‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Katherine MacGregor Didn’t Always Think of Harriet Oleson as a Villain

by Clayton Edwards
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Little House on the Prairie was one of the most popular shows on television. Fans loved the show during its original run. Today, people still tune in to watch the citizens of Walnut Grove live their simple pioneer lives. The Ingalls family was the center of the show. Their lives were full of adventure, homespun wisdom, and heartfelt life lessons. However, that would have gotten boring if there was no conflict. On the other hand, not all conflicts can be life-threatening or even life-changing. There had to be some kind of balance to make the show truly work. So, the series needed a villain. It needed someone who would be antagonistic and, at the same time, not pose a real threat to anyone.

Little House on the Prairie found that balance with Harriet Oleson. She was a nasty, bigoted, vindictive shrew of a woman. Mrs. Oleson looked down her nose at everyone she came across. Her daughter, Nellie, proved that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The pair was a constant thorn in the side for the Ingalls family as well as the rest of the citizens of Walnut Grove. In fact, Harriet Oleson was often a thorn in the side of her husband who she constantly berated.

On the other hand, Mrs. Oleson was comical. After all, the actress who portrayed her, Katherine MacGregor was a comedian. So, she injected plenty of humor into the character. She made Oleson both a villain and the butt of her own jokes at the same time. This addition allowed Mrs. Oleson to be the kind of character that audiences love to hate.

Before her death in 2018, the former Little House on the Prairie co-star talked about her iconic character. She discussed how she added her own personality to Mrs. Oleson as well as how she thought of her.

Katherine Oleson Didn’t Always See Her Little House On The Prairie Character As A Villain

It comes as no surprise that the actress who played Harriet Oleson had different ideas about the character than the people who watched her antics from week to week. For starters, she didn’t think of her Little House on the Prairie character as a villain all the time.

“I didn’t keep thinking of her as a villain,” MacGregor said of Harriet Oleson. Instead, she looked at her character as a person who “had her own ideas about things.”

MacGregor knew that she had to have some balance in her character. She said the thing that made her Little House on the Prairie role work so well was that she was a foolish woman. So, she was never truly a threat. Instead, she was just endlessly infuriating. She would sometimes have sweet redeeming moments as well. These things made Mrs. Oleson one of TV’s favorite villains. Even now, decades after the show ended, we still love to hate Harriet Oleson.

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