Lucy Lee Flippin Interview

Eliza Jane Wilder

After sending me a brilliant signed photo, with a very kind inscription, I got back in touch with Lucy Lee Flippin for the enthralling read interview you can see here! Thank you so much, Lucy Lee, from myself, Annika and all the Little House Memories readers!

BARNABY MARRIOTT: Can you remember the whole process of how you came to play Eliza Jane Wilder in Little House on the Prairie? What do you remember about the initial audition and how did you feel when you found out you had won the role?

LUCY LEE FLIPPIN: I had an initial interview with the casting director, Susan Sukman - we chatted and then she said I was to return to read for Michael Landon but I must pull my hair back, look very severe and wear no makeup. I came back in a few days and Susan was in a small room at MGM and there was Michael in boots and jeans, very laid-back, charming - he couldn't have been nicer. I did the monologue once, he gave me "an adjustment" to be more strict, I read the piece again and then left. I don't remember many actresses waiting to go in after me. Two weeks went by before I heard. Apparantly they picked me that day but they had to get NBC network approval and cast the part of Almanzo, etc. It changed my life, needless to say.

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 and the set was always a happy one. Is this a true statement?

LLF: : He was a very hard worker - directing, acting and writing many of the scripts. He had a raunchy sense of humor, usually right before a "take", to relax the actors - it was difficult to keep a straight face acting with him! He was into physical fitness then and had a little gym installed at MGM. He used to go to Las Vegas to write episodes, where he would rent a penthouse in a casino!
I have enormous respect for his work ethic. What a tragic and quick ending.

BM: In the show, Eliza Jane Wilder is a very kind and sweet character, but her depiction in the books is something quite different (she is not especially pleasant to Laura and, in particular, Carrie). Do you know why this change was made for the show?

LLF: No. I guess creative licence.

BM: What was it like filming in Simi Valley, and what were the best and worst things about making a show set in the 19th century?

LLF: The worst was getting up at 4:30am for an early make-up call! It took an hour to get to Simi. As you know it was still undeveloped land, no telephone or electrical poles - it is now a pricey golf course complex! During the gas shortage it was very stressful making sure you didn't run out and then have to wait in line for a limited amount of fuel. The valley could be cold and foggy or very, very warm and dusty in those 19th century clothes.

BM: What are your memories of the following cast members?

Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls/Wilder)
Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder)
Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls)
Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls/Kendall)
Katherine MacGregor (Harriet Oleson)
Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey)
Hersha Parady (Alice Garvey)
Ketty Lester (Hester-Sue Terhume)
Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson/Dalton)

(please add any other cast members you wish!)

LLF: Melissa Gilbert was very bright, very professional, easy to work with. She had a photographic memory and always knew everyone else's lines! She had a party in 1984 at her mother's house in Encino.
Dean Butler was adorable - we made our debuts at the same time! He seemed unspoiled and decent and all the girls had a crush on him. Katherine MacGregor took him under her wing. He dated Mary Hart of ET fame for a while. I remember when he bought a BMW with his own growing fame.
Karen Grassle was lovely and dedicated. I went to her house once. We respected each other but she had her issues with some of the policies going on - she and Michael were not always buddies off screen. Different personalities entirely, plus there was so little time to socialize.
Melissa Sue - I never really had any scenes with her. She seemed lovely and popular.
Katherine MacGregor was a pistol - she stirred up the pot! Great character actress - why she didn't go on to greater things?!
Merlin Olsen was a gentleman, nice and easy. I didn't really have any scenes with him. We did an FTD commercial after the show ended. He was a cordial fellow for being a rugged former athlete!
Hersha and I never worked with one another directly. She seemed lovely as well, and popular.
Ketty and I didn't have much to do together but we got on and liked each other's work. Michael adored her.
Alison was fun - very direct, very bright, wry, refreshing... she was very funny doing her scenes in the restaurant! She keeps in touch at Christmas. I was at her first wedding and saw her in a play once - she is devoted to AIDS fundraising as her husband on the show, Steve Tracy, died a few years after the show ended. Very impressed with her dedication. I don't know if she still does stand-up comedy. Her second husband, Bob, I think manages music groups.

I also loved Dabbs Greer, who played Reverend Alden - a wonderful human being, and the Greenbush twins were darling girls, not forgetting the Laborteaux family as well! Mathhew was a super, beautiful boy actor. I had a crush on Linwood Boomer who is now a huge success as creatoor/producer of Malcolm in the Middle.

And then my "Laura Ingalls Wilder" co-star, James Cromwell - how fun to work with him! He went to college with my then husband!

BM: You joined the cast in 1979 and left the following year. Would you like to have stayed on for further seasons?

LLF: That was my agent's call - I got cast in the sitcom Flo, a spinoff of the Alice show. It was greater exposure and more money, my agent thought. I had mixed emotions about leaving - he had to get Michael's permission. That is why he wrote the "Laura Ingalls Wilder" episodes as a goodbye present to me. He also brought me back over the next three years for special guest appearances.

BM: Can you recall the first time a fan of the show recognised you, and are you still recognised today?

LLF: Yes, I am stilll recognized today. People are very kind - I get wonderful fan letters from all over the world still, because of the Internet!

BM: Why do you personally think the show was so popular, and is still watched and loved by so many in re-runs to this day?

LLF: Family values, fun characters, and beloved books!

BM: Personally, I think some of your greatest work was prominent in the 2 part episode "Laura Ingalls Wilder", in which Eliza Jane falls in love with Harve Miller (guest star James Cromwell), only to find out he is in love with another woman. Also, Eliza Jane makes some big sacrifices to help both her brother Almanzo and Laura, his wife-to-be. What are your memories of making this 2 part episode?

LF: These were my two favourite episodes, which Michael wrote especially for me. To sum it up... Nirvana! I knew it was special, and I hoped it would never end.

BM: Which cast member was the least different from the character they played?

LLF: Victor French. He was really a teddy bear.

BM: You have some very impressive film credits in your resume - The Front, Annie Hall, Goin' South, Flashdance, Lady in White and A Perfect World to name a few, which means you have also worked with such names as Woody Allen, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner! Would you please tell us about some of your movie experiences?

LLF: Have you got a week?! Martin Ritt keeping his head down while I auditioned for The Front - he only wanted to hear my voice...Woody Allen remembering me from The Front and hiring me for Annie Hall - he always wears sneakers and is very shy... meeting Warren Beatty in his "naughty" years - he had x-ray eyes and was a male diva!... Jack Nicholson was very laid back and charming in a dangerous way, but slow and often tardy as the director of Goin' South with John Belushi also there, and Danny DeVito - we had the same agent. Look at him now! Who knew about the success of Flashdance?! Get recognized a lot from that... Lady in White was wonderful, as the director is a personal friend of mine. I loved my schoolteacher character - very Eliza Jane 1960s style!... Carl Reiner and Clint Eastwood were the most polite... Kevin Costner kept to himself - focused on his renegade character, plus I think he was breaking up with his wife at the time. As a director, Clint runs a very quiet set!!! I remember I had to swear in that movie!

BM: Could you please tell me some biographical information about yourself?

LLF: I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1943. I have two older brothers, and one son named Christopher, who is 25 and works in the Biotech business. I love playwrighting, golf, pilates and yoga. My most recent job is in Little Black Book, a feature film comedy with Kathy Bates, Holly Hunter and Brittany Murphy

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