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The Toronto Star (March 1992)


From Little House to Grandmother's House

by Rita Zekas


Last Tuesday, March 17, was a special day for Melissa Anderson.

And not just because it's St. Paddy's Day and her husband, producer/writer Michael Sloan, is Irish.

It also happens to be their wedding anniversary. They've been married two years and have a 13-month-old daughter named Piper Kathleen.

Yes, it's hard to believe that Anderson, who grew up playing hapless Mary Ingalls Kendall on Little House On The Prairie, is a mom .

She's 29 now.

And she didn't live in those pioneer clothes. She used to date Frank Sinatra Jr. once upon a time so you know she had to have cocktail lounge dresses in her wardrobe.

She's currently in town co-starring in To Grandmother's House We Go at the St. Lawrence Centre.

She's pretty, petite, and has striking pale blue eyes. Her figure is trim, she's lost all the baby fat. She dropped her last 15 post-pregnancy pounds in the month she's been here in rehearsals, walking everyday to the theatre from her Cabbagetown temp home.

And she dropped the " Sue" from her name after she left Little House.

"There was another Melissa Anderson in the Screen Actor's Guild. Finally, she didn't keep up with her dues or something because she dropped out so I got to keep my name."

Sloan wrote and exec produced the Alfred Hitchcock series shot here two years ago. He also created The Equalizer series starring Edward Woodward. And even though Anderson had the recurring role of Woodward's daughter on Equalizer, she didn't meet Sloan until 1987, when she was doing a segment of Hitchcock.

Woodward and Michael Landon both played her fathers, but she says they weren't really father figures.

"Michael was more of a big brother than a dad. Edward's just a really great friend. Michael has known Edward for 20-odd years and after our wedding, the following Saturday, we had a blessing in England and Edward walked me down the aisle. It's ironic that his wife Michelle is 16 years younger than he and I'm 16 years younger than Michael."

Anderson kept in touch with Landon up until his recent death.

"We both lived in Malibu and I did a project with him as a co-producer two years ago called Where Pigeons Go To Die. I saw him a bit after that and Piper was only 3 months old when he was diagnosed and he barely lived three months after that. He had a great attitude, but at the end the cancer just wore him out."

Anderson made her stage debut at age 19 at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Fla. and this is somewhat of a stage comeback. Actually, it's her acting comeback since she hasn't worked in two years. This play brought her out of "retirement."

"John Wood, the director, is a friend. I met him during Hitchcock - he's a terrific director. He asked me to do it when I was up at Christmas visiting friends in Stratford and I was reluctant to do it until I read it.

"It's a great play. I play Twyla, the son's fiancee and she figures prominently in the action. She's the conflict, she's very bold, opinionated and a real estate agent from California. And she's quite funny. I'm sorta talked about all the way through the play."

Anderson is a California girl herself, albeit one who shuns the sun even though she lives in Malibu. Born in Berkeley (to a non professional family) and raised in the San Fernando Valley, she started doing commercials early on.

"I was a dancer originally and my dancing teacher, Louie De Pron, who taught Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly to dance, had been released from his Paramount contract so he was cautious. He thought I had potential as a dancer and because of his bad contractual experience, he said I should act as well. My parents felt, 'Okay, she won't get an agent.' But I got an agent. Then it was, 'I won't get a job.' But I did. Then they figured I wouldn't like the work. But I did. So they got stuck with it."

She made brief appearances on series like Brady Bunch and Shaft, eventually snagging her breakthrough role in Little House at age 11. She was Mary Ingalls for an eventful seven seasons - "they signed seven-year contracts in those days." Mary was blind, had a miscarriage, lost her mind, lost a baby in a fire, and had every disease of the week. She packed it in when she figured the storyline was stretched as far as it would go.

After House, in addition to Equalizer and Hitchcock, she starred in several TV-movies and feature films like the Canadian thriller Happy Birthday To Me, and Dead Men Don't Die with Elliott Gould.

"I'd always worked during Little House so I wasn't typecast, as far as the industry anyway. The last thing I did before 'semi-retirement' was the film with Elliott Gould where I was a news co-anchor."

Comedy is king for her at this point in her life.

"I've done so much drama I'm drama'd out. After Grandmother's House, I'll go home and relax but I do have another idea (for producing). My husband and I have approached (Night Court's ) John Larroquette to do a sitcom. Michael will adapt it and write it. I'm just happy to have the idea, I can't write."

She nixes the idea of another series for herself.

"Oh no, it's too much work. I want to have more kids. If I want to work, it has to be sporadically. I worked on Little House for eight years and I've been in the business for 20 years. People say I'm not really retired, but after working 18 years, I was tired."

She laughs at the question of Piper becoming an actress.

"I wouldn't discourage her, but I wouldn't encourage her."

But she's well-adjusted, unlike those child TV stars who ended up robbing convenience stores or developed bad drug habits.

"I think their home lives must have been unstable. To blame it on the industry is ridiculous. It may have been to fulfil the parents' dream - a lot of parents want their kids to be famous - or parents were not available to them. They could have turned out the same way if they hadn't been actors, they just would have had less money to lose or spend on drugs."