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- Published July, 1999 -

Little House on the Prairie

by Bill Morgan

Little House on the Prairie possessed the perfect ingredients to spawn a slew of related merchandise.  The long-running television series had a fan base of millions who read and adored the nine Laura Ingalls Wilder books on which the show was based.  With popular TV veteran Michael Landon producing, writing, directing and starring in the show, the family prime-time drama became an instant hit and appealed to a variety of age groups.  The show remained a leading contender in the ratings for most of its nine seasons.

That being the case, why was relatively little Prairie paraphernalia produced for faithful viewers?  I recently met some of the Little House cast members at a collector's show in North Hollywood, California and asked them to shed some light on the subject.  The group included Lindsay Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls), Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson), Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle), Pamela Roylance (Sarah Carter), and Stan Ivar (John Carter).  I spoke at length with Greenbush and Arngrim.  Both signed pages of my memorabilia book, which gave me a perfect opportunity to get their insight on the merchandise.

Greenbush was only 4 years old when she began working on the series, but remembered the Laura and Carrie dolls made by Knickerbocker, the steel lunch box and the board game.  She claimed to have owned the dolls at one time, but lamented that she no longer had them.  However, she still has the board game that shows her character and the rest of her TV family on the box.  Made by Parker Brothers, the game has a simple objective – to be the first to get back to the house by avoiding an Indian war party, a wolf pack, and a prairie fire.  Acquiring this adventure today will run collectors about $40.

When Greenbush spotted the photo of the Little House Tea Set in the book, she was delighted to see that her character was illustrated holding a butterfly.  She said she loves butterflies, but didn't remember the drawing used to create the item.  Seeing the butterfly brought back a memory from her days on the set.  "There was one episode when I feel into a well," Greenbush recalled.  I was chasing a butterfly that was attached to a button on my dress by a short wire.  No matter how fast I ran, the butterfly remained (just) out of reach."

When I shared the relatively short list of Little House collectibles with Arngrim, she was quick to divulge why so few items were made.  She claimed that a snag in licensing arose during the third season, when co-producers Landon and Ed Friendly ended a court battle over creative differences.  Landon relinquished control of the show, which left Friendly with the merchandise rights.  Unfortunately, the decision didn’t auger well for Little House merchandise, since one producer couldn’t approve merchandise without the other’s consent.

Unlike Greenbush who appeared on all of the Little House collectibles, Arngrim’s image isn’t on any of them.  Even though, she still wanted to flip through the pages of my book.  She expressed surprise after seeing memorabilia she never knew existed.  Neither she nor Greenbush had seen the Little House School Calendar and Assignment Book, Acrylic Paint by Number Set, and the Colorforms Play Set.

The collectible that impressed Arngrim the most was the 26-piece Little House on the Prairie Tea Set.  Made by Ohio Art in 1980 and includes several tin dishes, plastic utensils, four cups and a teapot.  It’s one of the most rare and valuable items in the collection, and can sell for $100 or more when found in its 11 x 17-inch window display box.  When Arngrim signed my book, she added the caption “I should have been on the tea set!”

Arngrim brought many stills and publicity photos to the collector’s show as well as a few props of her own.  One was a Nellie Oleson wig that she wore in good humor while posing for pictures with fans.   It was fun to see her recreate Nellie’s sour face expression.  Her memorable character was one viewers loved to hate.   Another item she brought was a prairie bonnet.  The tag revealed it was purchased at the Little House Museum Gift Shop.  When I asked her where the museum was located.  "In Walnut Grove, of course!” she responded in her best “Nellie” voice.

Walnut Grove, Minnesota is the site of the house where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived during the late 1800s.  Today, fans can visit the Museum, which honors Wilder's life on the great frontier and beloved Little House on the Prairie TV series she inspired.  Among the highlights are the fireplace mantel, rifle and powderhorn replicas from the TV show, a Wilder handmade quilt, scale models of the Ingalls’ farm and house used in the series, plus numerous photos, letters and historical documents.

Walnut Grove also hosts the annual Wilder Pageant each July.  The outdoor theatre production depicts the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The museum and gift shop are open from April through October, and can be reached at PO Box 58, Walnut Grove MN 56180 or by calling 507-859-2358.

CLICK HERE
to see Little House Collectibles for sale!

From the publication Collecting Magazine

Bill Morgan is the co-author of
Collector’s Guide to TV Toys and Memorabilia — 2nd Edition and runs the TVTOYS.com web site.
Copyright (c) TVTOYS.com, Odyssey Publications.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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