‘Little House on the Prairie’: Michael Landon Explained How Child Actors Improved During Series

by Will Shepard
(Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)

Michael Landon starred as Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie for nine seasons. He was also part of three movies made that were based on the television show.

When the show began in 1974, the actresses playing his daughters were very young. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, was only ten years old. Her older sister on the show, Melissa Sue Anderson, was only twelve years old. The youngest daughter in the family, who was played by the Greenbush twins, was only four years old.

So this meant that the Little House on the Prairie actresses were all basically brand new to acting. The girls playing the daughters on the show had very little experience. The collective experience between the four actresses, according to IMDb, was ten episodes of assorted television shows.

In an interview with Johnny Carson on his talk show in early 1980, Landon explained how much the children had grown as actresses.

“You know it’s amazing to watch that show over the years [and see] the kids grow up and get older. And the show takes on a different dimension,” Johnny Carson said. “People really get hooked on it, don’t they?”

“The kids have just come along so tremendously in their performances and their acting ability,” Landon said.

Landon then explains that Mary is married and Laura is going to get married in very the near future. Johnny Carson then asked what will happen when those two leave the house. The audience laughed hysterically, but the Little House on the Prairie star said that he and his wife still have their youngest daughter, Carrie, to tend to. Landon then joked that they “could be like the Cartwrights.”

How Michael Landon Realized That Melissa Gilbert Should Play Laura on “Little House on the Prairie”

There are some wonderful stories about Michael Landon conducting the auditions for the Ingalls girls. In particular, his interview and audition with Melissa Gilbert stands out.

Landon almost immediately knew that Melissa Gilbert was the perfect choice for Laura on Little House on the Prairie. He was so confident that she was the right fit for the role that he only sent her screen test to the producers.

Even though producers only saw Gilbert’s screen test, there were lots of girls who auditioned for the role. Because Little House on the Prairie was such a popular book, lots of girls wanted to get the Laura part. But, Landon only had Gilbert in mind for the part after her audition.

The star of the show was heavily invested in the show’s success. So, when Melissa Gilbert finished her audition, he staked his credentials on her. This was certainly the right choice by Landon. Gilbert fit in perfectly with the show. In fact, she made Little House on the Prairie one of the most popular shows on air.