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:
Actor and Voice Artist
1978 - 1983
December 8, 1966
Little House on the Prairie
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“Acting isn’t something I had to learn to like. It’s something I’ve done since I can remember and I love to do it.” Adopted twice in his lifetime—once by his parents and once by his on-screen Ma and Pa in Little House on the Prairie—Matthew Laborteaux might have had a drastically different life if it wasn’t for his parents adopting him at 10 months old. In fact, after he was diagnosed with early autism and a hole in his heart, doctors were ready to institutionalize him when a young actress and her husband stepped in and welcomed the child into their home. Only a few years later, Matthew had proven the doctors wrong when he joined his brother opposite the legendary Michael Landon in the popular series, Little House on the Prairie. Taking home two Young Artist Award nominations for his performance from 1978 to 1983, let’s take a closer look at Matthew’s early life and his Hollywood career!
Born with a hole in his heart on December 8, 1966, Matthew Charles Laborteaux was 10 months old when he was adopted by an actress named Frances Marshall and her husband, a talent agent and an interior designer named Ronald Laborteaux. Although the hole in his heart healed on its own, doctors diagnosed Matthew as autistic or retarded and encouraged Frances and Ronald to institutionalize him for the remainder of his life. Having already gone through something similar with their son Patrick, whom they adopted at nine months old despite being labeled psychotic by physicians, Frances and Ronald refused to send Matthew away and, instead, brought him home where they tried a variety of diets before learning he suffered from low blood sugar, which caused his erratic behavior. “Sugar had been as poisonous to his system as alcohol or dope,” Frances recalled. “The minute we corrected his diet, the change was drastic and immediate. All his problems disappeared. It was amazing.”
With the drastic change in his demeanor, Matthew still had a few hurdles to overcome as his mother brought him along to Patrick’s acting classes and auditions, which were part of his weekly therapy. “Matthew did not walk until age three or talk until age four… when anyone would try to pick him up, he would scream and try to get away,” Frances recalled. When a casting director asked Frances if she would allow him to audition for a commercial with his brother, Frances couldn’t believe her ears. “I was panicked. He would throw a tantrum if anyone touched him, but Matthew just got up and followed her into the room. It was like sitting on a powder keg smoking a cigarette.”
Getting his start in a handful of television commercials, Matthew made his professional acting debut in the 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence, which he followed up with small parts on television series like The Rookies, Phyllis and NBC Special Treat. In 1976, he appeared as a young Charles Ingalls in a pair of flashback sequences in the first two episodes of Little House on the Prairie and watched his brother join the cast as the Ingalls’ neighbor, Andy Garvey, in 1977. A year later, Matthew returned to the series as Albert Quinn Ingalls when the Ingalls family adopted him as their son. While the storyline itself was memorable, working alongside the talented Michael Landon was an even bigger treat as Matthew recalled, “He treated kids differently. As long as you showed up on time, knew your lines, worked hard and, you know, gave a s—t, you were aces in his book. He’d treat you like another actor, not talk down to you. He had a strong personality. As an adult, now I can look back and have sympathy for anyone trying to go up against a force of nature like Michael Landon.”
Spending five seasons on the show, Matthew earned two Young Artist Award nominations for Best Young Actor in a Drama Series and even reprised his role as Albert in television films like Little House Years in 1979 and Little House: Look Back to Yesterday in 1983. By the time Little House on the Prairie wrapped in 1983, Matthew was a well-known teen idol who was featured in popular magazines like Bop, Superteen, Teen Beat, 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat.
“I’ve been acting since I was four, so I’m used to being around adults on movie and TV sets,” Matthew said in one of the features. “Acting isn’t something I had to learn to like. It’s something I’ve done since I can remember and I love to do it. So does Pat. We’re actors and we wouldn’t want to be anything else right now. Our careers keep us busy and have given direction to our lives. We’re close to our parents and very open with them. I’ve even tried to do some of the ‘normal’ things kids my age enjoy, like going to a roller rink or just hanging out, and it’s no fun. To me, acting is fun. During vacations and hiatus, I begin to get impatient with all the free time.”
On the heels of his success with Little House, Matthew accepted the starring role of Richie Adler on Whiz Kids from 1983 to 1984 and later turned heads for his performance alongside Kristy Swanson in Wes Craven’s 1986 horror flick, Deadly Friend. Although the film was a flop at the box office, it eventually became a cult classic as Matthew took on guest roles in episodes of Silk Stalkings, Paradise and Aaahhh!!! Real Monsters. He also teamed up with his brother to launch the Youth Rescue Fund to help runaway youth as a tribute to his own childhood struggles. “We want to show our gratitude for the kind of home and parents that Pat and I have,” Matthew said of the program. “The best way to show how much we care is to try to help others who aren’t lucky enough to have a home and parents like ours.”
In the late 1990s, Matthew combined his love of acting with his passion for video games when he dabbled as a voice-over artist with his first credit in the Disney musical, Mulan. Today, the 51-year-old is now in high demand thanks to his work on television series like G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, and Winx Club as well as films like Bride Wars, Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time, and The Wind Rises. Beyond that, he credits his parents for truly giving him a chance at life as he’s spent the last five decades living the ultimate dream.