NEW! Dean Butler ('Little House on the Prairie')
'The Little House on the Prairie Phenomenon: The Dean Butler Story'
As I'm sure we call know by now, 'Little House on the Prairie' was an American Western drama television series, starring the late, and highly beloved Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, and Karen Grassle. It was about a family living on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s.
Indeed, the show was actually an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of Little House books. Television producer and NBC executive Ed Friendly became aware of the story in the early 1970s. He then asked Michael Landon to direct the pilot movie, who agreed on the condition that he could also play Charles Ingalls.
The regular series was preceded by the two-hour pilot movie, which first aired on March 30, 1974. The series premiered on the NBC network on September 11, 1974, and last aired on May 10, 1982. During the 1982–83 television season, with the departure of Landon and Grassle, the series was broadcast with the new title 'Little House: A New Beginning.'
In 1997, TV Guide ranked the two-part episode "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away" #97 on its 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
Lionsgate Entertainment has now made it official by announcing to retailers that on July 14th they will make it to the two-thirds mark of the show's nine season run with DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases of 'Little House on the Prairie - Season 6: Deluxe Remastered Edition.' The studio has confirmed the pricing of $21.98 SRP and $24.99 SRP respectively.
Chatting recently with the man himself, Dean Butler, we first discussed how after a few other roles, he soon found the one that has since become part of our TV folklore forever - as Almanzo James Wilder on 'Little House on the Prairie.' So, with his run having lasted five years, and having appeared in 65 episodes, how easy (or hard) was it had it been for him to actually get that role back then? "Getting the role back then, it was just one of many, many interviews. As a young actor I went on lots of interviews. Some worked out, some didn’t. Some felt right and some didn’t. The Little House interviews were interviews that instantly felt right. It felt like something I could do, something that I could do well. It felt like something I would be right for."
"The interview process was a pretty long one. I was in my senior year at college up at the University of the Pacific up in Stockton and I traveled back and forth from Stockton to Los Angeles for four different interviews. The first three with the Casting Director Susan Sukman and the last one was with Michael Landon, with Susan and Michael Landon. And it was amazing. When I was done with the interview he asked me what I was doing at the end of May; and I told him I was graduating from college and he said they could wait that long. I walked out the door and felt like “my god, my life is about the change.” It took them two weeks to call and make the offer and I was about to slit my wrists before the call actually did come! But when it did it worked out great. I went through graduation ceremony from college, celebrated my 23rd birthday and reported to Little House to start my five years on the show within a 3 day period. It was pretty amazing."
Having been in 65 of the TV episodes, in reflection, which one still today means the most to you to have been a part of - and why? "Well, the episode that really meant the most to the character and was most critical to the evolution of the series was the episode “Sweet Sixteen” from season 6. That’s the episode that Laura really transitions from a little girl into a young woman. And Almanzo transitions from seeing her as a little girl to suddenly seeing her as a young woman."
"It’s an episode that fans really wanted to see. It’s an episode they tuned into in huge, huge numbers. It was very unusual. The episode ran three times in prime time during that year, which is just unheard of. And because it was so huge they ran it three separate times in prime time, including the summer rerun. So there were two times outside the summer rerun and then the summer rerun itself. So, it was hugely successful and obviously made a huge difference to me and my whole trajectory in the series."
I know you went on to do three TV movies directly after, but what was the very last day of filming on the TV series in 1983 like for you and the cast around you? "The last day that we all remember was the day that we went out to see Walnut Grove after it had been blown up, for “The Last Farewell.” That’s the day that we all remember. There may have been another day of shooting after, but that day on the location out at Big Sky Ranch with Walnut Grove smoldering from the explosions was incredibly powerful and moving for all of us."
"Everyone had their own thoughts about it. It was a shocking time because you not only saw the life of the series coming to an end, but also we each saw our lives within in the series coming to an end. That was a very personal thing, pretty emotional for everyone. That’s the one that I remember – the day of the smoldering Walnut Grove – very powerful."
LHOTP celebrated its 40th Anniversary last year, and as much as you weren't there in 1974, what is it about the show that has kept it so alive in people’s minds, even today? "I think that the messages about love and family and honor and dealing with hardship with grace are things that always resonate for people. You know our world is not an easy place to live in and there are certainly a lot people who struggle in it every day. I think the way that Little House was created - the way Laura wrote it and Michael created it for television - celebrated how people can endure in the face of very difficult circumstances."
"It wasn’t always difficult, there were really wonderful happy moments on the series as well. But the ones that really resonate for people are the tragic moments, cause that’s generally what people remember, the hard things. I think Little House at its best gave people hope that hard times can be overcome. Difficult times can be overcome by all of us. I think that’s one of the huge reasons that people continue to watch it and love it today."
Back last year you, six other original members of the cast, and Michael Landon's son, Michael Jr. all got together for the first time in years on the Today Show. Now that must have been one truly amazing day! So what turned out to be the hot topic of LHOTP remembrance between you all that day? "I don’t think there was one hot topic of remembrance, but I think we all sort of felt like “wouldn’t it have been great if Michael could have been here with us".”
"Our group has lots little subgroups within it, so there were lots of great conversations among people. But I think if there was one hot topic it would have been “wouldn’t it have been amazing if Michael could have been here to see this and to see this and experience it".”
"It would have been an incredible gift for us to have experienced it with him. I think the fact that Michael’s not there always leaves a hole in the series family. There’s always a hole in the series family because of that loss. I think because Michael’s gone, that’s why we’ve never been able to do any type of reunion. Although I actually don’t think that Michael ever intended that there ever be any reunion. In many ways there was never going to be a reunion. The series stands as it stands and when we were all together in New York, we remembered those times and remembered him and wished he could have been with us."
You also narrated a 6-part documentary entitled 'The Little House Phenomenon.' Please tell us more about how you came to do this and who helped you along the way? "Well, “The Little House Phenomenon” - which is six 15 minute segments that fit together to become a whole look at the Little House series - was beautifully produced by Gary Leva. Gary was able to look at our show as an outsider and reveal things about it, and ask questions to all of us about it, that were completely fresh and new and different. Because he was an outsider he could do that. I think it made the project so incredibly special. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to narrate it. I’m really proud to have done that and I could not be more delighted with the outcome. I think Gary is really an artist and I think he did us really proud with “The Little House Phenomenon".”
You then went on to do several Little House on the Prairie TV movies and being that all three were basically back to back (1983-84), did it just feel like you guys had never even finished the TV show? "I think the way it was viewed was as a 10th season, as an abbreviated 10th season – as we shot them. The series was cancelled, was not brought back for a 10th season, but it was a matter of weeks before we all got the call that the three movies of the week were going to happen. They were going to happen because I think Michael was disappointed that the series was cancelled and he wanted to have an opportunity to wrap it up. These three movies, particularly “The Last Farewell” gave him an opportunity to wrap the series up and put little bow on it and give it an ending."
"It would not have been right if after 9 seasons if it had just stopped. I think Michael rightly fought for a conclusion and got it and we were all really happy that that happened."
And finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins. So, we would like to know if you also do, perhaps? "I’m sort of stumped on that although I can tell you that I loved March of the Penguins when I went to the theater to see it. It was just so moving and revealing and I was just stunned. This was an amazing achievement cinematically, to have gotten this done. To have stepped into the world of penguins and realized something about what their lives are like that I just never realized."
"That’s the magic of cinema, that’s the magic that film can to deliver stories…. To mass audiences like nothing else can. Seeing the story about penguins made me proud to be part of our industry. So many great stories can be told and March of the Penguins is one of the great stories I’ve ever seen on film."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
'Little House on the Prairie: Season 6 Collection (Deluxe Remastered Edition)' DVD Purchase Link
'Little House on the Prairie: Season 6 Collection (Deluxe Remastered Edition)' Blu ray Purchase Link
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