Charlotte Stewart Interview
Although I am grateful to all the Little House stars who have allowed me to interview them and answer my questions so gracefully, I would like to say a special thank you to the wonderful Charlotte Stewart, who has been so helpful, informitive and (above all) friendly since summer 2000, e-mailing me on a regular basis and taking such a kind interest in this website, and being a great e-mail pal for so long now. So, Charlotte, thank you again for all your help and a special thank you for sharing your Little House Memories with me and everyone else...
BARNABY MARRIOTT: Can you remember the whole process of how you came to play Eva Beadle/Simms 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?
CHARLOTTE STEWART: When I was called to meet Michael Landon and the producers of Little House on the Prairie in 1973, I thought it was for just one episode, so I was really quite relaxed.
I also noted that I was the only actress who was not in "Old West" attire to audition. I personally think that kind of thing silly - if the producer can't imagine how you'll look in Western clothing, he shouldn't be producing!
The audition scene was from the episode when Mary and Laura start school. I was reading in Michael's office, so I asked him if I could sit behind his desk and treat him like my school student! I discovered later that he thought that was very funny. Then I sternly ordered them to do their homework or stand in the corner like Nellie and Willie Oleson! I guess they were pretty shocked but I got the part.
When I realized Miss Beadle was to be a continuing role, I was floored - and delighted! THEN I found out it was a four year contract - what a surprise!
BM: How was it being the devoted schoolteacher to Laura and Mary Ingalls, played by Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson?
CS: I first met the little girls when we were being fitted for wardrobe. They were so cute and openly awed by everything. They showed me respect as if I really was their real teacher. Through the years, we became very good friends as they grew up to be lovely young ladies.
BM: Did you enjoy filming in Simi Valley and what was it like shooting a show set in the 19th century?
CS: I loved the Simi Valley location where all the exteriors for Walnut Grove were built. It was actually like walking into the Old West. We would all be driven out to Simi Valley, then go into make-up, hair and costume fittings, then walk over the hill and down into Walnut Grove, past the mill, past the Olesons' store and across the square towards the schoolhouse/church.
I have always felt a connection to the 19th century, probably because of my grandmother, Ellie Ellis. She came from Ohio in a covered wagon as a child. I could really picture living in that time. I loved the clothes and the hairstyles.
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 very happy one. Is this true?
CS: Yes, he was. Since the crew had all worked with Michael for many years before, there were always baseball games and cards at lunch times. However, my work days were usually short because I worked with children, who were only allowed to work a specific number of hours a day. I really miss the consistency of working on the same show every day, it was like a family.
BM: What are your memories of the following cast members from the show...
Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls)
CS: Karen was great. She came from the theatre and was very serious about her work. We are actually even closer now that we were then.
Dabbs Greer (Reverend Robert Alden)
CS: I always had the greatest respect for Dabbs. He has a wondeful sense of humour and was a complete professional.
Kevin Hagen (Doctor Hiram Baker)
CS: Kevin still has a lot of things going on in his career. Again, I had the upmost respect for this man. He and Dabbs could tell the greatest stories!
Victor French (Isaiah Edwards)
CS: Victor was a rascal! He was always playing practical jokes. In fact, the greatest one was actually after his death!
He planned his funeral down to the last detail. It was held at the Gene Autry Museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. It was night and the patio was open to all of us. He had a band playing his favourite tunes, several bars, great food and at one point his attorney made a speech, thanking us all for coming.
THEN, he said, "If you will all look up to the sky, there is a message from Victor". Puzzled, we all looked up to see a plane flying overhead with a lit sign, which read EAT SHIT - LOVE VICTOR!
I thought Michael was going to fall on the ground, laughing! I remember trying to get to a phone, to call someone and tell them to look at the sky. It was hilarious!
Bonnie Bartlett (Grace Snider/Edwards)
CS: I didn't know Bonnie very well, but I respected her talent.
Katherine MacGregor (Harriet Oleson)
CS: I loved Katherine. Not at all like the character she played, she is a deeply spiritual person who now has no desire whatsoever to renew her career.
Richard Bull (Nels Oleson)
CS: Another fine actor, but I didn't know Richard at all.
Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson/Dalton)
CS: Well, you could do a book on Alison alone! A complete whacko with a heart of gold, who is very funny and would do anything to spread her awareness of the AIDS epidemic.
Jonathan Gilbert (Willie Oleson)
CS: A nice kid, who seems to have grown up into a very nice young man.
BM: What are your personal favourite episodes of Little House on the Prairie and what are your reasons why?
CS: I think "Four Eyes" is my favourite. I loved how Mary becomes insecure when she has to wear glasses and is teased by Nellie, about how she'll become an old mail just like Miss Beadle! Later, Mary's fears disappear when she comes into the schoolhouse to catch Miss Beadle kissing a very handsome young man!
Another favourite is "Troublemaker" when Miss Beadle is fired by the schoolboard for not being a good disciplinarian, but is later reinstated when the new teacher turns out to be TOO strict. That episode was inspired by an event in my own family history. My godmother, Pauline Wilkie, was a teacher during the 1930s in Mendicino, California and the big boys only came to school when they weren't working in the lumber mills with their dads.
One day, she was kept in the schoolroom for hours while the boys threw rocks at the door. Michael thought elements of that story could be used for an episode, and Victor French directed it.
BM: Were you disappointed when your four year contract came to an end and you left the show in 1978?
CS: Actually, I felt it was time to move on and there was no more historical reason for Eva Beadle/Simms to be in Walnut Grove. She married pig farmer Adam Simms and in those days, a married woman could not be a teacher.
BM: Can you recall the first time a fan of the show recognized you, are you still recognized today as Miss Beadle and what is it like talking to Little House fans?
CS: I actually don't remember when a fan recognized me from Little House because I had been working in so many other shows before that time. However, it is funny now when grown men and women recognize me, because they get so excited! Back in 1974, they were children and now some of them have children of their own.
I make many appearances around the country and fans are always very appreciative. I recently made an appearance at The Indy 500 Race in Indiannapolis, and I feel very lucky that the show has made it possible for me to make so many wonderful trips and that I get to meet people from all over the world.
When I make TV appearances, I occassionally see Robin and Rachel Greenbush. There is talk of us going to Paris together for a TV interview!
BM: Can you tell me the details of the Little House Reunion that took place a few years back?
CS: We had a wonderful reunion sponsored by the town of Sonora in Northern California. Sonora was the site of many locations for Little House, as well as numerous Western films. The hills surrounding the city take on many distinctive looks of Minnesota, Wyoming and the south.
Since it is only a six hour drive from Los Angeles, it was a favourite of producers and directors. Situated just north of Yosemite National Park, one could vacation as well as work in the area.
My husband David and I drove their with our dogs, Honey Bear and Bibi. We were able to stay in a charming bed & breakfast in the hills just outside of town. The hostess was so accomodating, always leaving us little scones and coffee each morning, and had snacks waiting for us when we returned at night.
The turn out for the reunion was huge! We were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic support from fans of the show who came from all over the United States to meet us. It lasted for three days and even in the rain, fans stood in line for hours, IN COSTUME (!), to meet us and get autographed pictures. We spoke at symposiums and shared stories of Mike and Victor and our days on Little House. We cried a bit too!
We went to a big town picnic and many people took a ride on the railroad in the rain. We each had a local sponsor who would show us around and took very good care of us. My sponsor had an emo farm. For the record, emos are like big osterich birds, taller than humans and, may I say, pretty stupid! But they lay the most beautiful blue eggs.
BM: In closing, can you tell me some biographical information and let us know what Charlotte Stewart is up to in the 21st century?
CS: I was born in Yuba City, California on 27 February 1941. My father was a fruit rancher and my mother was ironically a schoolteacher. I have one brother, Lewis, and a sister named Barbara Jean.
I lived in Yuba City until 1958 when I attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts. It was there I met my husband David Banks, although we would not actually marry until 1992! We were the best of friends when we met, and we fell in love when we met again later in life. He is still my best friend.
I have no children, although David has a son named Jason and a grandaughter named Brittni, who is 14.
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