TV Show Truths: Mr. Edwards

When Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing her Little House series in the early 1930s, she probably did not imagine there would be numerous museums established in many of the places and homes that she lived in. She also did not likely fathom that years later, we would consider her one of America’s famous children’s authors.

Today, there are a wide variety of Laura fans, the ones who love the books, the ones who love the TV show, and the ones who love Laura’s real life. Of course, there are also fans, like me, in the middle who like a mix of all three. There are a few Laura fans that are very critical of the TV show as a lot of the Ingalls’ life has been fabricated for Hollywood; however, not everything in the TV show is incorrect, there are many people, events, and items in the TV show that were accurate based on the books and even based on her real life.

When looking at the characters, of course Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace are all true to the books and real life. Earlier in the year some blog posts were written to debunk some of the myths about the TV show “Little House on the Prairie.” In those blog posts they discussed how Albert, Cassandra, and James were not adopted by the Ingalls family. Also, characters like Adam Kendall and Percival Dalton, Mary and Nellie’s husbands respectively, were not real characters. Even though these characters were not real, many of the characters in the TV show were in the books or from the Ingalls’ real life. To start this series off I am going to look at a favorite, Mr. Edwards.

Mr. Edwards is a character in the TV show who is also in the book; however, his specific character has not been found in the Ingalls’ actual history. The pilot movie of “Little House on the Prairie” stays very close to the description Laura Ingalls Wilder gives of Mr. Edwards in her book Little House on the Prairie. In both the family makes his acquaintance in Kansas where the Ingalls are building their new home, Laura really admired Mr. Edwards; one reason was because “he could spit tobacco juice farther than Laura had ever imagined that anyone could spit tobacco juice” (LHOP 63). Mr. Edwards also loved to dance and sing. In the book, Mr. Edwards asks Charles to play the fiddle for him as he leaves, so Pa plays the song “Old Dan Tucker” which the girls, Laura and Mary, and Mr. Edwards sing as he leaves to go home.

Victor French

Victor French as Mr. Edwards – Picture Credit imdb.com

 

The TV show picks up on this, as it is in a way Mr. Edwards theme song. Edwards sings it while he works and when he is in a good mood, which would then add a little hop in his step. Another part about Mr. Edwards that the TV show accurately did, was the Ingalls’ Christmas in Kansas. Edwards crossed the freezing creek on Christmas Eve to bring presents, from Santa, to Mary and Laura. He also brought Ma sweet potatoes for her to cook for Christmas supper. Edward’s visit that Christmas Eve made a lasting impression on the Ingalls family.

The TV show does expand upon Mr. Edwards role as he becomes a lifelong family friend of the Ingalls; however, he was rooted in the Mr. Edwards that Laura wrote about. Now that we know that Mr. Edwards comes from Laura’s books, where did Laura create the character of Mr. Edwards, was he a real person? This is a hard question because there is no conclusive evidence as to who Laura based the character of Mr. Edwards on. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura called the man who brought them Christmas presents in Kansas Mr. Brown (16). However, there is not a Mr. Brown or Mr. Edwards in the 1870 census of Rutland Township, near Independence, Kansas, but there is a Mr. Edmund Mason. Mason was a bachelor living close to the Ingalls cabin, which many people believe to be the Mr. Edwards/Mr. Brown.

There is also another thought that Mr. Edwards is not just one person and instead he was a combination of people who impacted the Ingalls life in a positive way. This thought came from The Long Winter, where Mr. Edwards slips Mary a 20-dollar bill that she used towards college (113-114). In Pioneer Girl, Laura mentioned that when the railroad camp, by Silver Lake, was getting cleaned up Uncle Hi, Hiram Forbes, gave “Mary and handful of bills” (174). Thus, it is possible that Mr. Edwards giving Mary the money in The Long Winter was based off Uncle Hi in real life.

Who is right, the TV show or books? The answer is neither, but the two did stick together and convey a very similar Mr. Edwards.

Advertisements

Illustrating the “Little House” Books

As I mentioned in the last blog post when Garth Williams was first approached to re-illustrate the Little House books, he was not too sure about the idea. If you are just now tuning in for the first time look back to the last blog post to learn about Garth Williams, the man behind the famous Little House drawings, and his life prior to illustrating a children’s classic. The reason Williams was not sure about illustrating the Little House books is because he was accustomed to drawing animals, which he was very talented at drawing. He was not certain about taking on the task of depicting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life.

Little House Books:

At first Williams did not want to accept the offer, but after the editorial persistence he decided to go for it (William Anderson LORE 16,1). In order to properly illustrate Laura’s books, he set out on a tour across Laura’s territory. His first stop was Laura’s house in Mansfield Missouri. The journey started in 1947 when both Laura and Almanzo were still alive. At the Wilder’s farm, Rocky Ridge, he had a chance to sit down with both of them and hear some of the stories firsthand. Williams described her as “’very cheerful, sprightly, very much alive at eighty’” (qtd in Anderson 19,2). He also said that Laura was very helpful but not concerned about how he illustrated the books. From there Williams set out on a track to follow the Ingalls footsteps in order to personally see the places Laura wrote about in her books. On his trip Williams stated that “’illustrating books is not just making pictures of the houses, the people and the articles mentioned by the artist… the artist has to see everything with the same eyes’” (qtd. in Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life 69-70). After visiting all of the places in Laura’s books he then went to Italy to finish his big project. The project took him about six years to complete and then the re-illustrated series was then released in 1953, just four years before Laura’s death in February of 1957. The re-illustrated Little House books pushed the series into vast popularity and helped turn the books into the children’s classic that they are today.

Later Life:

In the 1960s Williams decided to move to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he purchased a 400-year castle. The castle was a good find and needed so work which Williams put in. He ended up transforming the place into a “huge, fortresslike residence and studio” (Anderson LORE 19,2). His property also included some unique features including fountains, a waterfall, and living and dining room that seated up to 150, along with cathedral arches. In 1974, he married Leticia, and she became his business manager. Williams spoke very highly of Leticia as his manager and enjoyed being able to spend more time on his artwork. The family, however, did not spend all their time in Mexico. They ended up splitting their time between Guanajuato, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. Unfortunately, on May 8, 1996 Garth Williams passed away in Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his lifetime, Williams illustrated just under one hundred books and is remembered most for his illustrations in Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Little House book series.

If you are interested in learning more about Garth Williams’ life check out Garth Williams American Illustrator: A Life. We also have a series of Christmas ornaments with Garth Williams’ illustrations on them. We currently have ones for By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, and our latest release, Little House in the Big Woods.

The Man Behind the Famous Illustrations

Most people know Garth Williams by his famous illustrations for the Little House books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but few know more about his life. Williams led an exciting life, traveling many places and living in multiple states and countries. He was also married four times and had five daughters and one son.

Early Life:

Garth Montgomery Williams was born in New York City, New York on April 16th, 1912. His parents were both artists so growing up he did not know anything different from drawing and painting. By the age of ten Williams had already lived in three places: The New Jersey countryside, Canada, and France. His experiences and memories from these different places factored into Williams illustrating career later in his life. When his parents were divorced, he ended up moving to London with his mother. His drawing skills were able to get him a job as an architect’s assistant. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit as Williams was about to enter architecture school, making architecture a practical profession to enter. This was a pivotal point in his life, because if he did go into architecture then no one knows who would have illustrated some of the most beloved children’s books.

World War II:

Before World War II Williams traveled throughout Europe with his wife; however, once he realized the danger of the war he returned to London. It was there that he worked with the Red Cross and had some near-death experiences. Some of the experiences were “collecting the dead and injured from the city streets and surviving a bomb blast which vaporized a friend walking next to him” (William Anderson LORE 19,2). Garth Williams himself said he then realized that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. With that realization, Williams realized his family needed to be in a safer place so he sent his wife and child to Canada. He then sailed to America to help with the war effort from there and ended up in New York City.

Early Illustrations:

Williams first book he illustrated is a familiar book to many children and that is Stuart Little, by E. B. White. He had just dropped his portfolio off at Harper and Brothers at the same time that E. B. White suggested for them to try Garth Williams to illustrate his book. Stuart Little was instrumental in his illustrating career as it defined him as a children’s illustrator and displayed his special talent for drawing animals. He also illustrated another well-known book by E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web. When Williams was approached to re-illustrate the Little House books he was not sure of the style as he was accustomed to drawing animals and Laura’s books were based on her real life.

Stay tuned to the next blog post to read about Garth Williams’ experience illustrating the Little House books along with his life after the Little House books.

Pioneer Cooking: Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar

Over the summer me and the other intern, Molly, decided that it would be fun to try out some of the original pioneer recipes from, The Little House Cookbook. Hopefully our attempts of making pioneer food will make you want to try some of the recipes yourself!

20403494_1508600489162734_554314275_n

We decided to start with an easy recipe- Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar. This recipe can be found on page 112 of The Little House Cookbook. Laura writes about this recipe in her book, Little Town on the Prairie:

“The day was ending with perfect satisfaction. They were all there together. All the work, except the super dishes, was done until tomorrow. They were all enjoying good bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar.” (34)

The ingredients needed for this recipe are simple and fairly self-explanatory: lettuce, vinegar, and sugar. Now lettuce is vague term, as today there are many types of lettuce. We know that Ma would not have used iceberg lettuce as it was not invented until the early 1900’s. Instead the lettuce she used would have been leafy, like something she would have grown on the homestead. If you have garden lettuce use that, but if you don’t happen to have a prairie garden on hand you can use romaine lettuce like we did. As for sugar and vinegar, use whatever kind you have at your house. Today the closet vinegar would be apple cider vinegar as pioneers often  made their own using peels and cores of apples. To make your own vinegar like Ma, there is a recipe in The Little House Cookbook on page 131. However, if you do not have the time or emotional investment to make homemade vinegar you can just get some from the store. As for the kind of sugar they would have used, it would have either been white or brown sugar, whatever kind they had at the time. The recipe does not specify which kind to use, so you can use either kind. In our case, we used brown sugar.

Once you have all the ingredients you can begin making your Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar.

  1.  Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat them dry with towels.20370344_1508600559162727_955177754_n
  2.  Put your vinegar in a cruet or a bowl if you’re not fancy enough to have a cruet.
  3.  Put your sugar in a bowl.
  4.  Take a leaf of lettuce and sprinkle vinegar on top.20371022_1508600412496075_33814977_n
  5.  Take some sugar and sprinkle it on top of your lettuce and vinegar.
  6.  Roll up your lettuce leaf and eat it like “a celery stalk.”lettuce and vinegar

If you turned your nose up at this recipe because of the seemingly odd combination of ingredients, you will be pleasantly surprised. Molly and I were shocked as to how good it tasted together. We were not sure what to expect, but it is definitely a good way to make a lettuce snack more exciting and is very easy to make!20292168_1508600312496085_1055735604_n

Come Celebrate with us!

This year, as many fans know, has been a yearlong celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday. On July 14-16,th the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society will be hosting a birthday party for Laura! We will be holding demonstrations, speeches, crafts, autographs, pictures, and more! One aspect of the weekend that some fans may be most interested in, is the appearances of Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the hit TV series, “Little House on the Prairie,” and Alison Arngrim who played the mean girl, Nellie Olsen. Despite their “Little House” careers ending over thirty years ago, Butler and Arngrim are still very active in their respective fields today.

After “Little House on the Prairie” Dean Butler did a series called, The New Gidget, Into the Woods on Broadway, toured internationally with West Side Story, and did a feature called Desert Hearts. Butler only pursued acting until the late 90s when he decided to take a different path of producing.

Today Butler is producing a TV show called Feherty which airs on the Golf Channel, part of the NBC sports complex. This show is hosted by David Feherty, a former professional golfer, and is an entertainment talk show centered around golf personalities. In an interview with Paulette Cohn on biography.com Butler discussed how he really enjoys working for the show and has “had a great time with [it].” He also talked about how Michael Landon was a great example for producing. He said that, “there is nothing I do as a producer that I don’t ask myself, on some level: What would Michael do?” Butler’s experience on the TV show Little House on the Prairie still helps and guides him in the work he does today. [1]

Alison Arngrim has been busy since “Little House on the Prairie” went off air, she has started her own one woman comedy show, written a memoir, and now is starring in a You Tube series. Her latest web series is called “Life Interrupted” which has a cast filled with childhood stars. Some of the stars include Erin Murphy from Bewitched, Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island, and Michael Learned from The Waltons.

Arngrim enjoys the cast because she believes that it brings a wide variety of viewers who feel nostalgic towards their favorite childhood shows, according to a recent interview with Fox News. Both Butler and Arngrim said that they enjoy keeping in touch with their Little House castmates, and in a way the cast looks out for one another. Arngrim also said that she lives ten minutes away from Rachel Lindsay Greenbush who played baby Carrie on the TV show.[2]

Join us July 14-16th and celebrate Laura’s birthday! Alison Arngrim will also be doing her comedy show, “Confessions from the Prairie” with a reception afterwards. The pictures and autographs with Dean Butler and Alison Arngrim cost a small fee. The tickets for Alison’s show and reception are on sale now on our website.

Check out our schedule of events: http://www.discoverlaura.org/birthday-event.html

For more information call 800-880-3383 or email us at info@discoverlaura.org

 

[1] Cohn, Paulette. “Dean Butler Reminisces on ‘Little House’ Days and Michael Landon (Interview).” Biography.com. July 20, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.biography.com/news/little-house-on-the-prairie-dean-butler-interview.

 

[2] Nolasco, Stephanie. “‘Nasty Nellie’ Alison Arngrim talks ‘Little House on the Prairie’ days, reveals what she’s up to now.” Fox News. March 23, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2017/03/23/nasty-nellie-alison-arngrim-talks-little-house-on-prairie-days-reveals-what-shes-up-to-now.html.