With a temper well-known in behind-the-scenes television lore, Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon was famous for raising his voice when he felt it was necessary on the show’s set.
One such instance was in the visit of a guest director who was handling a scene the way he felt best. But according to a cast mate, Landon thought otherwise and let him know it.
Alison Arngrim and the episode she was excited to film
In her memoir Confessions of a Prairie B*tch, Alison Arngrim who portrayed Nellie Oleson on the long-running historical drama described a particular episode of the show that she was especially eager to film. It involved Nellie, a party, Nellie being mean, and Nellie getting her just desserts in the end.
As she explained, “I was happy because [“Town Party, Country Party”] was one of the episodes in which I got to wear the ‘party dress,’ which was purple-striped taffeta and made me look like a big piece of Christmas ribbon candy.”
The director who came to visit
“Town Party, Country Party,” was the seventh episode of the first season and centered on a Swedish family in the town of Walnut Grove. Their daughter Olga’s legs were of unequal length and in the episode, Charles Ingalls played by Michael Landon helps to outfit the child in special shoes that will allow her to walk normally.
This particular episode was helmed by guest director Alf Kjellin who had directed countless other television programs in the 1960s and ’70s including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dr. Kildare, Hawaii Five-O, and Gunsmoke.
“To get everyone into the spirit of the episode,” wrote Arngrim, “the director was a real-life, authentic Swede.
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“Alf Kjellin was doing a fine job; all was going quite smoothly, the real and imagined Swedes working together in harmony for several days. Then, we got to the part where Nellie gets her comeuppance.”
Nellie’s comeuppance started with Arngrim’s character insisting on going to the creek with the other children, namely to humiliate little Olga who couldn’t remove her shoes due to her condition. To punish Nellie for her cruelty, Laura (Melissa Gilbert) frightened her at the creek with a crab and Nellie fell face-first in the water, humbled, wet, and covered in mud.
Kjellin had filmed one version already with Arngrim’s stunt person falling into the water and as the actor recalled, he told her “we would film two versions, one with the stunt girl running and doing the fall at full speed, and one with me.” Michael Landon did not agree.
Landon took it on himself to direct a scene and fury ensued
The cast and crew had taken a break and once it was over, Landon called Arngrim to the pond. As far as he was concerned, there was no need for the Nellie Oleson actor to reshoot the scene since the stunt person had taken care of it.
Landon wanted to “get on with the aftermath,” and had Arngrim sit her dry self in the cold, muddy water while he “carefully” arranged hunks of “green, stringy algae” over her head and face. He also poured the “filthy pond water” over the actor’s head, which she said Landon thoroughly enjoyed doing.
When guest director Kjellin returned from break to find Landon “decorating” Arngrim, he saw red and the two men began to argue, as Arngrim described.
“Suddenly, Mr. Kjellin appeared. ‘What the hell are you doing?,’ he shouted at Michael.”
Landon, without looking at Kjellin, told him he was prepping Arngrim for her shot. “This enraged the visiting director,” Arngrim said. “Mr. Kjellin came right up to [Landon] and began ranting about how he was the director, not Michael, and so on. Michael replied with a crack about ‘having to do his job for him,’ and the two of them went on like this. They appeared about to kill one another right in front of me.”
After much yelling and cursing, and this in front of Kjellin’s wife and children, “it ended with a mutual ‘f*ck off,’” with Landon firing Kjellin simultaneously while the director declared he was quitting.
The guest director immediately took leave with his family, Landon continued placing algae on Arngrim as though nothing had happened, and the scene was completed.
Just another day behind the scenes on the prairie.
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