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AMERICAN MASTERS: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie To Page

Stream or tune in Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Saturday, Jan. 2 at 12:30 p.m. on KPBS 2

Laura Ingalls Wilder signing books. (undated photo)

Credit: Courtesy of LIW Memorial Society, De Smet, SD

Above: Laura Ingalls Wilder signing books. (undated photo)

AMERICAN MASTERS “Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie To Page” presents an unvarnished look at the unlikely author whose autobiographical fiction helped shape American ideas of the frontier and self-reliance. A Midwestern farm woman who published her first novel at age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder transformed her frontier childhood into the best-selling “Little House” series.

The documentary delves into the legacy of the iconic pioneer as well as the way she transformed her early life into enduring legend, a process that involved a little-known collaboration with her daughter Rose.

Directed and produced by Emmy® Award winner Mary McDonagh Murphy ("Harper Lee" on AMERICAN MASTERS), "Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page" premieres nationwide Tuesday, December 29. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the publication of “Little House on the Prairie” (1935).

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie To Page: Trailer

An unvarnished look at the unlikely author whose autobiographical fiction helped shape American ideas of the frontier and self-reliance. A Midwestern farm woman who published her first novel at age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder transformed her frontier childhood into the best-selling “Little House” series. Airing: 12/29/20

Featuring never-before-published letters, photographs and family artifacts, the film explores the context in which Wilder lived and wrote, as well as the true nature of her personality.

Photo credit: Courtesy of LIW Historic Home and Museum, Mansfield, Mo.

Carrie, Mary, and Laura Ingalls, c. 1879

Victor Garber ("Argo," "Alias," “Titanic”) narrates, with Academy Award nominee Tess Harper (“No Country for Old Men,” BREAKING BAD, “Crimes of the Heart”) reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Amy Brenneman (NYPD BLUE, JUDGING AMY, THE LEFTOVERS) reading Rose Wilder Lane.

The secret mother-daughter collaboration on “Little House”

Recent scholarship has shed light on the secret collaboration between Widler and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane on the “Little House” series. Rose encouraged her mother to write the books worked closely with her on the crafting and initial editing of the stories. Though Rose denied any involvement with the books, a series of letters between the two collaborators reveals much more. Airing: 12/29/20

The film includes original interviews with:

  • Caroline Fraser, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her Wilder biography
  • Pamela Smith Hill, author of “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life” and editor of Wilder’s New York Times bestselling memoir
  • Wilder biographer and editor of “The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder” William Anderson
  • Authors such as Louise Erdrich, Roxane Gay, Lizzie Skurnick and Linda Sue Park
  • Actors from the beloved TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, including Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls Wilder), Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) and Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder)
  • Historians, scholars and fans provide additional perspectives on Wilder’s life and legacy

Roxane Gay and others on racist “Little House” depictions

In this clip from AMERICAN MASTERS "Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page," Roxane Gay, Louise Erdrich, Pamela Smith Hill, Linda Sue Park and others discuss Wilder’s racist depictions of American Indian and Black people in the “Little House” book series. Airing: 12/29/20

Wilder has an enduring fanbase — including self-proclaimed Bonnetheads — and the books and TV program loosely based on them have become cultural touchstones.

Starting with “Little House in the Big Woods” (1932), the books chronicle the adventures of a family struggling to survive on the American frontier and have inspired four generations with the courage and determination of their heroine.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Laura Ingalls Wilder, c. 1930s

Though Wilder’s stories emphasized real life and celebrated stoicism, she omitted the grimmer and contradictory details of her personal history: grinding poverty, government assistance, deprivation and the death of her infant son.

Until she was an author, money was a struggle for Wilder

Laura and Almanzo Wilder had a fresh start with 40 acres on Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, a place that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in for 62 years. But until she became a best-selling author, life was a constant struggle to make ends meet for Wilder. She and her husband, Almanzo always had second or even third jobs. Airing: 12/29/20

In recent years, Wilder’s racist depictions of American Indians and Black people have stirred controversy, and made her less appealing to some readers, teachers and librarians.

"Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page" reveals the truth behind the bestsellers, exploring a rags to riches story that has been embraced by millions of people worldwide.

Photo credit: Courtesy of LIW Historic Home and Museum, Mansfield, Mo.

Jim Hartley and Laura Ingalls Wilder with car, 1954.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film will be available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

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Credits:

A production of the award-winning National Productions group at Twin Cities Public Television and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. Mary McDonagh Murphy is director and producer. Christopher Czajka is associate producer. Michael Kantor is executive producer of AMERICAN MASTERS. Michael Rosenfeld is executive producer for Twin Cities Public Television.

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