‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Didn’t Know What She Was Auditioning For Before Being Cast

by Suzanne Halliburton

Melissa Sue Anderson didn’t really know she was auditioning for Mary, the part she played for years on “Little House on the Prairie.”

All she knew was the show was going to be for a “period Western.” Melissa Sue Anderson revealed more details in an interview from 2007.

“Well, actually. in the very beginning, I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for,” Anderson said. “It was a period western, they said. And then they explained to me it was going to be a pilot, hopefully, a series, based on the series of books called ‘Little House on the Prairie.'”

“Then I got very excited because I was the right age,” Anderson said. “I had read the books. So then I realized it was for Mary. I knew that had to be the character who I would play.”

Melissa Sue Anderson Describes Audition Process For Little House

The competition for the parts in the new pilot was extreme.

” I think they had at least 200 girls for each role at that point, at least Laura and Mary,” Melissa Sue Anderson said. “And then they narrowed that down, to 10 or so, to meet with (star) Michael Landon and read for him. Then they narrowed that down a little bit more and had screen tests. And I think I did scenes with Melissa Gilbert, I think they actually paired us up.

“They had some Mary’s with different Laura’s and some Laura’s with different Mary’s. And we did the film tests with that. And then it seemed like it was a long time later. It was at least a week before we heard anything. … I thought it went well, but I didn’t feel like maybe I had gotten it because I left and they were still doing other Lauras and other Mary’s. Thought one of them will (get the part) probably.

“But it all worked out. I think they liked my eyes. I was Mary with the blue eyes.”

As we all know, Melissa Sue Anderson got the part of Mary and played her for seven full seasons on “Little House on the Prairie.” During the eighth and final season of the show, Anderson had a recurring role, but wasn’t a full-time member of the cast.

Anderson was 11 years old when she started playing Mary Ingalls, the oldest among the Ingalls children. Mary also went blind. The real-life Mary Ingalls went blind as a teenager. Doctors thought that scarlet fever took away her eyesight. On the show, Mary became a teacher for the blind.

Anderson was nominated for a 1978 Primetime Emmy Award for Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series for playing Mary. But it was an ABC Afterschool Special that earned Anderson her Emmy. She won that a year later for her work on “Which Mother Is Mine?”