Little House on the Prairie’s leading man Michael Landon may have portrayed a wholesome family man on screen, but in reality the actor was ‘more mad, bad, and dangerous to know’, according to a former co-star.
Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson in the hit 1970s show, said although she thought Landon was a ‘marvelous’ person, he was also ‘manic’, ‘drank, smoked’ told ‘terrible jokes’ and propagated a ‘Mad Men’ sexist and booze-drinking culture on set.
The 59-year-old actress spoke to DailyMail.com after former co-star Karen Grassle, Landon’s on-screen wife, accused the late TV star of refusing to pay her a ‘fair wage’, mocking her body, and making ‘disgusting’ jokes about sex, in her upcoming autobiography.
Little House on the Prairie’s leading man Michael Landon, who died in 1991, couldn’t have been more different to his wholesome, loving, father character on the hit show, according to former co-stars
Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson (right) in the hit 1970s show, described Landon as manic’ and claimed he ‘drank, smoked’ told ‘terrible jokes’ on set of the NBC series
Grassle, 79, who played Little House matriarch Caroline ‘Ma’ Ingalls, also struggled with alcoholism and admits in her book that her addiction ‘completely contributed to the relationship to what it was.’
Arngrim said she agreed that Landon was a world away from the wholesome family loving farmer portrayed on the hit show.
Speaking to DailyMail.com at the Hollywood Museum tribute event celebrating Bob Hope and US Veterans Thursday, Arngrim said: ‘I got along with him very well, but I have always said he was an extraordinarily eccentric, marvelous and crazy person.
‘People think of him as this wholesome farmer but he was more mad, bad and dangerous to know. He drank, smoked and did tell terrible jokes.
‘He drove a Ferrari so he was hardly Charles Ingalls. He was married three times. But he was also hilariously funny and enormously talented.’
She recalled how Landon gave the impression that he rarely slept and was fueled by a ‘manic creative energy.’
‘He was very, very driven. And that kind of driven, manic creative energy to that level 24/7, I imagine can drive a lot of people absolutely crazy,’ she said.
Michael Landon, pictured with second wife Marjorie Lynn Noe Landon (left) and Barbara Walters in 1978, is said to have fostered a sexist culture on set resembling an ‘old boys’ club’
On screen, Little House on the Prairie’s Ma and Pa were the picture of marital bliss -but off-camera, there was no love lost between stars Michael Landon and Karen Grassle
The actress, who played the show’s bad girl, likened the atmosphere on set as similar to the 1950s Madison Avenue drama Mad Men, describing it as an ‘old boys’ club’.
She revealed that stars often had fallouts on the show, but put their differences aside in ‘the demilitarized zone’ of the make-up department before the cameras rolled.
Arngrim described Grassle’s memoir as ‘fair’, and said Grassle admits her own alcoholism and emotional issues prevented her and Landon from resolving their problems before he died in 1991.
Grassle and Landon’s feud stopped short of being fiery enough to make ‘Ma’ quit or get fired, the actress told DailyMail.com.
She also claimed that Grassle only had her job on the show because Landon stood up for her during casting sessions at the network.
Arngrim said she never had clashes with Landon herself, instead enjoying his ‘wild’ behavior when she was a teenager filming the beloved NBC series.
‘I was a teenager and thought it was a riot.
‘He was not everyone’s cup of tea, that is absolutely true.’
Grassle’s new memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma, delves into the off-set dramas, including mocking her appearance, holding out on pay rises and making sexist comments.
Speaking to DailyMail.com at the Hollywood Museum tribute event celebrating Bob Hope and US Veterans Thursday, Arngrim said she got along with Landon very well, but admitted h was ‘an extraordinarily eccentric, marvelous and crazy person’
According to Landon’s onscreen wife Karen Grassel could also be cruel, mocking her body and facial expressions to crew members
In the upcoming book, Grassle recalls the ‘disgusting’ jokes Landon would tell on set, how he’d mock the way she looked, and that he ‘insulted’ her by insisting she shouldn’t be paid more than the child actors on the show, which began airing in 1974.
Though the series dealt with some very serious subjects including alcoholism, poverty, racism, addiction, cancer, and even rape, it’s considered wholesome family viewing — which makes some of Grassle’s revelations about what went on behind the scenes quite shocking.
Grassle claimed Landon made crude remarks, using foul language like ‘c**t’ on set and making ‘disgusting jokes about how a woman smelled after sex.’
Arngrim said she knew her friend’s book would ‘not sugarcoat anything’ and claimed it presented the real version of life for most women working in 1970s Hollywood.
‘The reality is it was the 1970s. It was like Mad Men, she said. ‘It was another era and an old boy’s club.
‘Michael did swear.’
‘She was quite religious growing up, whereas the conversation at the dining table was like outtakes from Deadwood.’
‘She is very fair. When you read the book, she talks about her own alcoholism issues and everything she went through.
‘She says at one point had she gotten sober earlier and dealt with her issues, she probably would have sat down with him and work it all out
‘But his and her issues collided and it was two kinds of sandpaper. She is real straight out about it.’
Grassle in her new memoir claims the pair ended up falling out off screen and that he then began cutting her scenes and leaving her out of storylines altogether
Not a fan: Grassle, now 79, has revealed that she and Landon, who died in 1991, were hardly enamored of one another — and in fact, he could be quite cruel
Arngrim, who wrote her own best selling book, Confessions of A Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, said that the cast always pushed aside tensions the minute cameras rolled.
‘That is the crazy thing. We were like a family in that even when we didn’t get along, we still hung out with each other.
‘People would visit from other sets and they’d say ‘your idea of a fight is you don’t eat lunch with them. You realize that on other sets people have restraining orders? You people are so goody-goody on this set.’
‘Even when you had a personal issue with someone, I used the make-up area as the demilitarization zone. You would say ‘I guess I am going to leave it here and go make a TV show.’ And we got on with it.
‘On another kind of show, that did not have the atmosphere we did, she would have not have stayed. She would have quit or been fired or quit or something.
‘But she was there the whole nine years.’
Asked if the cast feud would have taken place amid today’s Me Too and Time’s Up movements, she said: ‘Today’s shows pay an awful lot more money. She might have got a lot more money and stayed.
‘Things are different now. Now the behavior expected on a set is much more polite and a level professional.
‘Things that people said to each other in the 1970s you do not do that now.
‘I felt insulted as his co-star on a hit series,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to gouge anybody, but I expected a fair wage’
The relationship appears to have grown rocky after Grassle. asked for a raise for the second season. Landon said no, reportedly saying she should be making as much as the child actors
‘People smoked and drank openly on the set. And this was Little House On the Prairie, you can imagine what it was like on other shows.
The behind-the-scene tidbits are revealed in her book, ‘Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma’
‘It was very difficult for women. It was a different era and very much a male atmosphere.
‘She talks about in the theater the old boys’ network and atmosphere for women up until the 90s was different to now.’
Arngrim insists Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Landon was pivotal to Grassle’s career.
‘She would not have been on the show if not for him. If it was up to the network and suits, it would be completely different. He fought to have her on the show,
‘She says her own emotional problems and alcoholism completely contributed to the relationship to what it was.’
Arngrim was one of many stars to pay tribute to Bob Hope as she attended The Hollywood Museum’s Hope tribute and book signing of Dear Bob… Bob Hope’s Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.’s of World War II.
Museum president Donelle Dadigan and the Oscar winning entertainer’s daughter Linda Hope hosted the event to pay tribute to ‘The Greatest Generation’.
Items from Hope’s illustrious career are on display including his 1959 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar alongside sample letters he wrote and received from the WWII servicemen and women, who freely shared their innermost thoughts, swapped jokes, and commiserated with the ‘G. I.s’ best friend’ Hope about war, sacrifice, lonely days, and worrisome, silent nights.
‘The people back at home loved hearing something from a base from where one of their loved ones was stationed,’ said Hope’s daughter Linda.
‘Handwritten letters were cherished. Dad received an average of 38,000 letters a week. He would dictate responses to be typed and mailed off by his secretary. The letters were amazing.’