Although there are many who remember Melissa Anderson as “the blind sister” on the iconic family drama Little House on the Prairie, there is much more to this sweet lady. She’s proud to be an Emmy-nominated actress (for her work on Little House), and also a producer (for Where Pigeons Go to Die starring and directed by Michael Landon). But her most important credit she said is being a mom. And now she is an author.
The bright blue-eyed blonde has written a book, Melissa Anderson: The Way I See It, which is a look back at her life on Little House. So we met up at the Valley mall she enjoyed as a teenager to chat about her journey as a child performer, when she was known as Melissa Sue Anderson. Now called Missy by her family and friends, she gave me a treat in telling me stories about the events in her life.
Her book is filled with personal and revealing anecdotes from her Little House years. It is also a portrait of a young performer who became a successful adult actress. Unlike the horror stories we’ve heard about other former childstars, Missy is a well-adjusted adult who took time off from her career to be a stay-at-home mom to her daughter Piper and son Griffin, with husband producer-director-writer Michael Sloan.
After our interview, she created a wonderful atmosphere when crowds gathered for her book signing and discussion at the Northridge Borders. She not only did readings from her autobiography, but also got the fans involved by getting them to help “perform” the script-styled chapters in the book. It was a fun and an interesting way to turn a book signing into a “show.”
The unique concept of describing key moments in her life in script form has “scenes” sprinkled through the well-written hardback. Where did she come up with that idea? Missy explained, “At the time I was reading a little book that Maria Shriver had written for graduates. That just gave me the idea of something different, and I was kind of thinking along those lines. Then, since I had to put myself at age 11 at beginning of the book, I thought to do that in screenplay form. And I had to learn to pick the ‘scenes’ from my life very carefully, because I didn’t want to take the reader out of the narrative at important moments in the book. So it had to be lighter moments that would flow with the stories.”
So how did the book materialize? Missy revealed that she never thought of writing a book. And when she was approached by the publisher, she thought it was a mistake, and the offer was meant for her husband Michael Sloan, because he’s the professional writer in the family. “It turned out they were interested in me, and I thought, ‘How interesting.’ I was surprised that no one had written a book [about the Little House experience]already.”
Later she found out that Melissa Gilbert, who played her Little House sister, is coming out with a book, but by that time Missy had considered it enough. “I thought of a way I could present it that might work and make it a little bit different. I didn’t want it to be like every other memoir and I didn’t want it to be dark and depressing. Yet I wanted it to have some substance, and I wanted people to learn something and take actors, especially child actors, maybe a little more seriously.”
She then decided “I can do it. I had it organized in my head, and so it went from there,” she said.
One of the lessons to be learned from her book comes when she talks about her friend Edward Woodward, with whom she co-starred on The Equalizer. She thought of him often, yet wasn’t in touch, and then he passed away. So she makes a plea for readers to be in touch with their friends, relatives and people they hold dear.
Another message she wants to get across is for child actors, “or potential child actors, or actors in general, not to take themselves too seriously. It’s all well and good to be passionate about it [acting], but it’s really smart to have something to fall back on. Education is important. And to have other interests besides the business.”
So much of the business is luck, she emphasized. “And that’s another lesson. It’s luck. There are so many fantastic actors and directors and writers out there, and if you’re not really incredibly lucky, and in the right place at the right time, it doesn’t matter. So again, it’s so much better to have a really great education, and make your passion a hobby, because it’s a hard business. Actors wear their hearts on their sleeves. They’ll hear ‘You’re too short. You’re too fat.’ It’s ironic, you have to be emotional as an actor, and then you’re stabbed in the heart all the time.”
What does Missy consider her greatest personal accomplishment, and her greatest professional accomplishment? Without hesitation she said, “Personal would have to be my kids. And professional accomplishment? Gosh, I think I’m proud of my work in The Equalizer. I loved doing that. It was my favorite thing that I’ve ever done. And it’s interesting, my son just watched it. Years ago, Griff saw some of it and it scared him, so off it went. And I knew now he was certainly old enough, and I said, ‘Griff, I think you’d really like it, because I think The Equalizer is your kind of show,’ and he loved it. So I was in and out of the room, and saw bits and pieces, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I wasn’t bad in that.’ Because sometimes you are. You’re never as good as you think you are, or sometimes it turns out better than you thought. And I wanted to live up to the material, because the writing was so good. So I really felt I did good work there, and I was proud of being associated with that show.”
Now making her home in Montreal, Missy fondly looks back on her early days in Hollywood, giving Bobby Brady his first kiss on The Brady Bunch, meeting Beau Bridges over the years, plus her observations about Michael Landon and playing Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie.
She doesn’t think audiences would tune in the sentimental Little House if the series were created today. “First of all, the only reason Little House sold was because of Mike Landon. If he hadn’t been in it, I think no one would have cared. But the other reason is that it’s a show that needs to be told in a slow fashion, and the audience today has no patience.”
To go with the era of the show, Missy said, “Little House would have to have the stories develop slowly.” And it wouldn’t have time to find an audience in just the three episodes the networks give you these days.
That’s sad, because Little House was excellent family entertainment. But it’s fortunate that it was the right show at a perfect time in the broadcast universal. And Melissa Sue Anderson was at the right place at the right time to be part of an outstanding cast that made the show iconic among family-friendly classic TV shows.
We hope we see more from Missy in the future.