Dean Butler Says Modern Audiences Would Reject 'Little House On The Prairie' Romance

For legions of viewers, “Little House on the Prairie” was must-see television from the mid-1970s to the early ’80s. However, actor Dean Butler believes there’s one major aspect of the show that wouldn’t make the cut by modern standards.

In his new memoir “Prairie Man: My Little House Life & Beyond,” Butler opens up about being cast as Almanzo Wilder on the show’s sixth season when he was 23 years old. Co-star Melissa Gilbert, who played Almanzo’s love interest, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was just 15. 

Though audiences at the time seemingly overlooked the age gap between the characters at the time “Little House on the Prairie” was on the air, Butler doesn’t think that would be the case in 2024.

“You just couldn’t do it today,” he told Fox News Digital in an interview published Sunday. “There would be way too much blowback. It’s remarkable that we didn’t get more blowback than we did ... But I think it was handled so tastefully that people ... forgot about the age difference.”

Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert on a 1980 episode of
Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert on a 1980 episode of "Little House on the Prairie." NBC via Getty Images

“There’s been no casting pairing like what they did with us since then,” he added. “That casting could simply never happen today. Certainly not on a mainstream television show.”

One of the reasons Butler believes the eight years between Almanzo and Laura didn’t cause more of a stir is because Gilbert had been such an endearing presence on the show since its debut season in 1974. In fact, the age difference between Almanzo and Laura in the “Little House on the Prairie” book series, written by the real-life Ingalls Wilder, was a full 10 years.

“I think the audience had been watching Melissa for years and loved her incredibly,” said Butler, who joined the “Prairie” cast in 1979. “They wanted to see when she, so honestly and innocently, declared her love for this young man. She fell in love from the first time she laid eyes on him. The audience was prepared to go right along with that.”

Still, there were some challenges ― notably when it came to filming a 1980 episode of the show titled “Sweet Sixteen,” which featured an on-screen kiss between Almanzo and Laura.

Gilbert had
Gilbert had "never kissed anyone" before filming a 1979 "Little House on the Prairie" episode titled "Sweet Sixteen," Butler said. NBC via Getty Images

At the time that the episode was filmed, Butler said, Gilbert had “never kissed anyone” before.

“That was still all ahead of her,” he explained. “So to ask her to step into that when she had no real life experience? It does speak to Melissa’s gumption and her courage. She just did it. She put all of her anxieties aside and just stepped in. She knew what she had to do to be the Laura that she was supposed to be.”

One person who did have some reservations, however, was Gilbert’s mother, Barbara Abeles.

“I had a sense that Barbara was not fully supportive of my presence in the show,” Butler wrote in his book, according to Fox News Digital. “Her unhappiness culminated, perhaps, in not being able to bear seeing me kiss her daughter. It was a protective displeasure; Barbara knew her daughter. I didn’t, and in some sense, I’m glad.”

These days, Butler is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Hank Summers, the father of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy Summers, on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He also originated the role of Rapunzel’s Prince in the smash Broadway musical “Into the Woods” in 1988.

In more recent years, however, he’s been largely focused on directing, and has produced two documentaries, “Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder” and “Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.”