Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder, Little House on the Prairie) Exclusive Interview!
Hi Dean, Thanks for letting PrairieFans.com interview you about your role as Almanzo Wilder on "Little House on the Prairie."
After more than thirty years all of us who were gratefully a part of the show are extremely proud that over 200 episodes are still being enjoyed by audiences of all ages, in dozens of languages, all over the world.
When we all said goodbye for the last time it didn’t seem possible that our show would still be watched more than three decades later. For us as actors there was such a need to move on to the next thing, but years later we can all look back and be gratefully humbled that each of us is a unique part of one of the world’s most enduring family television series.
2. Before you got the role of Almanzo Wilder had you ever read the "Little House" books?
Before being hired to play Almanzo Wilder on the “Little House” series I had never read any of the “Little House” books and to be honest I had never heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was watching “Monday Night Football” or going to play rehearsals during college. Now Laura Ingalls Wilder, her “Little House” books, the series, and the historic sites play an important role in my life. Because of my involvement in the series, and by association my connection to the books and the Laura Ingalls Wilder community, I value the unique opportunity I have to support the “Little House” legacy.
3. How was the audition for Almanzo Wilder? Was it very competitive?
When I was auditioning for “Little House” I wasn’t aware of the competition…I never met any of the other actors who were auditioning. I do know that there was a pile of pictures 12 inches high on the casting director’s desk the first time I met her. The stack was half the size on the second meeting. The third time I came back for Michael Landon there were 4 pictures on the table. I consider it a minor miracle that I was hired, but it was so right for me that I suppose it was meant to be.
I remember being very excited and anxious when I first started on the show…on my first day I nearly killed a horse when the buckboard team got away from me during my first shot. A couple of days later I remember taking a punch from Michael Landon and going over the top of a table and crashing to the floor. That was fun…it was all fun. I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it for anything.
“Little House” was a huge hit and I wanted to do my part to keep it successful and also fit in with all the other actors. I can honestly say that I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. Our cast was composed of a very real, very human group of people. There were lots of laughs, and there was great focus on doing the job right. While Michael Landon was the unquestioned leader of our company there were so many wonderful actors to work with everyday…Melissa, Karen, Melissa Sue, Katherine, Richard, Jonathan, Victor, Matt, Hersha, Dabbs, Alison, Lucy Lee, Merlin, Ketty, Kevin, Pat, Linwood, the Greenbush twins, and of course the Turnbaugh twins.
5. What, if any, affect did your role as Almanzo Wilder have on your career over the years? Are you still associated with or recognized from being on the show?
I did other shows in the years following “Little House,” but nothing I did ever came close to having audience impact of that series. But there are very few television series in the history of the medium that have had the impact and staying power of “Little House.” I will consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of it and I am grateful whenever I’m remembered for my work on the show.
Michael Landon was a huge personality. I was always acutely aware that I was working with a massive TV star. It was always very clear that Michael liked being a star and that he was totally prepared to work as long and hard as necessary to stay on top of his game. He could be very demanding and he could be very generous. He wouldn’t tolerate laziness or lack of effort. If he liked what someone did he would tell them with warmest and enthusiasm and if he didn’t you knew that too.
Beyond Michael I loved working with and watching Katherine Macgregor and Victor French. They both blew me away everyday. They had the skills and commitment to always find the essential truth and humor in their scenes and they each could make everyone in the scenes with them better. It was always a privilege to work with both of them.
Karen Grassle was absolutely beautiful on screen. I was always very impressed watching her present her touching portrayal of Caroline episode after episode. Her job was particularly challenging because Michael was always so busy performing his jobs as director, writer, and producer that he didn’t have much extra time to connect with her as an actor before, during, or after their scenes. Karen deserves a lot of credit for becoming one of television’s most loved mothers of all time.
7. Do have a favorite episode?
I have several favorites…”Back to School,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “The Nephews,” and “Days of Sunshine – Days of Shadow.”
I felt a lot responsibility and self imposed pressure. The pressure was all about measuring up as an actor…its fortunate that I had no deep knowledge of the books so I didn’t have to worry about living up to Laura’s books. When you’re working you don’t feel the expectations of the audience…but you are rewarded with ratings if they like what you’re doing. I’m very grateful that audiences embraced me so openly. It was a wonderful ride.
While Melissa and I didn’t always work easily together I was continually awed by her uncanny ability to work fearlessly…so much of what we did together all those years ago was well beyond the boundaries of her life experience at the time…mine too for that matter. I was 23 when I met Melissa. She was 15. 8 years difference at that stage of life was huge. I’d had a number of girlfriends…I had been in love.
Melissa and I had very little in common other than a desire, which we rarely verbalized to each other, to do the best job we could creating the relationship between Laura and Almanzo. Sometimes it was difficult but we made it work more often than not. I am very, very grateful to have shared those years with her then and I value our ongoing friendship today.
Thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Do you have anything you would like to say to all the "Little House" fans around the world?
Lennon, I am very grateful for my association with “Little House”
and I value the ongoing interest of “Little House” fans from around
the world. As we approach the end of 2007 I hope all your readers
have a happy, healthy holiday season and a great 2008.
Webmasters Note: Interview was done on December 8, 2007.