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The Toronto Sun (May 3, 1987)


Prairie Girl Trying to Bury Prissy Image

by Rita Zekas


Melissa Anderson is not the Melissa who's engaged to Rob Lowe. That's Melissa Gilbert, the other Ingalls daughter on Little House On The Prairie.

"To save confusion, everyone on the set called me Missy," she explains over the phone from her home in Hollywood.

As Melissa Sue Anderson, she played Mary Ingalls, the older daughter of Charles, portrayed by Michael Landon. But even in dowdy period costumes of calf-length flowered dresses, black ankle boots and bonnet, the blonde, blue-eyed Anderson still looked like a cheerleader. Small wonder she received the most fan mail.

When The Equalizer returns for its third season this fall, Anderson will be back for at least two more episodes playing Edward Woodward's daughter.

"I'll be back if they don't kill me off," she says. "They kept telling me I was holding the gun incorrectly when I had the gun on McCall, thinking he was a bad guy. I'm not used to holding a gun, I couldn't even pull the hammer back. I wasn't strong enough."

Father and daughter

What she won't do, she says, is appear on Highway To Heaven, Landon's latest series.

"That would be too close," she sighs. "We're too associated as father and daughter."

Anderson shed Little House six years ago and the "Sue" last year.

"I only originally used it because there was another Melissa Anderson who didn't work but kept up her dues," she says. "So I kept my middle name in. My new agents suggested I drop it because it sounded too young or implies I was from the south."

Anderson is 24 and hails from southern California. She was born in Berkeley and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, making her an original Val Gal.

Anderson started out doing commercials at age 9. She played Bobby's first girlfriend in the Brady Bunch TV series, did an episode of Shaft and that led to Little House at age 11.

In the syrupy series, Mary was a goody two shoes, victimized by man and God alike. She went blind at the end of the show's fourth season due to scarlet fever, just when she found her first love. She lost her first baby in miscarriage, then she lost her mind. Another baby died in a fire.

"I'd gone the whole gamut," she says. "The writers simply exhausted all the possiblilities for Mary Ingalls Kendall."

Still, quitting a hit series must be scary stuff.

"Yeah, it was scary," she admits, "but if someone told me I was going to play the same role the rest of my life, I'd quit the business. I didn't want to stay a blind pioneer the rest of my life.

Became stagnating

"The reason I like acting is because I like doing different characters. I had done the same thing for seven years and my contract was up. It became stagnating - I was just in scenes to prove I was alive. Also, it was a period show, a western and it was just plain limiting. What else could you do? They had me reading Braille and it hadn't even been invented yet. They had to take licence."

She says she wasn't typecast after she left House. "I always did other things. (Like the TV movies An Innocent Love, First Affair and Midnight Offerings, and appearances in Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Hotel and Finder Of Lost Loves. She won an Emmy for the ABC After School Special, "Which Mother Is Mine?")

"I always made sure I did contemporary roles. I may be a little typecast with regards to looks because I look too sweet."

She was offered the Brooke Shields role in Blue Lagoon but turned it down due to overexposure - she didn't want to make her movie debut in the buff. Her first movie role was in the Montreal-made horror film, Happy Birthday To Me, opposite Glenn Ford.

Play on weekends

Anderson's stage debut was at Burt Reynolds' Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Fla., in Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady.

"I put together an Equity waiver production and did a play on weekends," she says. "I like to do that especially when I get bored reading terrible scripts. My agents are mad because I turn down things but I don't want to go back to being a teenager. There are a lot of terrible horror movies out there and they seem to like blonde, blue-eyed, well-known actresses. And a lot of pro-alcohol movies.

"I can't imagine portraying characters with no redeeming qualities who in the very first scene are bombed out of their minds and drive off. The Sally Fields and Meryls and Jane Fondas, that's the age group that's in now. My age is a hindrance. I don't want to be a teenager and yet I don't photograph over 25."

She has a possible new series in the offing. She won't divulge any details except to say it's one that's "modern."

At 18, Anderson dated Frank Sinatra Jr., who was then 35. She has been involved with record producer Val ("Bette Davis Eyes") Garay for the last 2 1/2 years.

When she's not reading scripts and books and romping with her two dogs, she runs. "But not outside. I run inside on a carpet because my shins are weak."

That's surprising considering she started taking dancing lessons at age 3.

"I was a great tap dancer and I did ballet, jazz and acrobatics. If Gregory Hines had needed a partner when I was 10, I could have done it."