‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Explains Why She Took on New Nickname During Filming

by Matthew Wilson

“Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Sue Anderson may have played Mary Ingalls on the show. But she was known by a different nickname on set.

The young actor elected to adopt the nickname “Missy” when she wasn’t filming. “Little House on the Prairie” had an abundance of Melissas. Both Anderson and Melissa Gilbert played sisters on the show. So, it was easy for the production staff to confuse the two when filming. Anderson decided to go by Missy to avoid the potential headache.

“Missy, yes. Because there were the two Melissas. And it was a little bit confusing. So I said I would go to Missy. That was easy for me because my name being Melissa, as a toddler or baby, I couldn’t say Melissa. I could say ‘Miss-a.’ So ‘Miss-a’ shortened to ‘Miss’ and that’s what everyone called me,” Anderson said during this YouTube video. “Missy was the easy way of distinguishing between the two of us.”

Of course, Anderson preferred her nickname compared to Gilbert’s character’s nickname. Gilbert played Laura Ingalls on the show. But she was referred to affectionately as Half-Pint.

Melissa Sue Anderson and Her Audition

But before she joined “Little House on the Prairie,” Melissa Sue Anderson had to beat out 200 other girls for the part. There could only be one Mary Ingalls after all. And Anderson managed to pull off her audition and become a part of TV history. She would go on to play Mary for seven seasons on the show. During the eighth season, Anderson left the show and only made infrequent guest appearances.

But the actor credits winning the role to a table reading she had with Michael Landon. This occurred during the final phase of the auditioning process when production had narrowed it down to a few actors.

“Then, they narrowed that down a little bit more and we had screen tests,” Anderson said. “… I think I did scenes with Melissa Gilbert. … It seemed like a long time later – it was at least a week – before we heard anything. I think they like my blue eyes. They thought I was very Mary with the blue eyes. So, I was happy. … It was fine, it was great.”