By Tom Merchant
Walnut Grove — Saturday morning Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) was well received by Little House fans as she signed autographs and had pictures taken on the Wilder Museum grounds.
At the Family Festival Stewart and Wilder author William Anderson appeared together. Anderson talked of his writing about the Ingalls and their influence on Walnut Grove.
He said “the Ingalls were very active in the community, church, and school. Laura and Mary walked into town to go to school. Miss Beadle their teacher had a strong influence on Laura’s writing later in life.”
Anderson then introduced Stewart to the audience.
Stewart. who was raised in Yuba City, California. noted that Walnut Grove reminded her of where she was raised. Yuba City was an agricultural area a lot like here. She said “the corn and bean fields here are just beautiful to see.”
Growing up as a child she remembers swimming in the irrigation ditches, and when she was older she remembered working on the almond orchards.
“When I turned 17 I told my parents I wanted to become an actor” Stewart said, something that took her parents by surprise. When they realized she was serious they looked at an acting school in Pasadena. After her schooling in theatre, she landed her first acting job at 19, it was a religious show. She also had guest appearances on My Three Sons, and Gunsmoke.
Her first big break came when she was asked by Paramount studio to read for the part of Miss Beadle in Little House on the Prairie. She actually read for the part to Michael Landon.
She asked Landon if she could read the part from the desk in the room. As she read the part she treated Landon as if he were a student. She discovered later Landon thought it was very funny.
Stewart also noted there were several others waiting to read and they were all in costume, which she thought was silly at the time.
She had no idea the role was a continuous role, until she was notified a couple of days later, when she received a contract for 4 years. “I was surprised and delighted,” she said. “I had never read any of the books either.”
Stewart remembered thinking how young Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, and Alison Arngrim were when she started the show.
Since there was quite an age difference between them, Stewart said, “we didn’t spend much time together until they grew up, since then we have become very good friends.”
Stewart opened the session to questions.
One question was “Did you ever get emotional during the ‘Blizzard’ episode?” She said “as an actor we were encouraged to try to reflect the emotions of the character we were playing.”
There were several episodes where she took the blame for putting the children in harms way.
After one of those episodes Michael Landon said, “Miss Beadle killed the kids again,” she mused.
One person asked why they had two blackboards in the class room? She explained they actually had several blackboards that she had written lessons on. They changed the blackboards to reflect the kids that were in the scene.
She was asked what Willie Oleson was like in real life? “He was a pain in the neck, he was always getting into mischief,” she said. Willie was the real life brother of Melissa Gilbert.
One person asked if she ever had a crush on Michael Landon? She got a big laugh when she replied, “what woman wouldn’t! Most of the women had a crush on him.”
She commented, that Landon demanded professionalism, you had to be on time — and prepared to work, but he also was know as a huge practical joker.