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July 13, 2017

Then and Now Portraits of 'Little House on the Prairie' Actors Show How They Have Changed Since 1974

It's been more than 40 years since the beloved TV series "Little House on the Prairie" debuted on NBC. The show, based on the young adult book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, was one of the most beloved shows on television when it ran from 1974 to 1983. "Little House" told the story of the Ingalls family's life on a Minnesota farm in the late 1800s. The show won a number of awards, including three Emmys, and continues to air in syndication around the world.

1. Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls

Who knew that nearly 30 years after leaving Walnut Grove, Laura Ingalls would be hitting the dancing floor? She was on the show for eight years, from the age of 10, in a role that landed her on VH1's list of 100 Greatest Kid Stars. While battling drug and alcohol addiction, the 51-year-old actress forged a career in the 1980s and 1990s as the Queen of TV movies and mini-series. In 2012, Gilbert was featured on season 14 of "Dancing With the Stars." The same year, Gilbert was featured in the production of "Little House on the Prairie, the Musical" and now works as a children's book author.

2. Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls

Queens-born actor Michael Landon managed to span his small screen fame across three decades. Prior to his role as Pa Charles Ingalls on "Little House on the Prairie," (where he was also the show's executive producer) he was known as Little Joe Cartwright on "Bonanza" from 1959 to 1973. After "Little House" concluded in 1983, he maintained his celebrity status as the star of "Highway to Heaven" (r.) from 1984 to 1989. Landon also had a minor music career with his singles available on a "Bonanza" compilation album. Prior to his death from pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1991, he was married and divorced three times, leaving behind eight children, one of whom, Mark Fraser, died in 2009.

3. Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson

Forever tied to Melissa Gilbert, Alison Arngrim tried out for the role of Laura Ingalls and was given the role of her arch enemy Nellie Oleson instead. As Nellie, the New York-born actress made VH1's Greatest Kid Stars, alongside Gilbert, with whom she remains friends to this day. Following "Little House," Arngrim appeared on "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" and became an AIDS activist following the death of Steve Tracy, who played her husband on "Little House." These days, she works as a stand-up comic and speaks out for victims of child abuse, speaking out in 2004 about her own history with incest.

4. Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls

Actress Melissa Sue Anderson caused "The Brady Bunch's" Bobby to see fireworks after a brief kiss and at the age of 11. Anderson joined Melissa Gilbert on screen in "Little House on the Prairie," which earned her an Emmy nod in 1978. Following "Little House," Anderson worked as an associate producer on one of Michael Landon's last TV projects. Reportedly as mild mannered as her character, she romanced both Lorenzo Lamas and Frank Sinatra Jr. (he was more than twice her age) in her prime. She is now a stay-at-home mother living in Canada with her two children and husband, writer Michael Sloan.

5. Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls

The second youngest members of the "Little House" cast, the Greenbush sisters first appeared on the show at the tender age of 4. Lindsay is now a single mother and, besides acting, has an interest in amateur boxing. Sidney also sustains an interest in acting but is also involved in horse competitions and sells designer jewelry on her fan site. She was initially married to a horse breeder, but he committed suicide at the age of 55, after telling Sidney he wanted a divorce.

6. Kevin Hagen as Dr. Hiram Baker

Kevin Hagen only started acting at the age of 27 after working in Germany as a young man. At one point he considered being a lawyer but went into acting instead. His most famous role was as the empathetic Doc Baker on "Little House." He reprised the role in a one-man show entitled "A Playful Dose of Prairie Wisdom." In 2004, Hagen was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Before dying a year later, he claimed to the National Enquirer that Michael Landon had not given the cast its fair share of money from the show.

7. Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls

Known as Gabriel Tree following her first acting job in New York, Karen Grassle was reportedly convinced to revert to her original name by co-star Michael Landon when she landed the role of Caroline Ingalls on "Little House." While working on the show, she also played the wife of the main character in "Harry's War." Following the end of "Little House," Grassle moved to Kentucky were she founded a theater company. In 2008, she became the face of Premier Bathrooms, which supplies bath products for the elderly. She has been married three times and has one child, a daughter named Lily.

8. Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh as Baby Grace Ingalls

Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh appear to be the most chuffed about their "Little House on the Prairie" days. They landed their roles on the show -- at the age of 1 -- through a friendship between their grandparents and the producer and casting director. The twin sisters recently set up a homepage ( to share memories of the show and Baby Grace, who appeared on the show four seasons. Both sisters live close together, have kids and work part time.

9. Allison Balson as Nancy Olseon

Allison Balson appeared on "Little House" from the age of 12 to 14. She went on to become the valedictorian of her high school. Then she earned a Bachelor's degree from Princeton and a Master's from Trinity College in Ireland. She starred in the Polish film, "Bialy smok" in 1987 and appeared in "Best Seller" that same year. At the age of 47, she is now known as a folk singer and singer-songwriter having released her first alt-rock/country album, "FIRST." She is now a part of the group Allison and Stone and produces a radio show "Music Scene Live."

10. Patrick and Matthew Labyorteaux as Andy Garvey and Albert Quinn Ingalls

Born with autism, Matthew Laborteaux (r.) didn't let that stop his career aspirations. Following his role as Albert Quinn on "Little House," his most prominent role was as a young genius in Wes Craven's 1986 film "Deadly Friend." These days Laborteaux works as a voice-over artist. He can be heard in flicks like "Bride Wars," "The Wind Rises," and the TV series "Spider-Man." His brother Patrick also had a role in "Little House," but is well known as Lt. Bud Roberts on "JAG." He and his wife Tina have a son together.

11. Jason Bateman as James Cooper Ingalls

Jason Bateman's long and successful career began with a role as James Cooper Ingalls on "Little House." He's come a long way from the Prairie with hits like "Arrested Development," "Juno," and more recently "Horrible Bosses" and "Identity Thief." Bateman is married to Amanda Anka, and the couple have two children together.

12. Kyle Richards as Alicia Sanderson Edwards

Kyle Richards had a bit part as Mr. Edwards' adopted daughter, Alicia Sanderson Edwards, on "Little House." Prior to that she appeared in "Halloween" as one of the kids Jamie Lee Curtis babysits. She more recently appeared as Nurse Dori in "ER" but the 48-year-old is perhaps best known as an aunt to Nicky and Paris Hilton. She currently stars in hit series, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

13. Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder

Prior to joining the "Little House" family as Laura Ingalls' handsome husband, Canadian actor Dean Butler starred in the made-for-TV drama "Forever," based on Judy Blume's infamous novel. More recently Butler starred as Hank Summers in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He currently produces documentaries and TV shows through his company, Peak Moore Enterprises, Inc., and is married to Katherine Cannon, who played Donna Martin's mother on "Beverly Hills 90210."

14. Victor French as Isaiah Edwards

Victor French began his TV career as a stuntman in westerns then graduated to bit parts in "Gunsmoke," in which he reportedly appeared 23 times. He and Michael Landon got along famously and often worked together, appearing with the actor in "Bonanza," "Highway to Heaven" and "Little House." Following his stint on "Little House," French went on to star in "Carter County." He passed away from lung cancer in 1989 at the age of 54.

15. Shannen Doherty as Jenny Wilder

Shannen Doherty won the role of Jenny Wilder on "Little House" at the age of 11. As a teen, she went on to star in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Heathers," but she is most famous for her role as Brenda Walsh on "Beverly Hills, 90210," to which she returned to for the show's new spin-off series. The 45-year-old actress is also well known for her role as witch Prue Halliwell in "Charmed." She is set to star in the 2016 film "Bukowski" and "Mallrats 2."

16. Dabbs Greer as Reverand Robert Alden

Best remembered as Reverend Alden on "Little House," Robert William 'Dabbs' Greer was a ubiquitous supporting cast member on the small screen though he was later typecast as a minister, performing marriages on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Brady Bunch," and healing the cast of "Picket Fences." Most recently, in 1999, he appeared in "Green Mile" as the older version of Tom Hanks. He died in 2007, having suffered from a kidney and heart ailment.

17. Merlin Olsen as Jonathan Garvey

Merlin Olsen was famous for being a fearless NFL player with the L.A. Rams until 1976, which earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. After his football career, he went on to play farmer Jonathan Garvey on "Little House" and then went on to star in NBC's short-lived series "Father Murphy" in the early '80s, in which he played a traveling priest. In 2009, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against NBC and 20th Century Fox for allegedly exposing him to asbestos. Olsen passed away in 2010 at the age of 69.

18. Todd Bridges

Todd Bridges appeared in a small role on "Little House" but the child actor went on to gain fame as Willis Jackson on "Diff'rent Strokes." He has appeared on several competition shows including "Fear Factor," "Celebrity Championship Wrestling" and "Skating with Celebrities." In 2010, he released the book "Killing Willis" in which he discussed his drug addiction and brushes with the law.

19. Richard Bull as Nelson 'Nels' Oleson

Richard Bull's TV career started well before "Little House," with his role as Doc on "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." After "Little House" he also appeared in "Witless Protection" and most recently on an episode of "Boss." Bull lived in Chicago with his wife Bobbi Collentine until his death from pneumonia in 2014 at the age of 89.

20. Melora Hardin as Belinda Stevens

Jan from "The Office" was in "Little House?" Melora Hardin appeared in two episodes on "The Prairie" as Belinda Stevens. These days she's know for her other TV roles on "The Office" and most recently as Tammy in the hit series "Transparent."

21. Patricia Neal as Julia Sanderson

Oscar and Tony winning actress Patricia Neal, appeared briefly on an episode of "Little House." Neal passed away in 2010, and is best known for her roles in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and "The Subject was Roses."

22. Linwood Boomer as Adam Kendall

Before Linwood Boomer was well known as a writer, he played Adam Kendall on "Little House." These days he's credited as the creator of "Malcolm in the Middle," which he wrote, produced and directed. Boomer was also a writer for two '80s classics, "Silver Spoons" and "Night Court."

23. Jonathan Gilbert as Willie Oleson

Melissa Gilbert's adopted older brother Jonathan had his own part on the show as Willie Oleson. Though Jonathan's part lasted throughout the entire series, he left acting shortly afterwards. He graduated from Hamilton College and went on to get his MBA. Apparently Gilbert now works in finance in New York City.

24. Ernest Borgnine as Jonathan

Legendary actor Ernest Borgnine even had a small part on "Little House." Recently, Borgnine earned himself a 2009 Emmy nomination for his work on "ER." During his long career, he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for "Marty" and appeared on TV and in films for nearly 60 years until his death in 2012.

(via NY Daily News)


  1. #22 Jonathan Gilbert-How does he go from having blue eyes to brown? It doesn't even look like him. Mistake?




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