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TV Legends Revealed | ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and the Baby Battering Ram

by  in TV News Comment
TV Legends Revealed | ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and the Baby Battering Ram

TV URBAN LEGEND: Michael Landon pulled a prank on an actress during her “Little House on the Prairie” death scene, resulting in her seemingly using a baby as a battering ram.

Michael Landon’s long-running television series “Little House on the Prairie” (based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic books about growing up on the frontier) has a reputation as a throwback to more wholesome times (reruns of the show air on both the Hallmark Channel and INSP, formerly known as The Inspiration Network). While that is certainly true to a certain extent, that also overshadows just how dark the series could be. Just looking at the Ingalls, Charles and Caroline lost a son in the first season, their oldest daughter Mary went blind and later had a miscarriage. That was on top of the plagues and droughts that seemingly popped up every other season. There was also the infamous episode in which a teenage girl is raped by a sociopath dressed as a mime. Heck, even the series finale, as I noted in an old TV Legends Revealed, ended with the town of Walnut Grove being blown to smithereens!

So the show had a lot of dark moments. Likely none more dark, however, than Season 6’s “May We Make Them Proud,” which aired as a special two-hour episode during February sweeps in 1980.

In the episode, the Ingalls’ adopted son Albert sneaks a smoke on a pipe with his friend in the basement of the School for the Blind. When they’re discovered, they pretend not to be smoking and leave the basement. However, the lit pipe is forgotten, and sets fire to the entire school! By this point in the show’s run, Mary had given birth to her first child with her husband Adam, and the three of them were all living in the School for the Blind. The fire spreads through the school, forcing Mary and Adam to lead the students to safety. However, in an odd – and, frankly, not particularly believable — twist, neither thinks to make sure their baby is safe. Instead, visiting family friend Alice Garvey (played by Hersha Parady) goes to save the baby, only to be trapped with the infant in the bedroom. She tries to break through a window, but it is too late, and she and the baby are burned to death.

That alone is horrific enough to make the episode stand out in the minds of “Little House on the Prairie” viewers, but the episode is also known for the oddity of the scene in which Garvey breaks the window. It looks as if she’s using the baby as a battering ram! Here’s the scene:

A legend that spun out of this episode is that Michael Landon, who was a noted practical joker, messed with the glass, leading to Parady to hit it harder and forcing her to seemingly use the fake baby to do it.

While it’s true Landon was a big prankster, the scene in “May We Make Them Proud” utilized actual fire; there were firefighters on set for the controlled burn. There was no way Landon would have joked around with something like that. However, there is a little truth to the legend, in the sense that the glass was difficult to break, and that is why it looks like Parady is smashing the glass with the baby. As Parady recalled:

One thing was that they did not rig the windows to break easily and I’m not, as Michael Landon pointed out a lot, a meek, delicate woman, so when I try to bust something, I usually succeed! It was Michael himself who first mentioned that it looked like I was trying to use Mary’s baby as a battering ram to bust the window! So because they’d forgotten to “break away” the windows, I was determined to get out whatever the cost!

It’s very possible they chose not to use “break away” glass in the windows because Parady was strong, and was known for occasionally breaking props, like the Garveys’ water pump. So it’s possible they used stronger glass, but I don’t know for sure. In any event, the change in the glass IS why Parady had to hit it harder, therefore making it look like she was using the baby.

Parady later recalled that the episode is likely her favorite of the series, noting:

In spite of the impending doom it would bring – at least I went out with a roar and not a whimper! Working with the special effects guys and the LA fire department was a first for me, and to be surrounded by “controlled” fire and readied fire extinguishers, I was ready to act up a storm! I loved every minute of it!

The legend is…

STATUS: False (with some truth slightly mixed in there)

Thanks to Little House Memories for the great Parady interview!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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