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c. 1970s

‘Little House on the Prairie’ behind the scenes

See vintage photos on the set with Ma, Pa, Mary and Laura

Telling a fictionalized account of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family’s life as pioneers in the American Midwest in the 1870s, the Little House books were and remain enormously successful.

Following the boom in Western-themed series during the 1950s and 1960s, with shows like Bonanza proving a bankable format, NBC recruited one of that show’s most popular stars, Michael Landon, to direct and star in a TV pilot adapted from the books.

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty

Filming of the pilot and the series that followed took place not in the Midwestern town of Walnut Grove, Minn. but in the far West — Simi Valley, California, and the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank.

More than 200 episodes of Little House on the Prairie aired between 1974 and 1982, presenting a very 70s version of the pioneer life. Guest stars included Ernest Borgnine, Johnny Cash and Burl Ives. 

Michael Landon.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

The final episode featured the town’s buildings being blown up to thwart a railroad baron. The plot was created to facilitate the removal of the set at as low a cost as possible.

Michael Landon with crew on set.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Today, the Little House books are not without controversy for their racially charged references to Native Americans and African Americans. But in the 1970s, the debate about the books’ intentions was far in the future.

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Michael Landon with crew on set.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Michael Landon with crew on set.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Michael Landon with crew on set.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Chief Geronimo Kuth Le as Long Elk.
Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Hairstylist Larry Germain.
Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank
Burl Ives as Sam Shelby, and Michael Landon.
NBCU Photo Bank

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