This is Lindsay Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls)'s favorite episode, although she enjoys many of the episodes from the early seasons. She says she loves the pilot so much because it was so accurate in portraying what that day and age was like for pioneers.
Melissa Gilbert found out she won the role of Laura Ingalls while standing in the lunch line at school from Michael Landon's daughter Leslie. Leslie got grounded for doing it.
Actress Melissa Gilbert auditioned against 500 other child actors for the role of "Half Pint", her screen test was the only one Michael Landon submitted to NBC Studio's for consideration.
Melissa Gilbert fondly remembers her first day on the set of Little House, with this episode. It was filmed in California, but it had just snowed, and on top of that, there were two toddlers on the set--the girls who played Carrie--and Gilbert says "There was snow, and there were babies, so I was in absolute heaven." Gilbert also vividly remembers how when she first met Michael Landon, he was so happy, and he was just in complete command of everything. She says she always called Landon "an upside-down triangle" because he was so tall, big and muscular, while Gilbert herself was just a tiny little girl who was 10, but was actually the size of a 6-year-old, according to her.
This is the first episode where we see baby Carrie's rag doll, which she carried around for a long time when she was really little on the show. The doll's name is Debbie, and to this day, Lindsay Greenbush still owns it and shows it to fans when she makes appearances. The doll has a missing leg now, and Lindsay likes to joke that "Nellie Oleson must have gotten a hold of it."
In this episode, Caroline mentions her concern about Mary and Laura's schooling, because they are constantly moving around. In real life, Caroline Ingalls had this exact same concern for her daughters, and that's why she made her husband promise that they'd settle somewhere for good. Eventually they did just that, when they moved to DeSmet, South Dakota.
The real Laura and Mary Ingalls were 2 years apart, just as they are depicted on the TV show. As for Carrie, she is 6 years younger than Laura and 8 years younger than Mary in the show, but in real life, she was born three years after Laura, which paved the way for a close bond between the two (which we didn't see in the TV series).
The first scene of the pilot episode was not intended to be a snowy one, especially since it was filmed in California (as was most of the "Little House" series), but filming was scheduled to begin on a Monday, and over that whole weekend beforehand, it snowed fiercely. To accommodate this change, Michael Landon rewrote the script as needed, and that initial scene was the very first scene that was shot for Little House on the Prairie!
This is the only episode of the series where Christmas was featured in the plot, but only made up a small part of the episode itself. Season 1's Christmas at Plum Creek, Season 3's Blizzard, Season 8's A Christmas They Never Forgot, and Season 10's Bless all the Dear Children held Christmas as the main focus of the episodes.
The Little House pilot movie was the highest tested and rated Movie of the Week of all time in the history of NBC. It remained number one until Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven broke the record in 1984, which obviously had an immediate fan base carry over from the hugely successful Little House series (plus quite a few new fans). This says quite a bit about Landon's incredible talent as an actor, director, and writer.
Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush have said that they landed the role of Carrie Ingalls because when they went in to meet Michael Landon, it was requested that they go in alone while their mother waited outside. This was a real test for these two toddlers, and they passed with flying colors; they had easygoing personalities and didn't even seem fazed about being separated from their mother. Michael Landon knew then that they would be easy babies to film with, and he was right. Throughout the series, it was evident that Lindsay and Sidney were genuinely happy kids, even as 2-year-olds. They were smiling all the time on camera, and they very, very rarely cried. Interestingly, though, the girls' parents once said that they were unhappy during the show's early years, because "they were just kids, and everyone expected them to act like adults," but it got better as the series went on.
When describing why Michael Landon chose Melissa Gilbert for the role of Laura, casting director Susan McCray once said that it was because Gilbert was the epitome of an All-American, curious child who was cute, but not over-the-top gorgeous, and could therefore be convincing as a real kid. "When you looked at her, you could just see that she wanted to see and experience everything," McCray said, which was exactly what came out in the character.
In the very first scene, watch closely at Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) when she, Laura, and Ma are walking toward the covered wagon in the snow. Anderson slips and falls on her bottom, but she quickly pulls herself back up before going all the way down, and the scene continues with it. It happens very quickly, so you have to look carefully.
Lindsay and Sidney are only the stage names names of the Greenbush twins, who play little Carrie Ingalls. In real life, the girls' names are Rachel and Robyn, but they are never credited this way on the show.
Pa is clearly much more serious and speaks more curtly to his kids in the pilot episode than he does in the actual series. Watch the pilot episode, and then watch the Season 1 premiere A Harvest of Friends. It's like watching two different characters. Perhaps the pilot was supposed to be more in keeping with Pa's personality in the Little House books, which would make sense, since the pilot has been hailed as the one Little House episode that stuck closest to the books.
There was not much to criticize about Caroline Ingalls' character--she was a wonderful wife, a patient and loving mother, and a caring person to most everyone--but in this pilot episode, it's clear that Caroline had some severe prejudices and made hasty judgments about certain people. She was obviously prejudice toward the Indians encountered in this episode, and despite Mr. Edwards' kindness and generosity to the family, it took her a long time to accept him because he was rough around the edges. This was a definite flaw in Caroline's character that was evident not only in this episode, but throughout the 10-year series.
Actress Melissa Gilbert auditioned for the role of Susan in the 1970's film "Miracle on 34th Street," but obviously she did not get it. Fortunately, that opened her up to land the role of Laura shortly after.
Melissa Gilbert has said that the final good-bye scene with Mr. Edwards was very difficult to film, because this was a time where the young actress was also saying good-bye to Victor French (who played Edwards). The premiere movie was wrapping up, they still had no idea that a TV series would be spawned from it, and aside from that, they didn't even know that Victor would come back as a star on the 10-year show. So, in that regard, this scene was a difficult and emotional one for both Gilbert and French, which is precisely why it came out so beautifully.
The heartwarming scene with the newborn filly marks a unique new experience for Laura, as well as actress Melissa Gilbert. In interviews, Gilbert has said that they put her in this scene purely on a whim, and the expression of wonderment on Laura's face is the genuine feeling that Gilbert had as she saw a newborn horse for the very first time (just like her character was). For that matter, Gilbert has said that many of the first-time experiences that the Laura character had on-screen were first times for Gilbert, as well.
Reality is heavily suspended when Mr. Edwards is traveling to the Ingalls' house in the blizzard. He falls completely underwater while falling in the lake--something that could have easily left him dead right then and there.
Charles: Are the children asleep?
Caroline: All but Laura. How much longer, Charles?
Charles: I don't know.
Caroline: We crossed into Kansas days ago. What are you looking for?
Charles: I'll know it when I see it.
Caroline: But the children are tired, and the life seems to have gone out of all of us.
Charles: It'll pass, Caroline. We had no future where we were. It was a hand-to-mouth existence at best. I want more than that for you and the children.
Caroline: I hope I never see one.
Laura: Then why did we come to the Indian Territory?
Caroline: (laughs) I suppose it does sound pretty foolish to come to the Indian Territory and hope that you'll never see an Indian.
Laura: How come Mr. Edwards doesn't come around anymore?
Charles: He's got his own place to look after.
Laura: I think he doesn't come by anymore because he knows Ma doesn't like him.
Charles: Well, I don't know that she doesn't.
Laura: She don't, and I know why!
Charles: Oh, is that a fact?
Laura: Mm-hmm. Because he spits!
Laura: I'm sorry, Pa.
Charles: For what, Half-Pint?
Laura: For thinking you didn't care about Jack when he almost drowned.
Charles: Didn't care? I blame myself for not putting him in the wagon. I should have taken into consideration how tired he was. I was just so full of guilt for letting him drown.
Laura: But you only said you were sad about not having a good watch dog anymore.
Charles: I guess I just couldn't find the words to say what was in my heart.
After Jack disappears, Laura starts walking alongside the wagon like he did
Caroline: (peeking out from the covered wagon) Laura, come inside, dear. It's too hot to walk in the sun.
Laura: I'm not hot.
Caroline: Then put your bonnet on. The sun and the wind will make your skin all leathery.
Charles: Let her be, Caroline. She's hurting.
Laura: (overvoice) If I had a remembrance book, I would mark down how it was when we left our little house in the Big Woods to go west to Indian territory. We had to go, Pa said, because so many people had come to live in the Big Woods. There wasn't enough game anymore for him to hunt, and he feared we might go hungry. Ma said we might never again see Grandma and Grandpa, or Aunt Dosey and Aunt Ruby, and Uncle George. Though it made me sad, I still thought it a fine thing to go where there had never been a road before. We'd go where the land was more bountiful, he said. We sold the house, the land and cows, and packed whatever would fit into the wagon. I was glad Pa took his fiddle, for it makes a joyous sound. Mary was afraid to go, but I knew nothing bad could happen as long as we had Pa and Jack. Jack is my best and truest friend, and Pa said there's never been a better watch dog. I knew there would be rivers to cross and hills to climb, and I was glad--for this is a fair land, and I rejoiced that I would see it.
Caroline: Mr. Edwards, would you care to have supper with us? We're only having stewed rabbit and dumplings, of course.
Mr. Edwards: You've got yourself a customer, ma'am. I've been eating so much jerky lately, just the thought of it is enough to make me upchuck!
Laura: (overvoice on Christmas) We each got a shiny new penny, and a cookie made like a heart, sprinkled with white sugar--and red mittens like Mr. Edwards got when he was a sprig in Tennessee. It was the best Christmas ever--not only because we got grand presents, but because Ma took kindly to Mr. Edwards.
Mary: (about her candy cane from Mr. Edwards) I'm gonna save mine.
Laura: Not me! (bites away on her candy cane)
Charles: I shouldn't have brought you here.
Caroline: It's not your fault.
Charles: Oh, yes it is. We're here because it's where I want to be. I took you away from your home, your family.
Caroline: Now that's nonsense! My home is where you are. And you and the children are my family.
Charles: Caroline Ingalls, I love you.
Caroline: I'm worried about the girls' schooling. I can manage for now, but Mary's got her heart set on being a schoolteacher. She'll need formal training and--
Charles: We'll worry about that when the time comes! (long silence) I'm sorry.
Caroline: There's one other thing. I don't see how the girls can grow up properly without ever going to Church.
Charles: I don't see how they can get any closer to God than they are right here. Now, stop worrying. Everything's going to be fine.
Laura: (when Charles tells her about how a pack of wolves was chasing him) But you weren't scared.
Charles: You bet I was scared.
Laura: I thought Pa's never got scared of anything.
Charles: Don't let them fool you. All Pa's get scared, just like children.
Laura: But not as scared as Ma's.
Charles: That's right, not as scared as Ma's. That's why it's important that you keep this a secret.
Laura: I'd spit into the wind before I tell.
Charles: That's my girl.
Charles: (when Mary and Laura start arguing) The Bible says "Thou shall not argue before breakfast."
Caroline: That's not in the Bible, Charles.
Charles: Yeah, well, it ought to be.
Caroline: Laura! What on Earth are you doing?
Laura: Mr. Edwards is teaching me how to spit!
Caroline: Spit?!?! Mr. Edwards, do you consider that a worthy accomplishment?
Mr. Edwards: Well, I don't know about worthy, ma'am, but it sure does come in handy in a stiff breeze.
Charles: I reckon I should have told you why I wanted Jack tied up.
Laura: You said you didn't want him going after you and scaring away the game.
Charles: Well, that was only part of it. See, I saw some Indians on the way home yesterday. Jack's a watch dog--I was afraid he would go after them and get into trouble. From now on, every time I'm gone, we're going to have to tie Jack up, even though he hates it. It's for his own good, and for ours. Do you understand now?
Laura: Yes. But you could have just told me, Pa. I'm not a baby anymore.
Charles: (smiles) Yeah, I'm gonna have to try and remember that.
Mary: Laura wanted to untie Jack when the Indians came, but I wouldn't let her.
Charles: You wanted to untie Jack after I told you not to? I don't want you ever, EVER to go against an order I give you again, do you understand? DO YOU UNDERSTAND? (stunned, Laura just nods)
Caroline: Laura, go bring in some wood. (after Laura leaves) Charles, there was no reason for you to speak so harshly to Laura. She only wanted Jack to protect Carrie and me.
Charles: I don't care what her reasons were. When I give her an order, I expect it to be abade. She's going to have to trust my judgment.
Caroline: She's just a child!
Caroline: (about Mr. Edwards) He is uncivilized!
Charles: He's a little rough on the edges, but that's just because he hasn't had the advantage of the refining influence of a woman.
Caroline: Oh, I can imagine the types of women he's known! I don't feel comfortable having him around the children, Charles--especially Laura. For some reason, she's taken to him.
Charles: Well, so have I. He's a good man, and he's been kind to us. I expect you to be civil and friendly to him.
Caroline: I am civil! But I will not be friendly. I doubt he's ever seen the inside of a Church!
Charles: Well, that hardly seems like a proper way to judge a man. I know an awful lot of pious Church-goers who wouldn't think of helping out a neighbor the way Mr. Edwards has. I'll see to the ponies. I'm going in to bed, you coming? (Caroline doesn't answer) Well, good night.
Caroline: I'll be friendly....but my heart won't be in it.
Mary: (about the horses) Can we give them names, Pa?
Charles: Well, I think we should, seeing as they're part of the family now.
Mary: I want to name this one Patty.
Charles: Patty it is.
Laura: (looking at other horse's privates) We better call this one Pat. He's a boy.
Charles: Caroline, that child would be in a heap of trouble if she didn't know the difference between boys and girls.
Caroline: Really, Charles!
Charles: (to Patty the horse) Easy now, girl.
Laura: Is Patty going to be all right, Pa?
Charles: She'll be fine, Half-Pint. There'll be a foal by morning.
Caroline: Laura, dear, go inside and get some sleep.
Laura: But I want to see the baby get born.
Charles: Let her stay, Caroline. It's a fine thing to watch a new life come into the world.
Laura: Mr. Edwards, you came!
Carrie: (Edwards' hair and beard white with snow) Santa!
Filming Locations: Cedar Glen Apple Ranch in Yankee Hill, CA; Baker Ranch in Tuolumne, CA; The Stanislaus River; and other Sierra locations filmed at The Orvis Ranch in Stanislaus County, CA, and Agoura, CA.
Filming Dates: January 7-27, 1974
Twin actresses Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush's names appear in the opening credits as "Lindsay Sydney Green Bush." In the actual series' opening credits, the name would correctly be shown on screen as Greenbush.
Actress Ruth Foster appeares in the opening scene of this episode as one of the family members to whom the Ingalls are bidding farewell. She's the same actress who would play Walnut Grove postmistress and resident Ruth Foster in future episodes. She's also the only actress in the entire series run whose real name was used as her character's name.
Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) has said in previous interviews that when she was first approached about auditioning for Little House, she was told that it was a "period western type of show," and so she wasn't really expecting what it actually was. She got excited when she found out that she was auditioning for Little House, because she was the right age, and she had read the books. In addition, she originally read for the role of Laura, but Michael Landon saw her and immediately thought, "This is Mary."
The Christmas scenes with Mr. Edwards were taken directly from Laura Ingalls Wilder's third book, Little House on the Prairie. For that matter, the entire pilot movie stuck close to the books, but the same cannot be said for many of the other episodes in the series.
At the beginning of this pilot episode, the Ingalls say good-bye to the grandparents, aunts and uncles who live in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and come from Caroline's side of the family. Of all these people, the only one the Ingalls end up seeing again in the series is Caroline's father, who comes to visit with Caroline's mother in Season 6, but she dies en route.
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