Almanzo Wilder was the husband of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. His character was played by actor Dean Butler in the TV series Little House on the Prairie. I have always wanted to meet all of the cast members of the show but Dean Butler and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) were my favorites. I was thrilled to meet Alison last year at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, MO and was so excited to find out Dean Butler was coming this year! To see last years post, visit Laura Meets Nellie Oleson.
This spring marked the 45th Anniversary of the airing of the pilot (March 30, 1974) of Little House on the Prairie and a luncheon was held to mark the occasion. Marshfield is a town very close to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home in Mansfield, MO. Before the luncheon began, I attended a meet and greet with the cast. This year along with Alison Arngrim and Dean Butler, Charlotte Stewart (Ms. Beadle) and Wendi Lou Lee (baby Grace) were there. (Also the cast of the Walton’s was there! Read about it here John-Boy Meets The Walton’s.)
I was so thrilled to finally meet Almanzo! When it was my turn to speak with him he saw my custom Almanzo, and said “Look at you with a little Almanzo doll”. I showed him little Almanzo and he happily took pictures with him. He signed my copy of Farmer Boy and we talked about his work to preserve the real Almanzo Wilder’s childhood home and about the Dandridge House Dolls blog.
Next I saw Alison. She is so hilarious! I walked up with little Almanzo in my arms and said “Last year when I met you, you beat up my Laura doll.” She coyly replied, “Yes I did.” I asked “Would you mind taking a picture with my Almanzo doll this year?” She said “Oh I’m going to steal him from Laura!” and then started nuzzling him and batting her eyes! 😂
The luncheon was held at the Marshfield Assembly of God Church and Laura’s pork chop recipe was served. After eating, the cast was called to the stage and Alison pranced right up and took her place. 😂 William Anderson (a Laura expert and author) moderated the talk.
The main topic of the conversation was how the Little House on the Prairie TV series had such an amazing run! After 45 years since the show began, it has aired in over 100 countries and is still being watched daily. Alison told how popular the show is currently in France and Japan. She travels there to speak often. Everyone in the discussion agreed that the show’s popularity had a lot to do with how lovable the characters were.
When talking to Alison about her Little House memories, she said that she had so much fun getting to say things she never could in real life. She said that to this day, people ask her friends “Why are you friends with her?”. When asked what her favorite episode was she recalled the one where Laura pushed her down the hill in a wheelchair. I noticed while Alison spoke, Dean kept smiling and laughing. How fun it must have been working on that show!
Wendi Lou Lee was on the show for four seasons as baby Grace. She is a brain surgery survivor and now an author. She has published a devotional called A Prairie Devotional. She said that she personally tries to live her life like Charles and Caroline did. She credits the shows success to the characters faith in God and the way they spread kindness to others.
Charlotte Stewart spoke fondly of Micheal Landon (Charles Ingalls and sometimes director of the show). Since the show revolved around child actors, and children were only allowed to work a certain number of hours a day, Micheal would have the entire scene laid out in his head before anyone arrived. Everyone had to get right to work because Micheal wanted them to get to go home with their families. Since many of the child actors were on set with their families, a lot of the extras in the classroom scenes were siblings of the actors.
When Dean spoke, he began with how he started the show. He had just graduated college and had not planned on a career in acting. He landed the part and was immediately loved by the nation. He accredited it to America’s love for Laura. He stated “Laura was America’s sweetheart and Laura loved Almanzo, so everyone just loved and accepted me.” When asked why he thought the show was such a success he said, ” It touched something so fundamentally good and decent.”
The group fondly mentioned some of the other cast members that have passed away: Katherine MacGregor-Mrs. Oleson, Richard Bull-Mr. Oleson and Micheal Landon. Dean said, “I know that when I die, all the news and media will say, ‘Almanzo Wilder has passed away’. I know I’ll be remembered for my part on the show more than anything else I did in my life, and I’m ok with that. It’s a gift.” Of course Allison piped in with, “My obituary will read ‘Ding Dong the witch is dead'” 😂
Little House has been an amazing part of American culture. I have watched the series my entire life and will continue to watch. It can make me laugh, cry, feel heartbroken and proud (and that’s just one episode!). 😉 I think the perfect way to sum it all up is the words Dean used when asked how he felt about getting to be a part of Little House, “It made my life a very special thing.”