I first contacted Charlotte Stewart back in 2000, to interview her for Annika’s Little House Memories website. In the years to follow, Charlotte and I have kept up a fantastic correspondence, e-mailing and letter writing back-and-forth on a regular basis.
I live in England, and in May of 2004 I let Charlotte know that my partner Mark and I were planning a week’s holiday to California, sometime over the summer. Charlotte replied, saying that would be wonderful and then she told me that she and a few others from Little House on the Prairie were having a small reunion at The Hollywood Park Race Track in July. She also told me that if I were in California around the same time, then I’d be very welcome to go with her and her husband, David Banks, as their guest.
Naturally, I was amazed – and very excited, and very honoured! I immediately thanked Charlotte and accepted her very generous invitation. Charlotte put me in touch with Rachel Greenbush, who had organised the whole event and kindly agreed that I was able to attend.
I also got in touch with Alison Arngrim, and we had a very friendly telephone conversation a couple of weeks before the reunion. Alison and I chatted about many things, and her enthusiasm for Little House on the Prairie was fantastic! As I was coming from England, she asked me if I could possibly bring her over a bottle of British HP Sauce for her to use in her cooking! I promised I would, and told her I’d also bring a snowglobe from Brighton (the seaside town in Sussex, where I live) to add to her vast collection!
Then Mark and I booked time off from work in mid-July and booked eight days in California, where we were to stay at a hotel in Hollywood – minutes away from Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the legendary Hollywood Sign itself viewable in the distance!
After a couple of days exploring all the typical tourist attractions, including the fantastic Universal Studios and Disney’s California Adventure, July 15th 2004 arrived – the day where I would meet the brilliant people associated with one of my favourite television shows of all time!
Charlotte and her husband David picked me up in their car from my hotel around 12 noon. It was lovely to meet Charlotte in person, after four years communication! We all chatted away to each other, while David pointed out many interesting things about the architecture and history of the city en route – he knows California like the back of his hand, and it was fascinating to listen to what he had to say.
When we arrived, I felt both excited and nervous in equal amounts! Charlotte had already told me that Rachel and Robyn Greenbush had organised the whole get-together, and they’d chosen Hollywood Park because the late Michael Landon had spent many a day there, enjoying himself watching the horse races! He used to take several cast members along with him, from time to time.
Pretty much everyone who was attending had already arrived, and was seated privately at the Finish Line Café – to converse, have lunch and watch the races. I could immediately see and hear the people I’d watched so many times on the screen, and couldn’t believe I was standing so near to them!
When Charlotte spotted Melissa Gilbert, the two of them embraced and seemed delighted to see one another. Melissa was there with her husband, actor Bruce Boxleitner, and their young son, Michael. I smiled when I heard Melissa introduce Charlotte to her little boy – she said, “Mikey, this is Charlotte. She played my teacher on the show!”
Dean Butler and his wife were there, but only briefly because they had a plane to catch at LAX a couple of hours later. I was so pleased to meet Dean, who was unbelievably charming and down-to-earth. When he heard I’d travelled all the way from the UK to be there, he was absolutely astonished – and delighted!
When I got a chance to speak with the Greenbush twins, I immediately thanked them for allowing me to come. They were lovely to chat to, and it was nice to meet their family – mother Carole, actor father Billy, their brother Clay (who had also appeared in Little House) and Rachel’s daughter Katlynn.
After the hysterically funny and terrific chat on the phone we’d had, I couldn’t wait to meet Alison Arngrim! When I spotted her with her husband, Bob Schoonover (who is one of the sweetest, friendliest guys I’ve ever met), I was so excited to go over and introduce myself. When I did, she gave me a huge hug! This was to be followed by a second huge hug, when I gave her the HP Sauce and snowglobe!
Alison introduced me to Melissa Gilbert, and we all had a good laugh about the HP Sauce! Melissa said that the HP Sauce they have in the United States is just as good, but Alison dug her heels in and INSISTED that the British one is MUCH nicer! Melissa posed for a lovely photo with me, and told me she hoped I enjoyed the day.
Alison took me under her wing from then on! I already knew that she was very funny from our phone conversation, but I had no idea just how even funnier she is in person – not to mention friendly, excitable and enthusiastic! When we sat down to lunch (delicious fried chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables – plus chocolate chip cookies for dessert!), I sat at a table with Alison and Bob. I’d been introduced to Karen Grassle and her daughter Lily earlier by Charlotte, and I got to chat to them properly when they joined us at our table.
Alison then introduced me to Radames Pera and Brian Part, who had played the roles of John Jr. and Carl, the orphans adopted by Mr Edwards (Victor French). Like Dean Butler, they couldn’t believe their ears when they heard I’d come from so far to attend that day! Radames told me a lot about his time on the show, and Brian was happy to learn that his most prominent episode, the 2-parter “Remember Me” had been the only one available on videotape in England for years!
A wonderful thing at this event, that everyone seemed to get a huge kick out of, was to see not one, not two, but THREE sets of twins present! Rachel and Robyn Greenbush, who had shared the role of Carrie; Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh (Grace); and Jennifer and Michele Steffin (Rose).
I chatted a fair bit with the Turnbaughs and their mother. They were really lovely, and one of them was pregnant! I asked them how much of appearing in the show did they remember, as they had been so little at the time. They said there were vague recollections – Wendi said that they’re not always sure if they can actually remember certain incidents, or if it’s just the fact that their mother told them about it years later!
However, they both recall fighting over scenes in the episode “A Christmas They Never Forgot” when one of them had the treat of eating a stick of rock candy, while the other one just had to pretend to be asleep on Karen Grassle’s lap!
Another highlight of the day was getting to meet Patrick Loubatiere – the French author of La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie Walnut Grove – Terre Promise. He was in touch with several members of the cast and, like myself, had also been invited for the day. The two of us were both so honoured and thrilled to be there… or, as Patrick said to me, “We are the two luckiest Little House fans in the world at this moment!”
One of the most amusing incidents of the day was when I introduced myself to Ruth Foster, who had played Mrs Foster in the show. Charlotte told me that Ruth was a fantastic professional dancer, and was still doing the high-kicks at 85 years of age! When I said hello to Ruth, she looked at me very puzzled and said, “Oh, I’m sorry dear – I can’t remember who you played in the show? Remind me, please!” I laughed, and told her that I had never been in the show! We both had hysterics, and Ruth said, “Oh, THAT would explain why I couldn’t recall which character you’d been!”
Even more funny was the surprise from the kind-hearted staff at Hollywood Park! In secret, they had arranged for a trumpet player to arrive unannounced, to perform the Little House theme tune to full affect! The looks of delight and amusement on everyone’s faces were priceless, and the guy got a huge round of applause afterwards.
Everyone was enjoying themselves immensely – chatting, eating, betting on the races! As well as the cast, several members of the crew were also present, including producer Kent McCray and writer B.W. Sandefur. Later, several of us went down to the Finish Line, to see one of the winning horses come in!
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, as people had to leave and I said my goodbyes. Charlotte gave me a huge hug, and I thanked her yet again for such a treat! Alison and I arranged that we would meet up again while I was still in California on holiday, deciding that she would take Patrick Loubatiere, Mark and myself to the beach in beautiful Santa Monica the following day.
Patrick and I stayed for a bit longer, chatting with the Greenbush family. Rachel was talking about how the very early episodes in Season One of Little House are her absolute favourites, and we all had a good laugh reminiscing about classic moments from the show!
A friend of Patrick’s very kindly offered me a lift back to my hotel, and we had to leave. We said our final goodbyes, and made the long drive back to Hollywood, chatting non-stop for the entire car journey about what a fabulous day we’d had… and we still had a day in Santa Monica with Nellie Oleson herself to look forward to!
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