Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Little House on the Prairie
Currently Known For:
1974 - 1982
September 26, 1962
Little House on the Prairie
To view another celebrity please click the next celebrity button below or read the full article by scrolling further below.
“I’m calculating, self-sufficient, reserved and I enjoy being alone.” Tumbling down a grassy hillside never looked so fun until Mary, Laura and Carrie Ingalls rolled down the Minnesota prairie without a care in the world as part of the intro for the hit television series Little House on the Prairie. With Michael Landon and Karen Grassle taking on the role of Charles (Pa) and Caroline (Ma) Ingalls, twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush played the young Carrie as Melissa Gilbert played Laura “Half Pint” Ingalls and the beautiful Melissa Sue Anderson played the shy, older sister, Mary. In fact, Anderson was the only star on the series to earn an Emmy Award nomination after wowing audiences and critics alike for her performance during the fourth season when her character went blind. Now, over three decades later, fans still remember Anderson as “blind Mary” although the 54-year-old has done quite a bit more in Hollywood since the 1970s.
Born on September 26, 1962 in Berkeley, California, Anderson’s first interest was in dance as she excelled on the stage so much that her dance teacher encouraged her parents to find an agent. Luckily, her parents took the advice and hired an agent who found it easy to find the young Anderson work thanks to her piercing blue eyes and gorgeous blonde hair. In 1972, she made her acting debut at 10 years old on an episode of Bewitched. The following year, she made a memorable appearance on The Brady Bunch as the girl who kissed Bobby Brady.
With obvious talent, Anderson was 11 years old when she auditioned as the oldest daughter, Mary, for a new series on NBC titled Little House on the Prairie starring Michael Landon. Recalling her audition during an interview, Anderson said, “There were 50 girls, approximately, who originally interviewed for the part of Mary [Ingalls]. That was narrowed down after a meeting with a room full of NBC executives. That was then narrowed down to 25 girls to read for Michael Landon—which was a thrill in itself, I might add. That was narrowed down again for a screen test. I was only 11, so I really can’t tell you how long it was, but it seemed like forever before I knew. I was ecstatic when I heard I’d got the part!”
Anderson made her debut as Mary Ingalls on the show’s two-hour movie pilot that aired on NBC in March 1974 before it was picked up in September. As the lives of the Ingalls family unfolded in Walnut Grove, Minnesota throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Anderson spent the next eight seasons as the shy older sister who eventually went blind during the show’s fourth season. The tragedy was an iconic shift in television as Mary never regained her sight and earned Anderson an Emmy Award nomination for her performance making her the youngest person ever nominated in the Leading Actress category at the time.
“I went to the Foundation for the Junior Blind, for specific instructions on how a young person adjusts to recent blindness,” Anderson said. “It was the only time in the history of television that a series regular had lost their sight and not gotten it back… ever. Therefore, it was exciting and challenging at the beginning… but a very difficult thing to sustain over a period of years. As far as what Mary could do, my character became limited because she couldn’t see… This, ultimately, is the reason why I decided not to stay with the show and only do three episodes in the eighth season.”
Finding it easy to step away from Little House on the Prairie in 1981 after her character faded more and more into the background, Anderson only returned for the final two episodes of the eighth season. By this time, she wasn’t hurting for work after building her resume throughout the late 1970s with appearances on hit series like The Love Boat, CHiPs and Fantasy Island. The legendary Michael Landon even cast her as Nancy Rizzi in his 1976 autobiographical film, The Loneliest Runner. In 1979, she found even greater success when she earned an Emmy Award for her performance on the ABC Afterschool Special episode titled “Which Mother is Mine?” The same year, she starred in the made-for-television flick Survival of Dana before reaching even new heights in 1980 when she received Spain’s highest television award—the TP de Oro Award—as Best Foreign Actress for her work on Little House on the Prairie.
Saying goodbye to prairie life, long dresses and black shoes, Anderson set her sights on the future and made numerous guest appearances across television and film with some of her work including films like Goma-2, Chattanooga Choo Choo, The Suicide Club, Far North and Dead Men Don’t Die. Her television appearances include Hotel, Glitter, Dark Mansions, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Murder, She Wrote in addition to her work as the voice of Snowbird on X-Men. In 1990, she was fortunate enough to try her hand as an associate producer on Where Pigeons Go to Die, which was also Michael Landon’s last project before his death a year later in 1991.
Retiring from television in 2007 and becoming a Canadian citizen alongside her husband, Michael Sloan, Anderson has spent the last decade in and out of the spotlight. In 2010, she released her autobiography, The Way I See It-A Look Back at My Life On Little House, which offers readers a glimpse of life on the set with Michael Landon and the rest of the cast and crew. It also reveals Anderson’s life after Little House and her gratitude for the boost the series gave her career. And, while she may not be working full time in Hollywood—at least not on television—the 54-year-old recently made a return to the silver screen for the 2016 film, The Brits Are Coming. Beyond that, Anderson says, “I’m retired, except to act when friends, who are producers or directors, ask me.” That certainly seems fair enough!