Little House Lies… Albert WHO?!?

Yesterday, my Author Spotlight blog acknowledged the birthday of the great American author, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Specifically, I talked about Pamela Smith Hill’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography, and some of the dark details of Laura’s life that were omitted from her children’s books.

Today, I want to talk about the TV series. Oh, you know the one I mean…

 
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When most people hear the title, “Little House on the Prairie,” they think of the popular TV show starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and Michael Landon as her “Pa,” Charles Ingalls. The series aired from 1974-1983 on the NBC network. Many Little House fans know that the show was based on a real family, or should I say “Very Loosely” based? To be blunt, the TV series was a pack of lies.

Now, I’m not dissing the show itself; I loved it as a kid. Obviously, it was something special if it ran for nine seasons. It was great, wholesome (most of the time), family entertainment. There should be more shows like it today.

 

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Melissa Gilbert and the Real Laura

 

BUT, BUT, BUT!!! Historically, it is sooo wrong. The real Laura Ingalls Wilder has a very dedicated and devout fan base, and many of them pride themselves on being Laura “experts.” The majority of them (judging from posts in a private Facebook group) intensely dislike the show, as it spread flagrant misconceptions about the Ingalls family. Like, for all you “casual” Little House fans, how many of you thought that Albert was real? Let me see a show of hands. Wow, that’s a lot of you! The truth is…

 

albert

Albert, who never existed.

 

Albert never existed. The Ingalls family never adopted a son. For some reason, I never liked the character of Albert anyway. As a young girl, I found him “icky.”

Speaking of adopted children, who can forget James and Cassandra. In Season 7, the brother and sister, along with Pa Ingalls, witnessed their parents’ death in a terrible wagon accident. (In my mind, I can still see the wagon tumbling over and over down that hill, as the children screamed for their parents. It was quite graphic.) These children never existed in the real world.

 

cooper kids

Jason Bateman, Michael Landon, Missy Francis, as James, Pa, and Cassandra.

 

*Let me pause for a moment to acknowledge that Jason Batemen, who played James, grew up to be a hottie! After Little House, he went on to star in Silver Spoons and then The Hogan Family. Any other ‘80s gals remember having his poster on your wall? Oh, come on– admit it!*

 

jason WOW

 

But, I digress… back to the topic at hand.

Almanzo really did have an older brother named Royal. The TV series killed him off and Laura and “Manly” adopted Royal’s daughter, Jenny (played by a prepubescent Shannen Doherty!). This. Didn’t. Really. Happen. The real Royal lived to old age. 

 

Little House on the Prairie

Shannen Doherty as the completely fictional Jenny Wilder.

 

Nellie Oleson was the bane of Laura’s existence in the TV series. While not entirely fictional, Nellie was actually a conglomerate character, combining three different girls that the real Laura could not stand. Their names were: Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. (Ironic surname on that last one!) Owens, like Nellie in the TV series, had a little brother named Willie, and their father was the town mercantile. But Real-Life Nellie Owens didn’t marry a geek named Percival like in the TV show; she married a widower named Henry. (And honestly, what was up with that name, Percival???)

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Allison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson, and the real Nellie Owens.

 

A huge difference between  the books and the show, is that while the entire TV series had the family living in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Actually, the Ingalls family moved around A LOT. Pa had what he called an “itchy wandering foot.” The family moved from Pepin, Wisconsin (Laura’s birthplace) to Independence, Kansas, then to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. While we watched the fictional Laura grow up there, the Ingalls family only lived in Walnut Grove for two years before moving along again, first to Burr Oak, Iowa, and finally to De Smet, South Dakota, where they settled down for good.

 

ingalls family

Ma, Carrie, Laura, Pa, Grace, and Mary

 

Laura and Manly married and made a home in Mansfield, Missouri. The TV show depicted their home being destroyed by a tornado. In real life, it was a fire that consumed their house, accidentally started by Rose, who was a toddler at the time.

 

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Actually, this casting was not bad. Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert, compared with the real Laura and Almanzo.

 

A few other things…

The real Pa had a beard. A big one. Or, “whiskers,” as Laura called them in her books. Michael Landon was always clean-shaven. Rumor has it that Michael claimed he was unable to grow a beard, due to a natural lack of facial hair. (I rather suspect that it was a case of vanity… he probably didn’t want to cover up his pretty face.)

 

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TV “Pa” versus the Real Charles Ingalls

 

The TV Laura loved being a teacher. In real life, Laura hated teaching, and only did it because her family needed money to send to Mary at the Blind School.

And that brings me to the final, BIGGEST lie that the writers of the Little House TV series fed to gullible American television viewers. And that would be the fabrication of Mary Ingalls’s marriage to “Adam.”

 

adam and mary

What is UP with Adam’s HAIR???

 

Mary never married in real life, nor did she have a baby like the TV show would have you believe. In fact, the Blind School she attended forbade interaction between its male and female students. After completing her education, Mary moved back in with her parents. After their deaths, she lived with her sister Grace, and then with Carrie. She suffered several strokes before her death in 1928.

 

real mary

The Real Mary Ingalls

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books had many compelling Real Life characters, such as Cap Garland, her very first crush, her adventurous Cousin Lena, and her best friends, Mary Power and Ida Brown. It’s baffling why the TV show chose to exclude them.
And now there is buzz about a Little House movie coming to the big screen. I suppose we can hope for the best… but expect the worst.

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1 Comment

  1. I LOVED the books and the tv show, but had to separate them in my mind, since the show was so wrong about Laura’s real life.

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