Little House on the Prairie, the iconic drama series about the Ingalls family’s adventures at the end of the 19th century, is warmly remembered by an entire generation of television viewers.
People sometimes wonder “where are they now?” after finishing the show because of the large number of notable characters and performances.
One of the actors that left the industry was Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls; she recently discussed the reasons for her decision to leave Hollywood and the limelight.
On September 26, 1962, in Berkeley, California, Melissa Sue Anderson entered the world.
She was a timid child who would rather read than play outside or climb trees.
The young lady with the crystal blue eyes was quickly recognized for her stage presence and talent.
The girl’s dance instructor suggested that her parents find representation.
Anderson, a model student, started her acting career as a child, making guest appearances on shows including Bewitched and The Brady Bunch (where she played Millicent, the girl who gave Bobby his first kiss).
But her breakthrough came when she was cast as Mary Ingalls, a pivotal character in Little House on the Prairie.
She was the main attraction for the first seven seasons and a recurring character for the next eight.
Anderson was also nominated for a Golden Globe as TV’s leading lady in a drama series.
“I’m lucky that there even was a character to play, because in the book, there isn’t much of one,” she quotes from her home in Montreal. “Laura [Ingalls, author of the Little House novels upon which the series was based and the story was centered] was a quite older woman when she wrote the books. She was remembering the best of her life. The characters of Ma and Mary didn’t factor in a lot. There was a lot of Laura and Pa and Laura and Jack the dog and Laura and Mr. Edwards, but there wasn’t a lot of Mary. I’m fortunate that they discovered that I could act,” Anderson told Pop Entertainment in 2010.
It wasn’t simple for the high school student actor to become one of the most recognized figures in the country.
”A lot of kids at school are curious and ask inappropriate questions, like, ’How much do you make?’ That’s embarrassing. I’ll just give them a look that lets them know what I think of the question or tell them it’s none of their business,” she told Iowa City Press-Citizen in 1977.
Celebrity Net Worth estimates that Anderson made about $1.5 million during her time in the spotlight.
However, the young actress’s compensation wasn’t very great throughout her time at Little House.
”Everybody thinks actors make a lot of money. But we don’t. At least, not by the time we pay certain costs. Twenty-five of my pay goes into a trust fund. 10 percent to my agent and I spend a lot – too much – on my fan club which has 1,500 members. The initial cost people pay for belonging to the club is one thing, but we spend extra to send out letters, bulletins, Christmas cards. It’s publicity and everything, but it’s costing a lot. Plus, I pay my mom for coming to the set every day, because I’d hire someone to take me here and home anyway,” she said in 1977.
Much of the show’s staying power can be attributed to the enduring popularity of its characters and the performers who played them.
Season after season, the show offered veteran actor Michael Landon his potentially defining role as the family’s “Pa,” Charles Ingalls. It also produced stars out of young actors like Melissa Gilbert Sue.
The ensemble interacted so well on-screen that it seemed as if they were related, and off-screen, the actors remained close friends and supportive of one another for years. However, the actors did not always get along.
Melissa Gilbert has been on record as sharing how she truly felt about her Mary Ingalls co-star.
“She is hateful, horrid, mean, terrible, difficult. She hated me. She knocked me off the wagon when I was nine,” Gilbert explained.
Anderson’s major roles after Prairie ended were in TV movies like Which Mother is Mine? and Survival of Dana.
She kept acting, but like so many other child and teen stars, she was never able to repeat the success she experienced on Little House.
Melissa Sue Anderson today
For a brief time in the 1980s, Melissa Sue Anderson dated Frank Sinatra Jr. Melissa, only 17 at the time, and Steve met when she had a cameo role on The Love Boat.
When they first met, Frank Sinatra Jr. was already 19 years her senior.
”Frank Jr. stood right next to the camera and cheered me on,” Melissa said.
”He was a great help.”
Melissa, though, claims that the significance of the rumored romance has been exaggerated.
“He is just a very good friend,” she remarked.
Melissa married Michael Sloan, a TV producer, in 1990. Piper, their daughter, was born in 1991, and Griffin, their boy, was born in 1996.
She made a monumental choice because of her family and decided to become a Canadian citizen.
After relocating to Montreal in 2002, the family eventually gained citizenship in 2007.
“The whole family is Canadian exactly now, and my husband and I had to take the test, and we studied and studied and studied,” she said in an interview with E-Talk.
She said she wanted to leave show business when her children were young so she could spend more time with them and not encourage them to pursue a career in show industry.
“I really stepped away for a long time,” she said. “That was really for the kids so they would have their own sense of who they were as opposed to being with me.”
Her children, she claimed, “have no interest in acting at all,” but she herself has returned to acting with bit parts in TV shows and films.
Melissa, who is now 60 years old, has written a memoir titled The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House on the Prairie.
Melissa – you still look young, and your beauty will never leave you, and most importantly, you’re a good soul!
She is modest, realistic, and grounded. This woman actually exists! Not overly polished or slick like some Hollywood performers may be.
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Finding out the whereabouts of former TV favorites is usually a treat. Thank goodness Melissa Sue Anderson is doing fine.
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