Jenny Wilder: [to Laura] “You don’t have to drive me to school tomorrow. I’m gonna walk.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder: “That’s an awfully long way. Are you sure?”
Jenny Wilder: “I’ll make it. Believe me. I’ll make it.”
Early Years Shannen Doherty
Shannen Doherty was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1971. Her parents both worked and were involved in their church and community. She grew up with her mother, father, and brother, Sean. When she was a young girl, her family moved to the Los Angeles area to expand a business. It didn’t take very long for her to begin acting.
Shannen Doherty Early Acting Career
But it was her role on Father Murphy that her charisma and natural acting ability caught the eye of Michael Landon.
Michael Landon appreciated her acting skills on the show, and that was that. She joined “Little House on the Prairie” in an on-going role as Jenny Wilder.
Shannen Doherty on “Little House on the Prairie”
Shannen Doherty played Jenny Wilder, Almanzo’s niece, who lives with him and Laura after her father dies. She stayed with the show through the entire ninth season in what would be its final full season.
Shannen appeared in all but four episodes of the last season of “Little House on the Prairie.” As Jenny Wilder, she brought a delightful young girl’s perspective back to the show when Laura and Nellie were grown and married.
Shannen looked up to Melissa Gilbert a lot and knew that she was, to many viewers, “a new Laura”…right down to the pigtails. In her book, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Alison Arngrim made the observation, “Jenny is played by a pre-90210 Shannen Doherty, who tries her damndest to do an impersonation of Melissa Gilbert in the early years. She is part of the ‘cloning process’ that took place in the last years of the show, where new little girls with braids fought new little girls with ringlets.”
Melissa notes in her book, Prairie Tale, “Shannen, then twelve was an adorable little girl and very sweet. In her pigtails and dress, she would literally walk in my footsteps, following me closer than my shadow. She wanted to know what makeup I wore, what jewelry I liked, and did I prefer my Jordache jeans or my Calvin’s? She looked up to me even though I was in many ways, still a kid myself.”
Shannen impressed many of the fans with moving episodes, such as The Wild Boy and Marvin’s Garden. Her acting skills and presence were apparent even at a young age. This wouldn’t be the last time she worked with Michael Landon. Shannen also appeared in the 1983 TV movie Little House: Look Back to Yesterday.
Beyond Little House
Shannen Doherty appeared in several TV series throughout the rest of the 1980s, including Magnum, P.I., Airwolf, Highway to Heaven, Outlaws, and more. Then she secured a recurring role as Kris Witherspoon in Our House for multiple seasons.
Aaron Spelling cast Shannen at age 19 as Brenda Walsh in Beverly Hills, 90210. She started with the show in 1990, and it became a hit sensation. She stayed with the show for four seasons, working with such actors as Luke Perry, Jason Priestley, and Tori Spelling. The 2019 revival BH90210 featured her returning to the role of Brenda Walsh, as well as acting as executive producer.
Her time on the series Charmed lasted intermittently from 1998 to 2001 with over sixty episodes. Critics have ranked her role as Prue Halliwell as one of the top witches in cinema. She left the show to pursue movie opportunities and some reported difficulties with one of her co-stars on the show – feelings that were later repaired.
Turning her attention to movies, Shannen had become a household name. Some of her best-known movie credits include films such as Heathers, Mallrats, Burning Palms, and she also appeared in several made-for-TV movie titles.
Producing and Directing
She has more recently begun working very successfully as a producer. She was the executive producer of 6 episodes of BH 90210 (2019), Shannen Says, Another Day, Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty, and more. She also served as a director on Charmed, proving her flexibility and skill.
Health Struggles and Beyond
Shannen Doherty was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and struggled with surgeries, chemo, and radiation for the next two years. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she shared her personal feelings, “The unknown is always the scariest part…. Everything else is manageable. Pain is manageable; you know living without a breast is manageable; it’s the worry of your future and how your future is going to affect the people that you love.”
Thankfully she announced in 2017 that she was in full remission. Since then, she’s been active, appearing in TV series and movies, as well as producing the revival season BH90210 in 2019.
Today she is active in animal activism and actively supports the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. She has served as a spokesperson for Education Connection and other charitable efforts as well. She loves horseback riding and owns four horses. Perhaps a holdover from her time on the prairie?
Shannen Doherty has come a long way since her braids and dresses on the set of “Little House on the Prairie.” But her energy and charisma remain unchanged to this day.
Recommendations from the Website Editors
A number of the cast members from “Little House on the Prairie” have written about their experiences. Below are links to our website articles about them, as well as to their books which make entertaining reading and inspired gifts for fans of the television series.
- Article: About Melissa Sue Anderson
- Memoir: The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House
- Article: About Alison Arngrim
- Memoir: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated
- Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie
- Memoir: Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America’s Favorite Show
- Memoir: Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir
- Article – About Melissa Gilbert
- Memoir: Prairie Tale: A Memoir
- Cookbook: My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours
- Article: Miss Beadle and Me
- Memoir: Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me
For information about Laura Ingalls Wilder whose novels inspired the TV series, please visit our Recommended Reading lists for children and young adults and adults. You may also be interested in a documentary film about Laura Ingalls Wilder.