For some, the 1970s television hit "Little House on the Prairie" was a guilty pleasure. "People watched it, but they didn’t want to talk about it," says Dean Butler, the actor who played Almanzo Wilder.
"It was almost an embarrassed pleasure. People would ask, ‘How can you watch "Little House on the Prairie"? It’s so sweet.’ "
Closet fans will have a chance to meet their favorite cast members during the "Little House on the Prairie" reunion Friday through July 4 in Tombstone. The four-day event, which is part of the Tombstone Western Film Festival, will reunite Butler with co-stars Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls Wilder) and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson).
The show, which was based on the books by Wilder, depicted the struggles of the Ingalls family and fellow pioneers in Walnut Grove. It ran for nine seasons on NBC.
Butler credits the show’s longevity to the late Michael Landon, who played patriarch Charles Ingalls.
"Michael Landon understood something about the simple aspirations of everyday people to live a happy life," says Butler. "It was so simple it was genius."
The festival will feature screenings of the cast members’ favorite episodes followed by question-and-answer sessions. Gilbert will moderate at least one panel discussion. Fans who delighted in the wickedness of Nellie Oleson and her adopted sister, Nancy Oleson, will be treated to a Nasty Nellie, Nasty Nancy double feature Sunday. Arngrim and Allison Balson, who played Nancy, will answer questions following the screening.
This is the cast’s first reunion since 1998. Cast members have made individual appearances all over the world in the 20 years since the show went off the air. Now that the show is out on DVD, a new generation of fans is asking the same questions.
" ‘Was the cinnamon chicken really hot? Were you really choking? What was it like to work with Michael Landon?’ " says Butler. "The questions are always the same, but they ask with such love and warmth you’re delighted to answer over and over again."
Gilbert brought the cast members together for the reunion, says James Clark, president of the Arizona Western Heritage Foundation, which is sponsoring the festival. Gilbert’s husband, Bruce Boxleitner of "The Gambler," brought his wife to last year’s festival. She had such a good time in Tombstone, she thought it the ideal place for a "Little House" reunion, says Clark.
Festivalgoers will have a chance to meet other Western stars such Mariette Hartley of "Ride the High Country" and Buck Taylor of "Tombstone" during a cocktail reception Friday evening and the costume gala, Gun, Gals & Gamblers, Saturday night.
Take Interstate 10 east to Benson and follow state Route 80 south to Tombstone.