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UPI International (May 22, 1984)

 

 

Child Actress Blossoms to Ingenue

by Vernon Scott

 

Melissa Sue Anderson, sweet-faced Mary Ingalls of ''Little House on the Prairie'' for nine years, now is a full-fledged ingenue without regrets about a ''lost childhood.''

She concedes: ''I'm an exception. I liked being an actress instead of just a regular kid.

''Leading a so-called normal childhood didn't appeal to me. I don't regret not being a high school cheerleader or going to college and joining a sorority.

''Before 'Little House,' I went on interviews and auditions willingly. I was in love with show business. That isn't the case with most kid actors.

''I'm one of a really small percentage who wanted to act. Most kids really didn't like it. They were fulfilling their parents' ambitions.

''I took my work seriously and didn't think of myself as a child on the set. I couldn't understand wasting $80,000 a minute with the giggles.''

Melissa, now a beautiful, slightly pouty 21-year-old, is playing ingenues, most recently with Barbara Eden and George Kennedy in ''Chattanooga Choo Choo.''

The transition from child to teenager to womanhood in the public eye was a breeze for Melissa, who didn't rely on dimples and moues in her roles.

''I never played cute like kids you see in commercials,'' she said. ''You either have to be cute or homely for that kind of work, so I didn't do commercials.

''Mary was pretty but she wasn't given anything cute to do. She wasn't supposed to be funny either. Mary was involved with trauma - going blind, suffering a miscarriage, losing a baby in a fire. Mary was very straight. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, did the cute and funny things.

''It would be nice to have a daughter and have her enjoy acting like I did as a juvenile, but I wouldn't want someone else to be her guardian on the set. My mother was my guardian, which made us very close.''

Melissa and her mother remain confidantes, although she has had her own home in the San Fernando Valley for three years. She dated Frank Sinatra Jr. for a time, but now sees several eligible males.

Her primary consideration is establishing a serious adult acting career following her success in the TV movie ''First Affair'' and her first feature film, ''Happy Birthday To Me.''

She says her solemn approach to acting, her lack of personal frivolity, is paying off. She has made few adjustments to the real world of competition for jobs in rough-and-tumble Hollywood.

''No doubt my background and experience and contacts make it easier for me to find work than other 21-year-olds,'' she said.

''During 'Little House' breaks I worked on 'The Love Boat,' 'Fantasy Island,' 'After School Specials,' anything to break the Mary Ingalls message.

''These days I try not to play sweet young boring roles where you smile and utter monosyllables. I did it for all those years and don't want to spend the rest of my professional career repeating them.''

Melissa has darkened her blonde hair and cut it short with a sophisticated coif. Her makeup is designed to add maturity.

So far, the changes have worked. Producers are asking her to play her own age or older, not casting her as Miss Ingalls in transit.

Earlier this year Michael Landon, who starred in and produced ''Little House,'' asked Melissa if she were interested in a regular role in his new projected series.

''I'm fond of Michael,'' Melissa said. ''We worked together a long time and we keep in touch. But I told my agent I didn't want to work with Mike because I'm anxious not to be too closely associated with the past.

''Doing pilots isn't what I want because I'm afraid they might sell, then I'd be back in a series playing the same role every day.

''Some actresses like the security of a series. Not me. I don't miss working every day.''

Nor does Melissa worry about finances. Throughout her years on ''Little House'' 25 percent of her generous salary was salted away in keeping with California's Coogan law to protect the interest of working children.

''I don't think much about finances,'' Melissa concluded with a rare smile. ''It's just nice to know the nest egg is there if I need it.''