Wikimedia Commons Images
Source: Wikimedia Commons Images

Meet Mary from 'Little House on the Prairie' Who Has Hardly Changed since the Show Ended

Ksenia Novikova
Sep 20, 2021
04:36 P.M.
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Melissa Sue Anderson prefers to live life away from the spotlight nowadays, but she continues to be remembered for her role as Mary on "Little House on the Prairie."

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It was always fun to see Mary, Laura, and Carrie Ingalls rolling down the Minnesota prairie as part of the introduction for the successful television series "Little House on the Prairie." Melissa Anderson played Mary, the shy, older daughter to Michael Landon and Jaren Grassle's characters, Charles and Caroline Ingalls. 

Born on September 26, 1962, Anderson first began her career in the entertainment industry through commercials and TV guestings. She found work easily, thanks to her piercing blue eyes and gorgeous blonde hair.

Melissa Sue Anderson appears on NBC News' "Today" show on May 3, 2010 | Source: Getty Images

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HER RISE TO FAME

Anderson made her acting debut on an episode of "Bewitched" in 1972, aged 10. The following year, she made an appearance on "The Brady Bunch" as the girl who kissed Bobby Brady.

Ultimately, it was when she landed her role on "Little House on the Prairie" that she rose to fame. When she turned 11, she went in to audition for the show which starred Michael Landon. 

In an interview, she revealed that there were initially 50 girls who auditioned for the part of the oldest daughter, Mary Ingalls.

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AN AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS

Anderson bagged the part and went on to earn an Emmy Award for her performance during the fourth season, where her character went blind.

Her acting was so deeply etched in the memories of the audience that even after three decades, fans still remember her as “Blind Mary."

The young actress made her debut on the show's two-hour movie pilot that aired on NBC in March 1974. The lives of the Ingalls family unfolded in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Anderson spent the next eight seasons as the shy older sister who eventually went blind.

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PRACTICING FOR HER ROLE

Taking her craft seriously, Anderson went to the Foundation for the Junior Blind and was instructed on how a young person adjusts to recent blindness. It was the first time in the history of a television series that a show's regular had lost their sight and did not get it back.

Anderson said that it was “exciting and challenging at the beginning” but was difficult to sustain over the years. The role that made her the youngest nominee for the Emmy at the time limited her character.

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MOVING ON FROM THE SHOW

She revealed that in the end, that was the reason why she moved on from the show, doing only three episodes in the eighth season. Anderson had many offers on hand when she appeared in the final two episodes of the season.

With appearances on series like "The Love Boat," "Chips," and "Fantasy Island," she was also cast as Nancy Rizzi in Michael Landon's autobiographical film "The Loneliest Runner" in 1976.

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LATTER YEARS OF HER CAREER

Her role on the ABC Afterschool Special episode titled "Which Mother is Mine?" won her an Emmy Award in 1979. Spain also conferred her with the country's highest television award, the TP de Oro Award for Best Foreign Actress for her work on "Little House on the Prairie."

She starred on "The Equalizer" on CBS in the late 1980s, but in the 1990s, she put acting on the backseat to raise her children. Ultimately, Anderson retired from television in 2007 and became a Canadian citizen after marrying Michael Sloan. 

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RELATIONSHIP WITH LANDON

Anderson admitted that she would go to director Landon for advice even as an adult. She claims the director saw himself in her when they were both starting out in the industry. 

She also shared it was fortunate the director knew he was loved by many before his passing, as he decided to let the public know about his cancer diagnosis. Landon passed away in 1991 due to pancreatic cancer. 

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TENSION WITH GILBERT

When it comes to Melissa Gilbert, Anderson doesn't have much to say. The co-stars had icy attitudes towards one another. In Gilbert's book, "Prairie Tale," she describes her attitude towards Anderson, saying she was "way too serious and stuck up."

Meanwhile, Anderson ignores Gilbert in her own book. As to why, she said:

"I honestly do not have a lot of memories of the two of us. We were very, very different."

After retiring for a couple of years, Anderson has kept her doors open for movie roles. More recently, she guested on "The Con is On" as herself in 2018.

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