Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Brooks on Books: A pair of "Little House" books

I think I mentioned on the podcast that I attempted to read the original Laura Ingalls Wilder books with my family and didn't get too far. Today I talk a bit more about two books related to the Little House TV series that I read for the podcast.

Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy by Aileen Joyce is from 1991, apparently published right after the star's death from cancer. It's a mass-market paperback without an index nor a bibliography nor any notes on references, for that matter. It looks like a quickie effort, and I suspect it was hastily assembled from secondary sources.

That doesn't mean it's without merit, though. It's a breezy read, and I say that despite the fact that I happened to read much of it while waiting at the doctor's office. For anyone unfamiliar with Landon's horrible childhood, like me, it's a great intro to his warped family life and some of the forces out of his control that shaped him.

Landon became what we now would call a control freak, and he had his proverbial demons--drug issues, several marriages that ended in infidelity--but if you were on his good side and he on yours, he seems like a good boss. Just don't ask former associates like Bonanza producer David Dortort and LHOP producer Ed Friendly. The common denominator seems to be, if you didn't give Landon his way, or the freedom to do it his way, he would make you regret it.

The one thing that disappoints me about this slim book is the relative lack of info about the show, which was a huge part of his life and ran 9 seasons. There are other volumes for that material, though, such as...

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch paints a very positive picture of Landon. Author Alison Arngrim, AKA Nellie Oleson, describes a considerate boss who treated the child actors with respect--someone who had a temper and a darker side but was careful to protect the kids and looked out for their welfare.

There is much, much more to Arngrim's memoir, starting with the fact that her upbringing was even more horrible than Landon's. Her account of the continued abuse she received from her older brother is harrowing. She talks with candor about those years as well as her post-LHOP years and activism.

Little House fans have a lot to enjoy here. She dishes about co-stars Melissa Gilbert (they were besties despite their on-screen relationship) and Melissa Sue Anderson (distant and cold, perhaps due to a controlling stage mother, Anrgrim wonders). Her comments about screen mom Katherine MacGregor are entertaining. TV's Harriet Oleson loved to give stage direction to everyone on the set, something that irked others like Landon, though they eventually just gave up and indulged her (And Arngrim says some actors did appreciate the advice).

Most interesting is the real in-depth look Arngrim provides at the working life of a child actor. You may want and expect stories about particular episodes and co-stars, and you get that here, but there is so much more. For example, she writes about the costuming process. Arngrim details the hair and makeup routine she experienced. Along the way she makes these more "routine" aspects of television production compelling, plus she creates significant "characters" of the professionals responsible for those tasks.

Arngrim is funny and sharp but also seems to care about her fellow performers and their lives. Her voice makes this a tremendous showbiz autobiography. Bitch is an essential purchase for a devoted LHOP fan, but it's also a great book for general readers interested in television and celebrity.

No comments:

Post a Comment