Little House on the Prairie pulled out all the stops for its season three premiere back in 1976. The guest stars were country legends Johnny Cash and his wife, June.
The “first couple of country music” played against type, somewhat. They were grifters. Johnny Cash was an ex-con. June Carter Cash was his devoted wife. Johnny Cash, as Caleb Hodgekiss, rescued Walnut Grove preacher, Reverend Alden, from a runaway wagon.
Hodgekiss put on Alden’s preacher’s collar. And then he pretended to be a member of the clergy while tending to the townsfolk on Little House on the Prairie. Alden had been collecting money for the church. Cash decided to continue the fundraising, but he planned on keeping the money.
Little House on the Prairie Star Wrote About Johnny Cash In Her Book
Melissa Sue Anderson wrote about the season three premiere with the country stars. She included anecdotes about them in her book, The Way I See It: a Look Back At My Life On Little House.
Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls on Little House, wrote:
“Singers are almost always excellent actors. This was definitely the case with June and Johnny (we called him ‘John’). I remember being so surprised at how good June was portraying Mattie Hodgekiss, the ‘stand-by-her-man’ grifter, with a heart of gold, alongside John’s con man, Caleb.”
Mary Ingalls fell for the Little House con, too. Her character went with them to solicit money from the neighbors.
Anderson wrote: “[June] did a terrific job, as did John. I was beyond excited to work with him, as I was featured in this episode and had almost every scene with him. … I loved this episode. I’ve always loved stories about grifters and con men, and being able to be a part of one was especially fun.”
Anderson said Johnny and June Carter Cash gave each of the cast members a copy of the book Man In Black. Anderson received a bottle of perfume, her very first. She said it was called Worth.
Johnny and June Hosted A TV Show Earlier in the 70s
Johnny and June Carter Cash weren’t strangers to TV before they appeared on the Little House series. The two hosted The Johnny Cash Show on ABC each week from 1969-71. The Statler Brothers opened each episode. The Carter Family also was part of the show’s regular lineup.
Johnny Cash also was appearing in national television commercials in the mid-1970s. He even wrote the jingle for Lionel Trains. His first autobiography — Man In Black — was published in 1975. It sold more than a million copies.
By the end of the episode of Little House, Johnny Cash had seen the error of his ways. It was sweet redemption.