Melissa Sue Anderson became a famous face as a cast member on Little House on the Prairie. Starring as oldest daughter Mary Ingalls in the historical drama, Anderson was just 11 years old when she landed the role.
Appearing on the show throughout her teenage years, Anderson found romantic storylines to be a challenge, especially when the actor playing her love interest wasn’t her type.
Mary Ingalls had a boyfriend in season 3
Little House on the Prairie was based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and set in the late 1800s. An engagement storyline between Mary and neighbor John Sanderson Edwards (Radames Pera) was featured in season 3 and considered realistic due to the time period, despite Anderson being only 13 years old. Looking back, she was a bit critical of her performance in that episode.
“This is a very good episode, written by Harold Swanton and beautifully acted by Radames Pera,” Anderson wrote in her 2010 book, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House. “My acting however, could have used some improvement.”
Being a young teen and unexperienced in romance, she found some of the scenes difficult to perform since she personally didn’t see Pera as “love interest” material.
“I don’t remember who my teenage crush was at that particular time,” the Little House alum explained. “I was ‘in love’ at one time or another with Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, and Donny Osmond. Somehow Radames Pera just didn’t rank on my ‘hunk’ list.”
Melissa Sue Anderson had to push herself during a kissing scene
Young teens often tied the knot in the 1800s, so it was true to the time period when John proposed to Mary in the episode “I’ll Ride the Wind”. When the scene required Anderson and Pera to kiss after John popped the question, Anderson admitted she didn’t relish her role at that moment, prompting her director to give her a pep talk.
“‘You need to put your personal feelings aside and just do your job, dear,’” Anderson recalled director Bill Claxton telling her, when he pulled her aside after the challenging scene. “‘I realize it’s been a while since I was 13, and these kinds of scenes can be difficult. But you are better than this… And you know better.”
The Little House star felt guilty for not doing her best, where Claxton tried to offer some direction.
“‘Now, I want you to do this scene again,’” Claxton told Anderson, according to her memoir. “‘We’ll pick it up from ‘Thank you, John,’ and when you get to that kiss, pretend that you’re attracted to the guy, okay?’”
‘Little House’ star ‘learned a big lesson’ as an actor
Anderson felt that her age at the time definitely affected her performance. She was able to complete the kiss, keeping it as brief as possible, which fortunately reflected the relationships in the 1800s.
“As I watch ‘I’ll Ride the Wind’, and this scene in particular, I am reminded of how difficult it is to be a teenager, let alone a girl growing up in front of millions of viewers,” Anderson wrote. “When I watch that scene now, I attribute the brevity of the kiss more to the historical times, fortunately, than to my acting. In those days, passion was reserved for after marriage.”
Still, the actor saw where she could have improved, and was thankful for the talk with her director.
“Billy Claxton was right, and I learned a big lesson,” Anderson shared. “I did let my personal feelings get in the way, and that kiss could have been a bit longer.”
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