‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Bested a Massive Number of Girls for the Role of Mary Ingalls

by Will Shepard

Little House on the Prairie inspired generations of love for the show. The iconic show ran for nine seasons and 204 episodes. The show also had three movies made about it after the show concluded.

Additionally, Little House on the Prairie was one of the most popular television shows during the 1970s and 80s. Laura Ingalls-Wilder wrote nine books about her life and published them throughout the 1930s. Consequently, when the show was announced, there was a lot of competition for the parts.

Melissa Sue Anderson knew she wanted to be part of the show. Moreover, she knew that she wanted the role of Mary Ingalls. But, because of the books’ popularity, there was stiff competition for the part.

According to Biography, roughly 200 girls competed for the role of Mary Ingalls. Melissa Sue Anderson won the part nonetheless.

Mary Ingalls is arguably the hardest role to play on the show. At age 14, the real Mary lost her vision after a serious battle with scarlet fever. The illness, at the time, was thought to be the cause of her blindness.

Consequently, Melissa Sue Anderson had to be able to play a blind person while still contributing to Little House on the Prairie. This meant a lot of extra work for the actress.

Melissa Sue Anderson’s Career After “Little House on the Prairie”

Melissa Sue Anderson was excellent on Little House on the Prairie. She was nominated for four awards and won two of them for her role as Mary Ingalls. But, after seven seasons on the show, Anderson left the NBC drama. Reportedly, it was a relief for the actress.

According to a 2010 interview with PopEntertainement, she was hardly around the set during her last season. She was still playing Mary Ingalls but was essentially left out of season seven.

The Little House on the Prairie star said that “Actually, I started the seventh season doing (the theatrical film) ‘Happy Birthday to Me’ in Montreal. And I was here for eight or nine weeks.”

She seemed ready to leave the show – ready to move on with her career. “I was always working on something else,” Anderson said in the interview. “Whenever I wasn’t being used on Little House on the Prairie, and there was enough notice, I could do a movie of the week or an after-school special or a ‘Love Boat’ or this or that. I got really used to not being there every day, especially in the last year. That was good because it made it easier to go.”

Consequently, she decided to leave to pursue other ventures. She got to be a part of four episodes in The Equalizer as well as two episodes in Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Anderson also was in an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

Most impressively, though, the Little House on the Prairie star won a Daytime Emmy Award. The award was for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming for her work in ABC’s Afterschool Special, Which Mother is Mine?.