Melissa "Missy" Francis Interview
When I began contacting the Little House cast in the hope of them allowing me to interview them, Melissa Francis was the first one that I spoke to and the first to take part, and I will never forget our telephone conversation where I just had to doublecheck she was, infact, the girl who played Cassandra from Little House on the Prairie, which made her chuckle! Thank you, Melissa for taking part in Little House Memories.
BARNABY MARRIOTT: Can you please tell me the whole process of how you came to play Cassandra Cooper/Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie - what do you remember about the initial audition and how did you feel when you learned you had won the role?
MELISSA FRANCIS: I remember vividly the day I went to audition for Little House on the Prairie. I had been on hundreds of auditions even though I was only seven, appeared in more than 50 TV commercials, had been in another series and even a movie.
To me, this was just like any other audition... except Michael Landon was there! He was warm and friendly, but it was startling to see him in modern clothes! I read the scenes with him, and even at such a young age, I felt a connection and knew that he would pick me. I don't think I really understood how much that would change my life.
BM: Can you remember going to the set to film your first episode and get to know the cast?
MF: The next thing I knew, I was boarding a Lear Jet with my mother, my new "brother" Jason Bateman, and Michael Landon, all flying to Sonora, California to film the first episode.
In the next few weeks, I got to know my new "family". I can honestly say that everyone was really very welcoming. Rachel and Robin Greenbush were delighted to have another girl their age to play with!
I always had plenty of playmates and friends on the set, which made things fun. Even though Matthew Laborteaux was older, he was very kind to his "younger sisters". He helped us with both lines and homework, and included us in his activities.
On this set, when we went to school it was so much like the schoolhouse you saw on the show. All the kids together, in different grades, but working side by side, playing outside during breaks, passing notes when the teacher wasn't looking! It was as normal as a school set could be, and I have only very happy memories of day to day life on the set of Little House.
BM: On the Lear Jet, you had already had a taster of Michael Landon's infamous playful nature. Can you recall any other funny shenanigans he got up to on the set?
MF: Michael went out of his way to amuse us. His favourite trick was hiding a frog in his mouth and letting it jump out at you when he began to speak! I remember him letting us sneak into the set used for the Olesons' general store and playing with all the props on the counters!
BM: Were you disappointed that you only got to play Cassandra for one year, as most of the Ingalls family left the show in 1982?
MF: I was very sad when our part of the show ended. As a child, I was not focused on what it meant for my career. I just knew that a very exciting and joyous time of my life had ended. Though, I must say, that after a few days back in the third grade, I had moved on to new adventures.
BM: Can you please tell me a little about your other acting works and tell us what Melissa Francis is up to in the 21st century?
MF: My whole childhood was filled with special adventures like Little House. There was the time I appeared on Mork & Mindy and Robin Williams gave me a doll version of himself, and a teddy bear for my 8th birthday!
I remember doing yoga at lunch time with Martin Sheen, when I played his daughter in Man Woman Child, and learning a lot from Glenn Close when I played her daughter in Something About Amelia.
My childhood acting career showed me places and introduced me to people others wouldn't meet in their entire lives. The awards I won and the acclaim I received gave me self
confidence, and led me to feel I could achieve anything I wanted to, in any field.
When I finished high school, I chose to go thousands of miles away to Harvard University in Boston, to decide whether or not I wanted to continue in acting. I had known nothing else in my life; I wanted to see what it was like to be someone else.
I majored in Economics, and decided to persue a career in broadcast journalism, with a focus on business news. I still love television, but I wanted to have more of an impact on the content of what I did.
In the few years I have been out of college, I have been lucky enough to find great success in reporting and anchoring the news. I now appear in a show on CNBC, which was my dream. I am also married to a man who is everything I always hoped for in a husband.
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