Melissa Sue Anderson Interview

Mary Ingalls/Kendall

I had a lot of difficulty finding an address/phone number to get in contact with Melissa Sue Anderson. All that changed when I spoke to her incredibly helpful agent, Peter Nicholas Meyer, who I need to thank for passing all the information back to me, and thank you to Melissa Sue Anderson for taking part in Little House Memories ! BARNABY MARRIOTT

BARNABY MARRIOTT: Can you tell me the whole process of how you came to play Mary Ingalls/Kendall in Little House on the Prairie - what do you remember about your initial audition and how did you feel when you were told you had won the role?

MELISSA SUE ANDERSON: There were 50 girls, approximately, originally interviewed for the part of Mary. That was narrowed down to after 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 again for a screen test. I was only 11, so I really can't tell you how long it was, but is seemed like forever before I knew. I was ecstatic when I heard I'd got the part!

BM: What are your memories of shooting the first episode?

MSA: I think you mean the pilot, 2 hour movie. We shot in Stockton and Sonora, California. It rained a lot in Stockton - our heavy trucks sunk in the mud. Sonora was snowy and quaint. We had to do a rain sequence using added sprinklers and, of course, it was freezing. We all got soaked! Karen Grassle opened my dressing room door because I was shaking too much to do it myself, even though she was just as frozen as I was - very nice!

BM: What are your memories of the late Michael Landon, who was such a driving force behind the show? Legend has it he was very fond of practical jokes on the set - is this a true statement?

MSA: He always tried to make me laugh at the end of my close-ups, but I frustrated him because I wouldn't laugh.

One time he challenged me to a chili-and-onions contest - I might have won, I can't remember, I was too sick! He was great, a terrific guy.

BM: Are there any major similarities between you and the character you portrayed?

MSA: Not really, except for both being shy.

BM: How did you get along with the Little House cast, in particular Linwood Boomer who played your husband Adam Kendall?

MSA: Although we were all very different, the cast got along quite well. Our older actors are wonderful people and I feel I learned a lot from them, especially Victor French, Kevin Hagen, Richard Bull and Dabbs Greer.

Linwood Boomer had a crazy and unusual sense of humor, and was very sweet and talented. I'm thrilled to see his success as a writer/producer [Boomer's credits include the hit TV sitcom Malcolm in the Middle] as he really deserves it.

BM: Which Little House episodes are your own personal favourites?

MSA: "Four Eyes"…"The Award"…"I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away" parts 1 & 2…the episode when Michael and Karen go on vacation, leaving Victor French to babysit us…"The Collection" with guest star Johnny Cash.

BM: Personally, I think some of your best acting came in the 2 part episode "I'll be Waving As You Drive Away" in which Mary looses her sight. How did you feel about this particular storyline and how did you face the challenge of playing a blind person for three years?

MSA: I went to the Foundation for the Junior Blind, for specific instructions in how a young person adjusts to recent blindness. 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.

There were a lot of situations I shouldn't have been in involved in, but for the viewers' sake I had to be, so they wouldn't think Mary had disappeared…but being blind, she probably wouldn't have been in those situations.

This, ultimately, is the reason why I decided not to stay with the show and only do three episodes in the 8th season.

BM: You are the only cast member of Little House to have been nominated for an Emmy Award for their work in the show - Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role in a Television Series, Drama in 1978. Was it an honour to receive this nomination and did you attend the Emmy Awards that year?

MSA: Yes, it was an honour, a great honour to be nominated. I was the youngest person ever to be nominated in the Leading Actress category for an Emmy at the time, I believe.

I had a designer dress made, I did go to the ceremony and it was a very exciting evening.

I didn't think I was going to win - as executive producer, Michael Landon felt that I should have been nominated in the Supporting Actress category. Quite rightly, I think.

But because I was the featured cast member in "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away", the Emmy nomination committee put me in the Leading Actress category. I might have had a better chance if I'd been a Supporting nominee, but it was still an honour to be nominated.

BM: What were the best and worst things about making a television series set in the 19th century?

MSA: Being 16 and not being able to wear nail polish! Long hot dresses, black shoes where the bottom of your feet felt like they were going to burn in the heat of Simi Valley. On the other hand, if you had missed a set of leg-lifts one day, it didn't matter!

BM: In your own opinion, why do you think the show was so popular and is still watched by so many in reruns to this day?

MSA: Because people are always interested in seeing the lives of pioneers. It makes their own life seem easier. And, of course, because of the family values our show represented.

BM: You left the show in 1981. Was it difficult quitting the role of Mary after playing her for seven years?

MSA: Yes and no. It would have been harder to leave if I hadn't been blind on the show. But because of those limitations, it wasn't as difficult to leave. I was working all the time in those days, doing Movies of the Week and the occasional feature film and some theatre work, so I had a pretty exciting career at that point.

I love portraying Mary Ingalls and being part of the Little House phenomena.

BM: If there was ever to be a Little House reunion episode, would you be willing to reprise your role of Mary one more time?

MSA: Yes. But it would be a lot more fun if she could hit her head on a rock and get her sight back!

BM: What is Melissa Sue Anderson up to in the 21st century?

MSA: I'm retired, except to act when friends, who are producers or directors, ask me. Some years ago I did a play in Toronto, Canada for a director friend of mine named John Wood entitled To Grandmother's House We Go , and I recently played a seismologist in a TV movie on the Fox Family Channel called Earthquake in New York .

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