Two weeks ago I was intending to write about the TV show Little House on the Prairie, but I felt it imperative to first establish how much the classic books by Laura Ingalls Wilder meant to me. Then things got wordy as they always do and I decided to split the post into two parts.
As I was working on Part 2, I accidentally hit ‘Publish’ before I was ready. I changed the status back to ‘Draft’ but a rough draft of this may have shown up in your blog reader.
Here now is the fo-real Part 2.
Imagine the flute or whatever it is piping up. Doo doo doo doodoodoodoo doodoo doo. It’s Little House time!
Only, it has never been Little House time for me.
I had opportunities. Growing up, it was readily available. Proponents said it made them feel good. My own mother tried to peer-pressure me into it. But time after time, I just said no.
Let’s talk about my mom, the Little House on the Prairie pusher. First of all, she adores Melissa Gilbert. When I was growing up, every now and then Melissa would pop up in a made-for-TV movie and my mom would exclaim, “Oh my goodness, Melissa Gilbert is all grown up! Now that makes me feel old!” and she’d look at me like I knew what she was talking about.
In recent years, she went through a phase where she watched seasons 1-5 on DVD six times in a row or something crazy like that. Every time we talked she would dreamily mention what an excellent show it was and how she loved it almost as much as she loved the Waltons. I wouldn’t be able to respond because I’d be quietly gagging. One time she asked me, “Do you want to borrow my Little House DVDs?” and when I replied, “Eh, thanks but I don’t think so. It looks so hokey and Michael Landon’s hair bothers me,” she was pissed.
My mom was so offended that I got the sense she was regretting ever giving me life. At the very least, she might have been thinking, “We should have never let her start watching horror movies.” Later, she might have even dialed up the Maury Povich hotline with the suggestion for an episode called, “My Grown-Ass Child Sucks: Where Did I Go Wrong?”
However, given my mom’s reverence toward the show, and given that I’ve read the books and have always found it fun to complain about adaptations, Little House has always been on my radar. I’ve tried to give it a chance but up until a month ago, I was never able to sit through an entire episode. Two major reasons for that:
1. The opening credits bothered me
1a. I had the (incorrect) perception that nearly every actress in the cast was named Melissa. I like the name Melissa so I really can’t say why this upset me so; it just seemed excessive. In reality, there are only two Melissas in the cast. That’s certainly a disproportionate amount of Melissas, but not as many as I once perceived.
1b. I had another (incorrect) perception that nearly every actor in the cast used their middle names. Wrong again, it was just one of the Melissas – Melissa Sue Anderson. I don’t know why I was so judgemental and illiterate on the matter of the cast’s names. In my defense though, for years I thought that “Lindsey Sydney Greenbush” was another cast member who used three names. Inexplicably, the credits failed to distinguish that “Lindsey Sydney Greenbush” was two people, little twin girls. This situation is so gothic that Freud would be like, “The self has silenced the doppelganger…for now. Das Unheimliche!”
Oh, wait. Full House did the same thing to the Olsen twins. Weird.
Is this an industry standard thing to do to twins? Maybe it’s like when male rock stars are supposed hide their marriages so that they won’t lose their sex appeal to their fans. In this case, maybe the TV execs are worried that audiences hate twins and will boycott a show if they know twins are on it? Whatever the reason,
I’m sure it’s logical.
1c. The Great Fall. I hate it when the aforementioned Lindsey Sydney Greenbush trips and falls. As soon she starts barreling down the hillside, I grit my teeth and clench up, waiting for the stumble. It’s supposed to be cute, I know, but it stresses me out. The whole time, I’m yelling at her in my mind. “Straighten up! Please, just this once, don’t fall. For the love of god, don’t fall.” But she always does. She always does. Maybe in later seasons she gains some coordination and they allow her to calmly walk down the hill.
Even if I did make it past the credits, there were other reasons to not want to watch the show…
2. Almanzo was supposed to look like Ricky Ricardo! (stamping my foot adamantly)
I was stunned the first time I saw the actor who played Almanzo, Laura’s beau and eventual husband. Based on how he was drawn on the cover of These Happy Golden Years, my assumption that his name was Spanish, and with all the Nick at Nite I watched as a kid, I pictured Spanish Almanzo as Desi Arnaz. Pomaded hair, Cuban accent and all. Boy did the TV show blow that one.
Pictured below: Real Almanzo vs. TV Almanzo.
I am not blaming Dean Butler, the actor who played the character, for my disappointment in casting. Dean, it’s not you, it’s me. As I understand, he was quite the heartthrob during the show’s run, so there’s that. Besides, I really should have known better than to picture Desi Arnaz as Laura’s love, given Ma’s dislike of foreigners.
As for the other actors, I’m not even going to get into my thoughts on Michael Landon as Pa. Yet.
3. Mary gets a man? WTF?
I had heard that the show quite different from the books: that it was wildly melodramatic and that characters, plots, and general intrigue were added and changed for the sake of good TV. Consider the following conversation with my mom, which was sparked after she wondered out loud how strange it was that she, a voracious reader in her youth, never came across Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.
Me: You should totally read them now! You would love them. I have all the books. Do you want me to bring them down the next time I visit? Or you could go to the library. Or we could order them on Amazon. Do you want to start at the beginning or jump around? The Long Winter is my favorite, but that’s one of the later books.
Mom: Are they like the show? Does Mary go blind?
Me: (inappropriately enthusiastic) Oh yes!
Mom: And does she go off to the college for the blind?
Me: Yes, she does!
Mom: And does she fall in love with her teacher and end up working at the school?
Me: Ummm…what? No, not at all.
Mom: (disappointed) Oh.
Me: The books don’t go into it, but in real life she ends up back home, living with her parents. She never gets married.
Mom: (crushed) Oh.
Me: But the book goes into detail about how they sewed Mary’s clothes before she leaves. It’s really interesting. And in Little House on the Prairie the book, it talks about Pa making the front door and how he didn’t have nails so he had to use wooden pegs! Can you imagine making a door without nails?
Dang, I’m such a bad salesperson. I don’t think Mom will be reading the books anytime soon, but this conversation lead to
The Change of Heart
At first, TV Mary’s character arc seemed scandalous. Imagine, Mary falling in love with her teacher while away at college! I never! And yet…wouldn’t it have been nice for the real Mary Ingalls or even the fictional Mary Ingalls of the books if this had actually happened.
From the first book, I felt an affinity with Mary, a fellow good girl. What can I say, some people are just born to behave. Given my fondness of the character, I lament that the audience hears so little about Mary’s life at college. I have wished for a long time that an ace historical fiction author will come along someday and boldly write a book from Mary’s perspective.
I started thinking about the TV show in terms of fan fiction, which I view as free supplementary stories about beloved characters. Quality-wise, you never know what you’re going to get. Best case scenario: a canon-respecting, well-written adventure that is just as good as anything the real author could have put out. Worst case scenario: an erotic love-making scene between two characters who should not be doing the nasty, like Lassie and Timmy.
I then unscientifically calculated that the TV show would likely fall somewhere between perfection and bestiality. After all, even if the show strayed far from the books, it would still featured the same beloved characters. That should at least provide mediocre satisfaction.
The other change of heart: Melissa Gilbert herself
One day not too long ago, I was looking at Amazon’s Recommended For You page. One of the suggestions was Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography, entitled Prairie Tale: A Memoir. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “Does my mom know about this?” I clicked further to the reviews and discovered that numerous reviewers were incensed that Melissa Gilbert in real life was not the wholesome pioneer girl she played on TV. Shocking, right, that a person who came of age as a TV star in the 1970s would have plenty of sex and drug anecdotes. I haven’t read the book myself, but I heard that she writes about intimate encounters with various celebrities. That’s exactly what I’d want to read about in a celebrity memoir, but I guess to these reviewers, the image of Half Pint banging Billy Idol (yes, that happened!) felt like a betrayal to the Little House legacy.
These reviewers spoke lustily of Michael Landon, old-fashioned values, and simpler times before crucifying Melissa Gilbert. They called her
a rotten mother
They said that her son looks homeless.
They said that [her book] doesn’t seem right to the deceased Michael Landon.
Damn, that’s cold! At first I was delighted by their self-righteous doltishness, but all the hateful personal attacks soon left me with a bad taste. It felt as though the hate was being slung on behalf of the show. Come on, people, stop being so possessive of the show, the characters, and the source material. What would the real Laura say to all of this? She might not exactly say, “You go, girl!” to Melissa Gilbert, but I don’t think she’d approve of all the name calling, either.
It was then that I made up my mind to see every episode of the show. Number one, it would make my mom happy. Number two, I’d get more Mary stories. Number three, it’s possible that the show needs a few less loonies watching it.
It’s funny how life can change in the blink of an eye. One minute you’re a regular Josephina, just going to work and coming home and drinking coffee and wiping pugs’ and Mertles’ butts after they poop because those exposed anuses will leave feces residue all over your furniture if you don’t, and the next second God himself floats down from h-town to give you a mission.
“Honey Chile,” God said to me because he has the voice mannerisms of Jackee, “You need to watch yourself some Little House! Every episode. And blog about it, even! Go on now! Go forth and multiply the episodes you have seen, amen!”
Thanks, God, that is exactly what I’m going to do! Every episode, from the TV movie about their time in Kansas squatting most illegally on Indian Territory (Oh, Pa) to the other TV movie where they blow up the town (Oh, Michael Landon).
And yes, I will blog about them all. I’m not going to let the TV show take over this blog, but hear me know, every single episode will be (sporadically) documented. And hear this, I will probably be working on this side project until I’m 80.
End of longest post ever.