‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Uncredited Role Sean Penn Played in the Series

by Evan Reier
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Many actors often get some of their earliest appearances on big projects, but Little House on the Prairie arguably had one of the most unique ever.

The iconic program ran from 1974 to 1983 as one of the country’s favorite programs. A talented cast combined with the premise of a late-1800s family to create one of the biggest programs in TV history.

The core cast of Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson as well as others rarely changed, but the Ingalls family often helped and engaged with others in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The feel-good nature of the show was both captivating and fulfilling as viewing material.

And while anyone could pick out a shot of Michael Landon from the show, they likely couldn’t pick out Sean Penn. That’s mostly because the now-famous actor was still very young when he appeared on the show.

According to Amo Mama, Penn received one of his earliest acting appearances on the show. Both he and his mother, Eileen Ryan Penn, appeared on the show.

This was due to an inside connection: Sean Penn’s father, Leo Penn, directed a Season 1 episode of the program.

Episode 11 of Season 1 is titled, “The Voice of Tinker Jones.” In the episode, a mute and deaf tinker, played by Chuck McCann, provides a potential solution to a church bell problem.

Penn and his mother appear as town locals.

Little House on the Prairie Star Michael Landon Loved Pranks

While we’ll probably never know for sure, we can’t rule out the possibility that Michael Landon may have pranked Penn while on the show.

The actor-director apparently loved pranks, and was especially prank-heavy while on set of Little House on the Prairie. Many of the pranks were said to be at costar Melissa Gilbert’s expense. However, he also utilized his on-screen daughter for his shenanigans.

In Gilbert’s memoir Prairie Tale, she unveiled the times Landon called upon her for pranks.

“We shot exteriors on a Simi Valley ranch about ninety minutes north of Paramount, and if the sun was out, Mike would, by late morning, strip off his shirt and work in just his pants, boots, and suspenders,” wrote Gilbert. “(In all fairness, it could be hellaciously hot in Simi Valley.) Well, women came out in droves to watch him work and to swoon, and he loved playing a certain prank on them.”

Gilbert then explains that Landon would ask her to fetch a frog. What came next can only be described as comedic genius.

“[He put the frog in his mouth and] walk over to where the women stood, say hello, and let the poor freaked-out frog jump out at them. As they gasped and shrieked, he flashed a naughty, self-satisfied grin that made him even more lovable.”

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