Melissa Sue Anderson is best known for her portrayal of Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. As you may recall, Mary goes blind about halfway through the show’s run, but apparently Melissa would like us to know that she can see just fine. Also, she totally owns a DVD player. Using her gift of sight and that DVD player, she looks back at her role on the show inThe Way I See It.
Reading this memoir is literally like watching the show with commentary. Except that you’re only reliving the episodes in your head (picturing what you’ve already watched umpteen times), and sometimes there is no commentary to be found. Seriously. Sometimes Anderson simply tells us what happened in the show, and when you get to the end of the story you wind up smacking yourself a little and saying, “but I watched that episode! What are we doing here?!” Stripped of its descriptive content we would be left with about ten pages containing Anderson’s own thoughts, most of which would amount to, “I was excited. That was nice. I knew I’d never forget it. It was interesting and fun. Neat!” It’s hard to believe that rubbing shoulders with Michael Landon, the Sinatras, and Steven Spielberg boiled down to that.
Indeed, Anderson’s lack of personality is almost as exasperating as Mary Ingalls’, and there is little to distinguish her as an individual. I too enjoy spending time with my friends. I too have met famous people and will never forget it. Who hasn’t? Even the conversations she recounts are so banal that they cease to seem real, and one question remains: who is Melissa Sue Anderson? Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert indicate in their memoirs that even they never really knew, and Anderson’s own book gets us no closer. While she takes it upon herself to deem Michael Landon a good parent (in real life), she mentions almost nothing about her own family. Hmm, perhaps we should let the Landon kids speak for themselves on that one and talk instead about what Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were like?
Ultimately, Anderson refuses to let the reader get close, revealing as little of herself as humanly possible. This may well explain why I have always hated her portrayal of Mary Ingalls. She was always so perfect, so righteous, and so stubborn that she didn’t seem fully human. I delighted in her mistakes and failings and tended to laugh at the tragedies which befell her because she simply wasn’t sympathetic. Watching her hot pa (Michael Landon) or her hunky husband (Linwood Boomer) shed tears for her was the only thing that made Mary’s plight moving. Similarly, it’s reading about those actors and characters that keep the pages turning: she gets us close to the things we loved without really bringing anything to the mix. It’s not often that I set aside time to think about Linwood Boomer and the men of Little House, but I’m always happy to do it. As Anderson would say, the book is “fun” for die hard fans, but it’s also completely lacking in substance and depth.