Five Facts You Likely Never Knew About ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Show that followed the adventures of the Ingalls family in American Midwest of the late 1800s had plenty of behind-the-scenes surprises

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 27 Nov 2017 at 6:35 AM

It’s unlikely any network would gamble on a show like “Little House on the Prairie” today.

The series serves as a sharp contrast to the darker and far more cynical content that dominates the airwaves today, from programs like “The Walking Dead” to “Game of Thrones.”

It certainly was popular when it aired on NBC, though, from 1974 to 1983. The series followed the Ingalls family in the American Midwest in the late 1800s and was based on the autobiographical novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The story focused on the value of family and the rugged nature needed — once upon a time — to thrive on a farm in the Midwest.

Running for a whopping 205 episodes, "Prairie" holds a special place in American television history and is still enjoyed by many today.

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Here's a look at five facts you likely never knew about "Little House on the Prairie."

1.) Michael Landon had gray hair in real life. Landon, who played patriarch Charles Ingalls, reportedly went prematurely gray when he was still in his 20s, not usually considered a good thing for actors.

He began dying his hair brown himself and continued to do so after getting the gig on "Prairie." The scorching sun in Simi Valley, California, however, proved too much for his hair product. It would turn his hair lavender for a few days — delaying the show's production. Landon eventually teamed up with a professional who continued dying his hair and managed to prevent any further lavender mishaps.

2.) Alison Arngrim wore a wig. Arngrim played Nellie Oleson — a combination of three actual girls from Wilder's childhood, reportedly — and had unforgettable blonde curls on "Prairie." But they were real for just a short time.

Arngrim's hair was originally curled with an old-fashioned curling iron that needed to be heated in an oven. The process was long, costly, and not fun for Arngrim.

Eventually the producers decided it was better to simply create a wig. The wig saved time and money but didn't make life a whole lot better for Arngrim. A metal comb and dozens of pins apparently held the wig in place; it would dig into her scalp and even cause her to bleed.

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3.) The show "discovered" Sean Penn. The actor is known for roles in popular films like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and for calling the shots behind the camera on acclaimed movies such as "Into the Wild."

The two-time Academy Award winner, however, had more humble beginnings. He played an unnamed school kid in two episodes of "Prairie." Both episodes were directed by his father, Leo Penn. Sean was 13 at the time of the role.

4.) Landon wore lifts. Michael Landon not only dyed his hair; he also reportedly used lifts in his boots in every episode of the show. Landon (who died in 1991) stood 5 feet 9 inches tall — but he apparently wanted to appear more looming and powerful in his role as a father.

5.) Carrie Ingalls really fell in the opening. Twins Rachel Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush alternated playing young Carrie Ingalls. In the opening of the show, little Carrie adorably tripped as she was running across a field while the show's theme music played.

The fall was not planned, as the story goes. Rachel Lindsay was awoken from a nap for the shot — and somehow her shoes were put on the wrong feet. That's why her running looked stiff and awkward before the fall.

The trip ended up being an authentic moment that brought a smile to viewers' faces — and it was retained in the show.

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