What is the Secret Behind Little House on the Prairie’s “Baby Battering Ram”?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Michael Landon pulled a prank on an artist in her death scene on Little House on the Prairie, resulting in her seemingly using a baby as a battering ram in the episode.

Michael Landon’s long-running television series Little House on the Prairie (based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic books about her youth growing up in the frontier) has gained a reputation since it went off the air of being a throwback to more wholesome times (reruns of the show currently air on both the Hallmark Channel and INSP, formerly known as The Inspiration Network). While that is certainly true to a certain extent, that also overshadows just how dark the show could be at times. Just looking at the main family on the show, the Ingalls, Charles and Caroline Ingalls lost a son in the first season, their oldest daughter Mary went blind and Mary then had a miscarriage after getting married to her teacher from the School for the Blind. This is on top of the plagues and droughts that seemingly popped up every other season. There was also the infamous episode where a teenage girl is raped by a sociopath who dressed up like a mime. Heck, even the finale of the series, as I noted in an old TV Legends Revealed, ended with their town being blown to smithereens! So the show had a lot of dark moments in it. Likely none more dark, however, than Season 6’s “May We Make Them Proud,” which aired as a special two-hour episode for February sweeps in 1980.

In the episode, the Ingalls’ adopted son, Albert, is sneaking a smoke on a pipe with his friend in the basement of the School for the Blind. They’re discovered and they pretend not to be smoking and then leave the basement. However, they leave the lit pipe behind and it eventually sets fire to the entire school! By this point in the show’s run, Mary had had her first child with her husband, Adam, and the three of them were all living in the School for the Blind. The fire soon begins to spread through the school. Mary and Adam take all the blind students out for safety, but in an odd plot twist (and not a particularly believable one, to be frank) neither Mary nor Adam thinks to make sure that their baby is safe. Instead, a friend of the Ingalls family, Alice Garvey, who was visiting with Mary and Adam at the time the fire started, went to save the baby.

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Tragically, Garvey and the baby are trapped in the baby’s bedroom by the flames. Garvey tries to break through a window but it is too late and she and the baby are burned to death. That alone is horrific enough to make the episode stand out in the minds of Little House on the Prairie fans, but the episode is also known for the oddity of the scene where Garvey breaks the glass on the window in the bedroom. It looks as though she is using the baby as a battering ram to break the glass!

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Here is the scene…

A legend that has spun out of this episode is that Michael Landon, who was a noted practical joker, messed with the glass for the scene, leading to Parady having to smash the glass harder, causing her to seemingly use the fake baby in her arms as a battering ram.

First, to the story of the glass. It is true that Michael Landon was a very big prankster on the set of Little House on the Prairie, but the scene in May We Make Them Proud dealt with real fire. There were firefighters on set for the controlled burn in the scene. There was no way that Landon would joke around with something like that. However, there is a little truth to that legend, in the sense that the glass was difficult to break and that is why it looks like Parady is smashing the glass with the baby. As Parady recalled:

One thing was that they did not rig the windows to break easily and I’m not, as Michael Landon pointed out a lot, a meek, delicate woman, so when I try to bust something, I usually succeed! It was Michael himself who first mentioned that it looked like I was trying to use Mary’s baby as a battering ram to bust the window! So because they’d forgotten to “break away” the windows, I was determined to get out whatever the cost!

It is very possible that they chose not to use “break away” glass in the windows because Parady was a strong woman, who was known for occasionally breaking the props she was given on the set, like the Garvey’s water pump. So it is possible that they used stronger glass because they felt that she would break the “break away” glass too easily. I don’t know for sure. In any event, the change in the glass IS why Parady had to hit it harder, therefore making it look like she was using the baby in her arms to smash through the glass.

Parady later recalled that the episode is likely her favorite of the series, noting:

In spite of the impending doom it would bring – at least I went out with a roar and not a whimper! Working with the special effects guys and the LA fire department was a first for me, and to be surrounded by “controlled” fire and readied fire extinguishers, I was ready to act up a storm! I loved every minute of it!

The legend is…

STATUS: False (with some truth slightly mixed in there)

Thanks to Little House Memories for the great Parady interview!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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