What with all the God-fearin’ that goes on out there on the
prairie, it’s no surprise that some people get a little nutty
with it. In fact, there are more religious fanatics around
Walnut Grove than even the Hypocrite High School administration.
My absolute favorite was Miss Peal (played by the unfortunately-named
Anita Dangler), the freaky woman in the total backwoods shantytown
(did you know that Walnut Grove is, apparently, right on the
boarder of Appalachia?) where Mary takes her first teaching
position. See, since Mary is young and blond and purty and
gots book-learnin’ and talks about politics and wears pink
dresses with ruffles around the neck, no one in the place
trusts her, especially not Miss Peal, who inexplicably has
a hold on the ultra-conservative-super-chauvinistic community.
I can’t help cackling with glee when Miss Peal catches one
of Mary’s students trying to steal a kiss, and of course blames
nubile young Mary and starts shaking her fist at Mary and
screeching, “Jezebel! Flauntin’ yer flesh in temptation’s
raiment! You will burn! Oh yes! You will burn!” (It’s equally
as funny when Mary shows up in church later and, when Miss
Peal accuses her of smelling up the town with her sinnin’
ways, Mary snaps, “Soap! And! Water! The only odor I brought
into this place was plain soap! And! Water!” See also: “Repeated
But with the exception of Miss Peal and Keezia the Town Weirdo
(for three shows, anyway), most of the freaks and fanatics
in Little House Land are men… oppressive, patriarchal, abusive
men. Like the various faith healers, or the traveling medicine
guy who holds Matthew the Dumb Wild Boy hostage. But beyond
that, there’s the interesting repeated motif of the Fanatical
Father with the Post-Pubescent Daughter (offspring of a Whore
Mother). There’s the “Be My Friend” bug-eyed pregnant girl’s
father who doesn’t recognize that his daughter is pregnant
or in labor, but thinks that she’s possessed by demons instead.
The really fun part is when she has to rush out of the house
on the pretext of getting water from the creek – in a violent
thunderstorm no less – and gives birth in the mud and cold
and pouring rain. (What imagery! What symbolism!) Even Gimpy
Olga’s Papa, all “God made Olga the way she is and we accept
that,” smacks of Religious Fanaticism (so I guess we should
be glad Pa saved Olga before puberty, or she never would’ve
been able to Return from Witch Mountain because her Papa would’ve
locked her in the barn to protect her from The World or something).
And, of course, there’s Sylvia’s father,
the lord of all LHOTP Freaks, who thinks that his daughter’s
developing breasts are a sign of impiety, and keeps calling
her a “whore” and, when she’s raped by the town blacksmith
in a clown mask (eyeeeew) and gets pregnant, says “You reap
what you sow.” Because vaginas and breasts are basically links
to Satan, and Sylvia brought it all on herself, the slut.
Of course, Sylvia was in love with Albert, so maybe she was
a little nutty, too.
Hard Work on the Farm Cures Everything
Neglect, abuse, alcoholism, brain damage, old age… you name
it, a week or two out on the farm will help it. Pa and the
whole Ingalls family can rescue the bratty, spoiled little
rich nephew of Mrs. Oleson’s by taking him in for a couple
weeks to help out with farm chores. As the kid develops his
first sore muscles and bloody blisters, so does he develop
a strong character! Amen!
Farm work is particularly helpful in curing alcoholism/drug
use: Mr. Edwards, Todd the previously mentioned drunk violent
boy, Graham’s alcoholic father, Albert the Morphine Addict.
Or if the mountain won’t come to Michael Landon, Pa’s got
no qualms about moving in with a family and making them do
the Restorative Farm Work right at home, like he did with
the Graham’s Drunk Father. And once Pa finally leaves the
prairie, the work ethic is so firmly entrenched in the soil
itself that even Laura’s fake niece Jenny can be cured of
brain damage when she almost drowns with the help of some
old retired doctor/gardener dude (who, predictably, never
shows up again after the Stuttering Brain Dead Jenny episode).
Hell, I’m surprised Pa didn’t put Mary to work chopping and
cording wood to help her get over her blindness.
Hysterics, hysterics, hysterics!
If Pa’s likely to start bawling his curly-lock’d head off
at getting a hug from Half-Pint, it should surprise no one
that hardcore hysterics are a benchmark of all the townsfolk
of Landonland. There’s the stuff one would expect major histrionics
with, like when Pa gets the letter that his mother’s died,
and starts blubbering “It’s my mama!” There’s the heart-tugging
(*snicker*) moment when Dying Dillon/Dylan finally gets to
the Pacific Ocean, and Pa, Laura and Albert all sob in tandem
while Dillon /Dylan weakly stumbles to the water and holds
his arms up in triumph (and later, Pa has even more Quiver
Lip when “William Randolph Hearst” gives them money for train
fare home). But c’mon… there’s over-the-top can-barely-get-the-words-out
sobbing when, like, Mary reads Laura’s Braille birthday card,
or when Laura shows Albert’s calf Fagan (Fagan!) at the local
People tend to freak out easily in Walnut Grove, and if slapping
is the supposed cure for hysterics, I can only surmise that
everyone in town has had a couple backhands across the face
to bring ‘em to their senses. For instance, when Albert goes
off to find his Real Father, and is running all over the farm
screaming “Mister Quinn! Mister Quinn! MISTER QUINN!” Or when
Mary and Adam are in the stagecoach accident and Mary is all
screaming “Driver! Driver! DRIVER! DRIVER!” My favorite, though,
is the little blind girl who gets lost in a dust storm and
Mary and Adam find her because she’s under a porch screaming
“I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!” and they crawl under the porch
and the kid keeps screaming “I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!”
and Mary starts hugging her and crying and telling her she’s
safe and the kid is STILL screaming “I’m here! I’m here! I’m
here!” and is clinging to Mary and sobbing and STILL KEEPS
SCREAMING “I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!”-
I would’ve shoved the brat back out in the dust storm to
shut her up. Jiminy.
Michael Landon isn’t Enough, God Lends a Hand
Obviously a guy who’ll later cast himself as an angel on
earth has a pretty high regard for his abilities and his connections
with the Big Guy upstairs. But even Pa falls short once and
a while, and needs Heavenly Intervention to make things right.
So Jonathan the is-he-or-isn’t-he-an-angel shows up when Laura
runs away from home after baby Freddie dies, and helps reunite
Laura with Pa. Praise Ernest Borgnine!
Prolly the worst atrocity of all is when James is accidentally
shot and Pa… Pa… takes James up into the mountains, acting
much like the Sylvia’s Father type of delusional religious
fanatic, and builds and alter and puts James on it and… a
bolt of lightning strikes it and heals James. For pity’s sake!
That’s not “heartwarming” … that’s freakin’ DISTURBING!
Pa has the most annoying habit of calling every male youth
in Walnut Grove “boy” as a term of endearment. Except, thankfully,
for Solomon the Noble Negro Kid. Although, come to think of
it, he prolly called Solomon “son.” Because Pa did that a
Albert’s Upper Lip and Cassandra’s Twisty Face
Extreme Facial Contortions are annoying enough, but Matthew
Laborteaux and Missy Francis have Bad Features on their side
as well. First, there’s Albert’s prehensile hook of an upper
lip, not unlike a black rhino, that makes his quavering and
snurffling and crying particularly irksome. Of course, Albert
doesn’t stand a chance, because I always hated him, even before
I found out he was a big fat fake, but his upper lip seriously
grossed me out for the better part of my childhood. How could
he EAT with that thing hanging there?!
It's not just me, is
And then there’s Cassandra’s mouth, which is too long, like
a jack-o-lantern cut up and gashed all wrong, and makes her
look like she’s smiling and laughing hysterically when she’s
actually crying. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Or both.
Anyway, when her face crumples up and she starts fake-sobbing
earnestly, it’s really grody.
Oh, quit sniveling!
In a similar vein, when little Shannen Doherty was playing
Jenny Wilder, she had her share of squiffy-faced moments.
My favorite was when her father dies of a heart attack, she
proclaims, with her little wrinkly mouth, “I kiowed him! I
kiowed him!” (see also “Repeated Sentences”) That kills- ahem,
“kiows” me every time.
It’s worth mentioning, I suppose, that all three actors grew
up to be very attractive adults. Hell, even buck-toothed lil’
Melissa Gilbert is gorgeous. But that’s not what this here
is all about, now, is it?