Little House on the Prairie, a beloved drama series about the Ingalls family, holds a special place in the hearts of many TV viewers, especially those between the ages of 45 and 65. This show, set at the turn of the 20th century, brought to life a memorable ensemble of endearing characters and captivating performances. One of the performers that left show business behind was Melissa Sue Anderson, who played the role of Mary Ingalls on the program. Recently, she opened up about why she decided to depart from Hollywood and the spotlight.
Born on September 26, 1962, in Berkeley, California, Melissa Sue Anderson was a quiet and introverted child who found solace in books rather than climbing trees. However, her striking marble-clear blue eyes and undeniable stage presence caught the attention of those around her. A dance instructor even suggested that her parents consider seeking opportunities for her in the entertainment industry.
Starting as a child actress, Anderson made her mark by playing characters like Millicent on The Brady Bunch and giving Bobby his first kiss on Bewitched. But it was her role as Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie that truly propelled her career to new heights.
For seven seasons, Anderson had a starring role on the show, with guest appearances in the remaining eight seasons. Her outstanding portrayal earned her a nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Reflecting on her character, Anderson expressed gratitude for being given the opportunity to bring Mary Ingalls to life. She explained, “I’m lucky that there even was a character to play, because in the book, there isn’t much of one. Laura [Ingalls, the author] was remembering the best of her life, and the characters of Ma and Mary didn’t factor in a lot. I’m fortunate that they discovered that I could act.”
While her time on Little House on the Prairie brought her fame and recognition, it wasn’t always easy for the young actress. Balancing high school and the demands of being a recognizable face took its toll. Anderson recalled how classmates would ask inappropriate questions like, “How much do you make?” She handled these situations with grace, either giving them a look that spoke volumes or politely stating that it was none of their business.
Contrary to popular belief, Anderson didn’t earn a significant amount of money during her time on the show. She revealed, “Everybody thinks actors make a lot of money. But we don’t. At least, not by the time we pay certain costs. Twenty-five percent of my pay goes into a trust fund. Ten percent goes to my agent, and I spend a lot – too much – on my fan club. It’s publicity and everything, but it’s costing a lot.”
The enduring popularity of Little House on the Prairie can be attributed to the remarkable chemistry among its cast. The actors felt like a genuine family, even though they didn’t always get along behind the scenes. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls, candidly shared her true feelings about Melissa Sue Anderson, describing her as “hateful, horrid, mean, terrible, difficult.” Yet, despite any friction, the show provided breakthrough fame for the cast, including veteran actor Michael Landon, who portrayed Charles Ingalls.
After the series concluded, Anderson continued her acting career, though she struggled to find roles that matched the level of recognition she had achieved on Little House. She appeared in television movies and took on smaller TV and film roles. During the 1980s, she briefly dated Frank Sinatra Jr., but she insisted that their relationship was that of close friends rather than a romantic one.
Upon starting a family, Anderson decided to prioritize her children’s upbringing and took a step back from the entertainment industry. She shared, “I stepped away for a long time. That was really for the kids so they would have their own sense of who they were as opposed to being with me.” She became a Canadian citizen after relocating to Montreal with her husband and children in 2002.
Now at the age of 60, Melissa Sue Anderson has returned to the spotlight while still cherishing the time spent with her family. She has taken on modest TV and film roles and even penned a memoir titled “The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House.” Anderson’s story serves as an inspiration, reminding us of the importance of staying true to ourselves and finding joy in both our personal and professional lives.
Melanie – you continue to radiate beauty, both inside and out. Your genuine, down-to-earth nature is truly admirable. Thank you for being a role model for all of us. And to all the Little House on the Prairie fans out there, share this story and celebrate the enduring legacy of this beloved show!