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Family Values, or, Curse You, Michael Landon!
PAGE ONE
March 2004

 

Being the hypercritical, opinionated bitch that I am, many of my obsessions stem from things I love to hate. Take the TV version of Little House on the Prairie. I loved the show madly when I was in 4th grade. But about that time, I bought my first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, and quickly saw what a muddle the TV show was… thanks, primarily, to Michael Landon.

While I can appreciate that the show brought a few brilliant things to our pop culture environs, like Nellie Oleson, “Dumb Abel,” and Shannen Dougherty, I still hate the stupid show, especially when compared to the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories. Y’all already know that most of what was portrayed in the TV series never happened, don’t you? Mary never taught school, nor did she get married. Laura didn’t even WANT to be a teacher. Reverend Alden and Mr. Edwards were 30-something homesteaders, not older men with wives/families. Mr. Hansen just traded the Ingalls family his farm for their wagon and ponies; he did not found the freakin’ TOWN of Walnut Grove! There was no Albert, James, Cassandra, Adam Kendall, Percival Dalton, Harriet and Nels Oleson, or Doc Baker. Hell, Miss Wilder wasn’t homely!


EJ Wilder: Hubba!

Surprisingly, the show did manage to get a couple things right, or close to right. Many who read the books – myself included – are surprised to find out there WAS a baby boy born to the Ingallses, nicknamed Freddie, who died in infancy; Laura – the REAL Laura – never wrote about it, and rarely talked about it. The family also did leave Walnut Grove, live in a town and run a hotel (in Burr Oak, Iowa… not Mankato, Minnesota, which is actually the fictional “Deep Valley” where Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy books lived some 30 years later), and then return to Walnut Grove a year or so later… but thankfully, did not rescue some squiffy orphan named Albert in the process. Laura and Almanzo (Al-MAN-zo! Not Al-MAHN-zo!) did have nicknames for each other, and yes, Laura called Mannie “Manly” because she misunderstood him. But Almanzo called Laura “Bess” or “Bessie,” not Beth (because he had an older sister -- not depicted in the books -- called Laura, and didn’t like the name). In fact, by the time they were settled in Mansfield, most people called Laura “Bessie.” Almanzo did have brothers named Royal and Perley Day (which was another family name)… although Royal didn’t have a wife named Millie, nor children named Myron, Rupert, or Jenny. And Laura, like her Ma (and later, like her daughter Rose) lost a baby boy.

But for the most part, the TV show is just a big ol’ trundling piece of historically- and biographically-inaccurate farm fertilizer.

 

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