The iconic family drama Little House on the Prairie hit the airwaves in 1974. Based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series featured the real-life trials and triumphs of the Ingalls family in the late 1800s.
Created by Michael Landon, who also starred as Charles Ingalls, the actor called the shots on all aspects of the show. Melissa Sue Anderson portrayed oldest daughter Mary, who went through more tragedies than any other character on the show. She later revealed she grew tired of being the object of misery.
Melissa Sue Anderson got an Emmy nomination for her role as Mary Ingalls
Anderson had taken on some acting gigs before landing her role on Little House on the Prairie. With guest appearances on popular sitcoms like Bewitched and The Brady Bunch, Anderson knew her way around a set by the time she got the part of Mary Ingalls.
In season 4, Anderson had the opportunity to stretch her acting muscles when her character went blind. The actor received an Emmy nomination for Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1978. Though she didn’t win, Anderson was the first and only cast member on the show be nominated for the award.
During her time on Little House on the Prairie, Anderson had other bit parts on shows such as Love Boat and some TV movies. She received another Emmy nomination in 1979 for her role on the ABC Afterschool Special Which Mother is Mine? Anderson’s last episode as Mary Ingalls was in December 1981.
‘Little House’ star wanted to move on from Walnut Grove
Before her last episode aired, Anderson was a bit vocal about wanting to leave the prairie. By the time she was in her last year as Mary Ingalls, her character had been through scarlet fever, blindness, a miscarriage, her baby being killed in a fire, and temporary insanity.
“It’s no fun,” Anderson told People in June 1981. “When they run low on story ideas, someone says, ‘What can we do to Melissa Sue that’s really awful?’ ”
Deciding at the time to hire manager Jay Bernstein, whose clients included superstars Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers, Anderson was actively pursuing more mature characters to play.
“I told [Bernstein] no teen roles, no posters,” she remarked. “I don’t want what Shaun Cassidy gets. I am a serious actress. I’ve already played a 22-year-old. Why go backward?”
‘It became too soap opera-ish’
When promoting her memoir, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, Anderson was able to more concisely sum up her reasons for wanting to put Mary Ingalls behind her.
“It wasn’t just the blind issue, but also the period of the show,” she said in 2010 of the series set in the 1870s, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was very limiting, what you could or couldn’t do. I used to say I was blind and boring. Either I was just there not doing much or going through some tragedy. I couldn’t take it anymore. It became too soap opera-ish.”
Though Anderson had some other roles following Little House on the Prairie, she stayed out of the spotlight after tying the knot in 1990 to writer-producer Michael Sloan. The couple welcomed their first child, daughter Piper, in 1991, and son Griffin in 1996. The family moved to Montreal in 2002.
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