When a stranger started talking to Melissa Anderson one day last week at a park in Studio City, he wasn't concerned about her celebrity status.
He was interested in her pet golden retriever.
"Was yours as light in color as mine?" he asked while petting his auburn-colored puppy -- also a golden retriever.
"I think mine was about the same or lighter," the actress replied, giving her own full-grown pet a few strokes on the head.
Anderson -- who played Mary Ingalls for seven years on the television series " Little House on the Prairie " -- often walks her golden retriever, Maggie, at the Studio City Recreation Center.
"Sometimes it's nice for Maggie to get out of the yard," Anderson said. '' The park is within walking distance from my house . Sometimes, I also bring my cocker spaniel, Terri."
Anderson, 24, moved to Studio City when she was 18. She's always been independent, she said. Her mother and father were divorced when she was in her early teens and her sister is more than 10 years her senior.
"I liked the house and it was fairly convenient to most of the studios," Anderson said.
Born in Berkeley, she moved to Woodland Hills when she was 7 and later to Toluca Lake. She received most of her formal education from tutors on the set of " Little House on the Prairie " but spent about one month a year, she said, attending Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy High School in La Canada Flintridge.
She left " Little House on the Prairie " during its eighth and final season because she felt that her character was stagnating. Since then, she's acted in television movies like "First Affair," "Midnight Offerings" and ''Dark Mansions," and she's performed in plays throughout the United States.
At present, she portrays the daughter of Robert McCall -- played by actor Edward Woodward -- on the television series, " The Equalizer." And she said that several roles are pending.
Much of her leisure time is spent with her boyfriend of 21 years -- record producer, Val Garay. Garay owns a recording studio in Sherman Oaks.
As for marriage, Anderson said that she doesn't think much about it yet. ''I'm perfectly happy the way things are," she said. "I have a lot of things coming up in my career, and I couldn't think about getting married at a time like this."
Even though she began acting as a child, she's not the product of a Hollywood mother. The decision to act always has been her own.
"My mother had me take dancing lessons as a child because I had asthma and needed to develop my lungs," she said. Anderson added that her dance teacher felt that her students also should learn to express themselves as actors to be well-rounded performers.
"I got my first jobs in commercials and then I did two episodes of ' The Brady Bunch,' and I loved it."
Sporadically removing the dark sunglasses that shaded her noticeably vibrant blue eyes, Anderson appeared to be very much a private person -- reluctant to discuss her personal life, yet willing to talk about her career.
"Even though acting can be hard work, I like it," she said. "Sometimes, it's like you're playing and you wonder why you're being paid to do it.
"Shy people like to act because it's easier to play a part than be yourself in public," she explained. "It's easier for me to work on a set than to go and present an award."
Anderson doesn't mind competing for parts now that she's an adult, though. ''I felt the competition more when I was a child and saw Jodie Foster wherever I auditioned," she said. "I'd get one part and she'd get the other.
"But now it's different. I don't think I have a double anywhere," she said. "Either you're right for a part or you're wrong.
"I know so many adults who don't sound right when they read a part. Yet when I pick up a script and read, somehow it sounds right."
For Anderson, acting is a craft and career that she tries to look at practically, without any false illusions.
"I don't really care if I'm well known or not," she said. "It only matters (to be well known) if it helps you get another job.
"If you can earn a good living in acting, then you've certainly achieved something."