Country Girls was the very first Little House episode filmed, but it was the second episode aired.
Country Girls is Karen Grassle's (Caroline Ingalls) favorite episode from season one.
In this episode, Miss Beadle reveals to Laura that she wears a perfume called "Lemon Verbena." In later episodes, it is a scent that Caroline favors as well, and Charles gives it to her as a gift.
Nellie's memorable "My Home" speech also served as actress Alison Arngrim's audition piece for the role. Arngrim has said in previous interviews that she was cast very quickly.
Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) says that one of the reasons she felt so comfortable playing this role was because her godmother, Pauline Wilkie, was once a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in California.
Nitpick: It's Laura's first week of school, and she's shown writing multiplication problems on the blackboard. Laura couldn't even read when she came to school at the beginning of the episode, so it's doubtful she could add and subtract, let alone do multiplication.
Reply: Math is a whole different ballgame than reading and writing, so it's very possible that she knew how to add and subtract already when she came to school. However, I would agree that multiplication seems pretty advanced for a child her age.
Some audiences may be shocked to learn that brown-haired Tracie Savage (Christy Kennedy) was seriously considered for the role of Laura Ingalls. She stood with Melissa Gilbert as one of the last four girls standing. Even though Savage lost out to Gilbert (who was younger, shorter, and looked more right for the part), Savage did get to play Mary and Laura's good friend Christy throughout Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2. Once she hit 18, the actress knew she didn't want to have anything to do with acting as an adult, but she did go on to have a great career in journalism, and she even testified during the highly publicized OJ Simpson trial!
Although Laura's age wasn't always clear, one big hint we have is that she turned 16 at the end of Season 6. That would mean that she is 10 now, which makes very little sense. She was 8 years old in the pilot (which we found out in Season 8's "A Christmas They Never Forgot"), and this episode certainly wasn't filmed two years later. Laura looks very small to be 10. It's possible that she really was younger than that, and Michael Landon just bumped her age up a bit in Season 6, when she was romancing with Almanzo, to make it at least a little more realistic.
Reply: In a previous interview, Laura said that she was "10, but she looked like a 6-year-old." She also says that when Laura turned 16, she herself was a few weeks short of her 16th birthday, so her age was never bumped up. She was 10 when Season 1 began, but she was just short.
In a 2006 interview, Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) revealed that actress Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) actually had very short hair and wore a wig most of the time. Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) and Allison Balson (Nancy Oleson) also wore wigs, and Anderson herself had to have one after receiving a bad haircut in real life during Season 7.
When Charles asks to extend credit at the mercantile, and Harriet and Nels mutually turn him down, Charles gets angry and ends up leaving in a huff. Granted, he was frustrated because he himself knew that he was an honest and deserving person, but being a normally understanding man, you'd think he'd realize that Harriet and Nels were only trying to do their job and avoid being irresponsible by extending credit to somebody they didn't know. It's like Charles felt he was entitled to this just because he knew he wasn't the type to "charge up a bill and sneak out in the dead of night."
In the scene where Laura and Mary first meet Miss Beadle and are in fact standing to the left of her desk while registering for school, Nellie is staring them down. However, if you look at Alison Arngrim (Nellie)'s head, it's clear she's staring across the aisle at what would be the side of the school on the right, the same position she was turned when the girls entered from the back of the classroom. This staredown obviously wasn't filmed in real time, but inserted later, having been filmed as the Ingalls girls entered, not while they were standing at Miss Beadle's desk--one of the earliest examples of money-saving editing that this series would frequently employ. Only a regular viewer is likely to notice such things.
The whole scene with Laura and Nellie butting heads over the "Uncle John" song is taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder's fourth book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, from a chapter called "Nellie Oleson." Just like in this episode, Nellie did not like Laura singing this song on the playground with the other children in the book, and the girls got into a fight.
In both the books and this series, Nellie Oleson was based upon three different girls from Laura's life: Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. The real Laura Ingalls went to school with both Nellie and Genevieve in Walnut Grove.
When Mary suggests using her Christmas penny to buy a pencil for her and Laura to share, Laura says, "And you can own half of my penny!" If Laura had a penny also, why wouldn't she just buy her own? It couldn't have been very realistic for the two girls to switch back and forth with the same pencil during class, especially since they were different ages and therefore had different assignments to work on in school.
Reply: This is exactly the conversation the girls have in the book On the Banks of Plum Creek. Furthermore, later in this episode, the girls are shown each working on her own slate.
While Miss Beadle writes the girls' names in her register, Laura looks around and announces to the students--in a very smart-alecky tone--that she and Mary have their own books. While it certainly is better that the Ingalls girls can bring their mother's books to school without buying their own, they still have to share, and many other students likely have their own books, too. As innocent and sheltered as Laura has been - since she's never been to school and has had little interaction with other children - it is a rather impolite statement to make in front of her new teacher, who does not respond at all to what she has just said.
As another mark of this being a very early episode, Nellie and Willie run down into the shop while Mary and Laura were there buying their school materials, and they head straight for the candy. Even when their father sternly tells them to get away from the candy, they don't listen. Then Nellie very haughtily announces that the candy is theirs, and they can have as much as they like, while in full earshot of their father. While Mr. Oleson is established as very friendly and fair-minded, even in this early episode, he says absolutely nothing in response to this snotty comment from his daughter.
The adorable twin girls who played Carrie Ingalls are credited as Lindsay and Sydney Greenbush, but their real names are Rachel and Robyn. Melissa Gilbert, who absolutely loves babies and adored having these twin girls on the set, has interesting nicknames for them. In an interview, Gilbert was caught saying "They will always be my little Sugar Lump and Foxy Robyn. They'll always be my Shot Put and Bunji."
Look closely at Alison Arngrim's performance in this episode, her very first time playing Nellie Oleson. Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) has said in previous interviews that Arngrim was extremely shy early on in the first season, and the directors had a terrible time getting her to take her eyes off the ground. Obviously, she adjusted well and went on to make Nellie an unforgettable character, but if you watch carefully, you can tell how timid and relatively low-key she was in this episode (and, in fact, for the first few episodes, until she got into her groove).
Think back on the scene where Mary slaps Laura's hand as she is about to touch the fabric. Mary slapped her really hard, and I'm surprised that neither Charles nor Caroline said anything to her. Hitting was definitely something that neither of the Ingalls parents abided by in the series, but they sure did let it slide in this scene.
A noteworthy moment occurs when Caroline buys and brings the material home to make a new dress. When Laura reaches out to touch it, Mary slaps her hand hard and says "Don't touch, Laura! You'll get it all grubby!" There was a hard slapping sound when Mary did this, and look closely at Laura's face after she does it. The child looks like she is about to start laughing--and then she looks like she might burst into tears, or even a little embarrassed. But when she says her next line a few seconds later, she sounds perfectly fine. It's a really interesting thing to see. In previous interviews, actress Melissa Gilbert has said that this precise moment defines the unique relationship she had off-screen with Melissa Sue Anderson.
Notice that Alison Arngrim (Nellie) isn't wearing a wig here. She had her own hair curled impeccably throughout this first season of the series. She would come onto the set very early every morning and go through a daunting process of curling it just right, and in the end it didn't always stay put (especially in hot weather). The wig was made after this season, and Nellie wore it for the rest of the series.
Goof: Caroline said, "Pride goeth before a fall." (a common misquote) The real quote from Proverbs 16:18 is: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
Caroline: (angry) I met Mrs. Oleson today.
Charles: (understands) Oh.
Caroline: If Nellie Oleson is anything like her mother, I can see why Laura's been so upset. Do you know what she told me?
Caroline: She said that brown eggs bring less yolk than white!
Charles: Must be something peculiar in Minnesota. I've never heard that before.
Caroline: You'd never heard it before because it isn't true! She paid me four cents less for the brown, and then she turned around and sold them to someone else for the exact same price as the white. I was buying this thread, I heard her do it!
Charles: (about Laura loving school) It's hard to believe that's the same little girl we could hardly get out of bed this morning.
Caroline: I hoped she'd like it. I wasn't sure.
Charles: Oh, she'll be fine. She sure was feisty about that Nellie Oleson.
Caroline: I wonder why.
Charles: You haven't met her mother.
Charles: (about Laura fighting with Nellie) Now, Half-Pint, you heard what I said. You won't do it again?
Laura: Oh no, Pa, I promise. I won't have to. Nellie's scared of me now!
Laura: (overvoice) Ma gathered enough eggs to walk Mary and me into town two or three times a week. Sometimes she would tell us stories about when she was a little girl. I tried to scrunch her down in my mind and imagine her running barefoot, pigtails flying, but it never did work. She kept right on being Ma, which was all right, since we loved her a whole lot just the way she was.
Caroline: Charles, you were much too easy on Laura. She's not the least bit sorry about what she did.
Charles: Caroline, you heard what the child said. It was Nellie's fault.
Caroline: The Lord tells us to turn the other cheek.
Charles: Well, I think that's a little bit easier said than done; otherwise, we'd all be wearing halos instead of homespun.
Laura: Ma always says to "turn the other cheek." I just wondered when Nellie Oleson's mother would get around to telling her the same thing.
Charles: (to Laura, who is hiding under the covers) What's the matter, Half-Pint?
Laura: I don't want to go.
Charles: (pulling down the covers to see Laura's face) It's kind of hard to hear with you with all those covers over your head.
Laura: I don't want to go. I want to stay here.
Charles: Well, I wish you could stay. But I made a promise to your Ma. I promised her that as soon as we got settled by the nearest school, you and your sister would go.
Laura: But you need me here! Who's gonna help you with the fish traps? Who's gonna take care of Jack?
Charles: You're gonna have time for all that. You wouldn't want me to break a promise I made to your Ma, now would you?
Laura: No, Pa.
Charles: All right. (kisses her) That's my girl. Now hurry up and get yourself dressed. Breakfast is gonna get cool. And I'll tell you something you don't know--you're gonna like school.
Laura: (sighs) Yes, Pa.
Laura: Bye, Ma. Bye, Pa. Bye, Carrie. (hugs them all and leaves for school)
Charles: (to Caroline) That's an awful lot of good-byes for someone who's going to be home for supper.
Caroline: I'll go into the Olesons' tomorrow and return the fabric.
Charles: Now, Caroline, why do you think the Lord went to all the trouble of making you so pretty if he didn't want you to have a brand-new dress?
Mary: You'll be beautiful, Ma.
Laura: I can't wait 'til everybody sees you. They're gonna think they're looking at a piece of heaven!
Charles: If they don't think that already, I can't say much for their judgment or their eyesight.
Caroline: (embarrassed) Oh, what am I going to do with you? (turns away, starts crying, then turns around again and hugs them) What am I going to do with the lot of you?
Mary: (talking about school) There's a really nice girl named Christy. She'll probably be my best friend!
Charles: Good. Anyone in particular you like, Laura?
Laura: Someone in particular I DON'T like! That sippy Nellie Oleson!
Laura: Well, do you know what she called us? Country girls.
Pa: Well, you are country girls. There's nothing bad about that.
Laura: There is the way she said it. (mocks Nellie) Look at the country girls! Made me so mad, I wanted to smack her good!
Schoolchildren: (to Mary and Laura) Snipes! Snipes! Long-legged snipes!
Charles: Sounds to me like you like school.
Laura: Oh, I do, Pa! And you should just see Miss Beadle. She's the nicest lady in the entire world, and she smiles all the time, and the smells as good as she looks. I came right out and asked, and she says she wears something called lemon verbena. She's the prettiest lady I ever saw--except for Ma, of course.
Charles: Well, I must say, she must be really be something to come even close to your Ma.
Caroline: Oh, Charles!
Laura: (reciting her essay) "My Mother." My sister Mary is going to tell you how Pa brought us west, and how hard he worked. And I don't mean to take anything from him by telling you that Ma worked plenty hard herself. Still does. She cooks, and cleans, and sews, and cares of the lot of us, Pa included. I remembered once when I was little, coming down with the fever. Ma stayed up beside me all night long. I slept some, but she, never. Anytime I'd open my eyes, she'd be there, smiling, holding a cold cloth to my head. Now, with Mary and me "sprouting up," which is what Ma calls it, if there's ever the least littlest noise in the night, Ma would come climbing up the ladder, into the the loft, to make sure we're all right. I reckon there's times when she gets bone tired, but you'd never know it. Her smile is the last thing I see before I close my eyes and the first thing I want to see in the morning. Ma's been selling eggs to the mercantile, and she saved enough money to buy some yard goods for a new dress. This morning, Mary and me found out she made dresses for the two of us instead. That's because she loves us. That's the kind of mother Ma is, and that's why we love her so much.
Ma: Laura, what you said today was beautiful. And I'll treasure it as long as I live. But.....it wasn't what you had written down on the paper, was it?
Laura: It's what I would have written if I could.
Ma: I know that, dear. But it wasn't really an essay, was it?
Laura: (long pause) No, Ma.
Laura: (overvoice at the end of the episode) Ma took Mary's essay and mine, too. She said she was going to put them in the box where she kept her schoolbooks, and her wedding dress, and everything she loved most. It made us proud that she'd want them for remembering. But I knew that even without those papers, there wasn't one of us likely to forget that day--not ever!
Laura: (not wanting to go to school) Ma, how long is this learning gonna take?
Caroline: We start learning when we're born, Laura....and if we're wise, we don't stop until the Lord calls us home.
Laura: That long?
Mary: That Nellie Oleson! She's the meanest girl I ever saw. I could never be that mean!
Laura: I could! --meaner! --if Ma and Pa would let me.
(Willie is writing on the blackboard.)
Laura: (to Miss Beadle) Ma'am, how's he going to get all those numbers off again? (children start laughing)
Miss Beadle: Silence! There will be silence in this classroom! Willie, Laura has just asked a question. Will you please demonstrate the answer? (Willie erases the board)
Laura: Mary, look! It's clean as a whistle!
Nellie: What did I tell you? Country girls. They don't even know what a blackboard is!
Filming Locations: Filmed at Big Sky Ranch, Simi Valley and Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California.
This first season episode features some camera angles and shots of the little house that are not generally shown in later episodes. Included is an overhead from the top of the loft ladder, and one can see the far wall of the main room, which later was where the cameras stood to capture so much of the action happening around the table.
Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) has said that she took her earnings as an actress and put it toward breast cancer research. Stewart herself was afflicted with this disease, but she came through it.