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c. 1970s

Filming Little House on the Prairie

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

Today, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 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.

Telling a fictionalized account of the author’s family’s life as pioneers in the American Midwest in the 1870s, the 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.

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.

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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. 

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.

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty
Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty
Michael Landon.
NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
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
Director Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary 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
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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