‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Harriet Oleson Actress Katherine MacGregor Crafted Her Character’s Backstory

by Will Shepard
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Harriet Oleson was the gossipy wife of a shop owner in Little House on the Prairie. Katherine MacGregor was cast for the part in 1974 and played the surly character for 152 episodes.

While Harriet Oleson was based on Margaret Oleson, MacGregor had a lot of leeway for the character. Michael Landon, the main character on Little House on the Prairie, gave her the reins to play the character as she wanted.

The result was outstanding. During an interview with Katherine MacGregor after the show finished, she explained how she got to create her own version of the character. Little House on the Prairie used her vision of how the character should look.

“I sat down, and I wrote eight pages of where I came from, what kind of education I had, what kind of parents I had, what kind of home I had, what kind of person my mother was, what kind of person my father was, and did I have any brothers or sisters. No! I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. I was an only child,” MacGregor said emphatically.

MacGregor’s character was an incredibly independent woman. She even described her character as being “domineering.” So, it took a certain character to get along with Harriet Oleson. For the purpose of the show, MacGregor played the villain perfectly. Some fans of the show did not like her character, a testament to the job she did playing Oleson.

Harriet Oleson Was Missing From the “Little House on the Prairie” Finale

When Little House on the Prairie had the show’s finale, many of the stars were not part of the episode. In fact, Melissa Sue Anderson, Alison Arngrim, and Merlin Olsen were not part of the last episode. And almost as importantly, Katherine MacGregor was left out.

According to IMDb, the Harriet Oleson actress was battling alcoholism throughout the show. To help with her addiction, she converted to Hinduism. It helped her overcome the battle.

But, because she transitioned to the new religion, it got in the way of the series finale. When the final episode was scheduled to happen, she was taking a pilgrimage to India. In her stead, Michael Landon and Karen Grassle held down the final episode of Little House on the Prairie.

According to Alison Arngim, Macgregor was hard to work with. Even though she was a kind person, she could be incredibly disruptive. So, even though MacGregor played an important role in the show, her absence from the final episode may not have been devastating for the rest of the cast.

Outsider.com