Finally I get around to posting that story I wrote about Dean Butler coming to Walnut Grove back in 2002. Enjoy.
WALNUT GROVE — For his first-ever acting role, “Little House on the Prairie” actor Dean Butler had only three lines.
But he forgot two of them.
Yet he went on to star as “Almanzo Wilder” in one of the more popular television shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Butler will be part of the 25th anniversary of “Fragments of a Dream” pageant on the weekend of July 13-14 in Walnut Grove. On Saturday, he will be making a presentation at 10 a.m at the Walnut Grove Community Center on how “Little House” impacted society, followed by a question-and-answer session. From 2-4 p.m., he will be doing autographs at the Wilder Museum.
Marlys Vanderwerf, director of the Walnut Grove EDA, said the city ordered 500 photographs for the autograph session.
Butler will be going to the pageant Saturday night and be in the parade Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Butler was born in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, and he grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. His first taste of acting was in an eighth grade play where he “had three lines, but forgot two.”
“It was an aspicious beginning, but it sure go my attention,” Butler said in a telephone interview Monday.
In his junior year of high school, Butler was in the chorus of “Once Upon A Mattress.” But it was watching a production of “My Fair Lady” that made him seriously consider acting.
Butler got to play Higgins in a college production of the timeless Lerner and Loewe musical. He said if he was able to have to portray Henry in any capacity, he’d do it in a second.
“It’s one of the great parts in musical theater,” Butler said.
It was after Butler was in the made-for-televison movie “Forever” in 1978 that he learned about the upcoming role of Laura Ingalls’ husband, Almanzo Wilder. Butler credited his agent at the time.
In April 1979, Butler had four auditions for “Little House on the Prairie.” He was finishing up his final exams at the University of the Pacific in California when he was offered the role of Almanzo.
“By the fourth callback, in your head, you’re already doing the job,” Butler said.
Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls on “Little House”) was one of the show’s producers. Landon had many young actors to choose from, Butler said, and was inclined to hire people with not much experience. Butler said the producers wanted to find someone “non-threatening” to audition; someone to be matched with a then 15-year-old Melissa Gilbert — “America’s Sweetheart.”
“She was adored, and I think they needed to pair her with someone they were comfortable with,” Butler said.
The young actor had to learn how to handle a team of horses for his role. Butler had ridden horses for most of his life, but managing a wagon was different.
He instinctively grabbed at the hat and dropped the line. One horse went running toward an oak tree, but the wranglers were able to round up the horses in time.
“It felt like chaos for a minute,” Butler said. “We got the shot and everyone survived. It was a good ice-breaker.”
Michael Landon was a “very funny man,” who told great stories, Butler said.
“He could charm you,” Butler said.
But under the surface, Landon was a very focused, meticulously detail-oriented hard-nosed leader; generous, yet tough, Butler said. But having a strong leader was necessary, he added, especially when getting 80-100 people on the same page.
Butler said Landon tended to work with the same team of cameramen, producers etc. throughout — “Bonanza,” “Little House.”
“He assembled a group of people who were totally committed to the vision of what he wanted to do,” Butler said.
Besides “Little House,” Butler made guest appearances on “Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and “Who’s the Boss.” He also did stage work, such as “Into The Woods.”
Butler starred as Moondoggie on “The New Gidget” series for three seasons, starting in 1986. His most current acting is a recurring role on the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as Buffy’s “well-meaning, but often absent” father, Hank Summers. Butler said “Buffy” is “smartly written and wonderfully shot,” and Joss Whedon, the show’s creator “has an amazing vision for this word; wry, quirky sense of humor.”
“It’s fun to stay in touch with acting with a show like that,” Butler said.
Butler did a lot of traveling for NBC — fairs — and said he was always amazed at the warmth and affection of the people. In 1997, he went to Rocky Ridge Days in Mansfield, Mo.
“It was a nice re-acquaintance,” Butler said about Mansfield.
Butler now remains “behind the scenes” — writing, producing, camera work. He has a niche business doing image work, producing legacy biographies for private corporate people “who want to preserve their stories for times to come.” Butler said the work is very involving, and he can put in 12-18 hour days, six to seven days a week.
Butler said said that “Little House” presented a kind of ideal that may in some cases, in some parts of America is possible, but in other factions may not be popular.
“I think most people who watch ‘Little House’ can agree this would be a wonderful way to live,” Butler said.
The “Little House” books are written dreams and musings of a young girl, making an idyllic life for herself, Butler said.
“It gives people opportunities to look for the best in themselves,” Bulter said.
During the years, several actors from the “Little House” television program have visited Walnut Grove — Melissa Sue Anderson, Karen Grassle, Alison Arngrim, Katherine MacGregor and Kevin Hagen.
Shirley Knakmuhs, director of the Wilder Museum, said she met Butler in Mansfield in 1997.
“He’s a nice, ordinary guy,” Knakmuhs said.
Vanderwerf said she has only been able to meet Hagen.
“He was just a wonderful guy,” Vanderwerf said.
Vanderwerf said that getting “Little House” stars to appear for pageant weekends isn’t a difficult task.
“The ones I’ve contacted, if they’re available, it’s usually not a problem,” Vanderwerf said.