vaguely familiar faces’
Charlotte Stewart starred as Walnut Grove schoolteacher Eva Beadle on Little House through Season 4. She shared that Landon hired several theater actors, such as Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls) and Katherine MacGregor (Harriet Oleson). Many others had TV and film credits to their names but weren’t very well-known at the time.
“Even those of us with long backgrounds in TV and film were not, in the minds of a general audience, associated with any other characters or shows,” Stewart explained in her memoir Little House in the Hollywood Hills. “Although someone like Dabbs Greer, who played the Reverend, and whose TV and film credits went back to the late 1940s, or Kevin Hagen, playing Doc Baker, who’d gotten his start in the 1950s, were at most only vaguely familiar faces.”
The former Little House star considered this as Landon’s strategy to keep actors’ wages at a minimum. One cast member openly referred to his pay scale as “cheap”.
“Ultimately this approach to casting accomplished a few things,” Stewart remarked. “First, Mike got us pretty inexpensively by Hollywood standards. (Mind you, these were the biggest and most consistent paychecks of my career.) But even Kevin Hagen said publicly once that they ‘got us cheap.’
Alison Arngrim felt respected by Michael Landon
Arngrim felt her Little House salary during her time on the show was fair, and praised Landon for how he treated the cast.
“Everyone always asks if Michael was like a father to me, if he loved me,” she wrote in her book, Confessions of a Prairie B****.. “I have no idea if he loved me, but he went one better as far as I’m concerned. He respected me.”