About Merlin Olsen

by Angela England | Feb 11, 2020

Perseverance isn’t just the willingness to work hard. It’s that plus the willingness to be stubborn about your own belief in yourself.

—Merlin Olsen

About Merlin Olsen and Little House on the Prairie

Merlin Olsen Early Years

Born in Utah, Merlin Olsen was the second oldest of nine children, making for a busy and exciting home growing up. His parents often opened their home up to travelers and educators from all over, especially if they could tutor or teach the kids.

Merlin was a student-athlete but shared that he struggled in football at the beginning of high school. In fact, at one point in tenth grade, he was cut from the team entirely. Thankfully, his coordination and confidence grew, and by the time he graduated high school, he was ready to play football at the college level. He accepted an offer to play for Utah State University.

Football Career and Successes

At 6’5” it’s no surprise that Merlin’s time as a defensive tackle was successful. He was a three-year letter, and his senior year, he was All-American. His success in college led to him being a first-round draft for the Los Angeles Rams in 1962.

Photo of Merlin Olsen in LA Rams Uniform (Photo by Sports Illustrated)

He played 15 seasons in the NFL and missed only two games. This work ethic led to numerous awards, such as NFL’s Rookie of the Year, All-Pro, and a record 14 Pro-Bowl appearances. Merlin was able to turn a successful football career into a television career when he began to do some sports broadcasting after retiring from football.

Merlin Olsen’s Early Acting Career

Merlin credits his living in Los Angeles to play for the Rams as the reason he was exposed to the entertainment industry in the first place. Merlin’s first acting gig was in the 1969 movie The Undefeated, where he appeared alongside fellow Rams teammate Roman Gabriel.

About Merlin Olsen in Undefeated in 1969

Merlin Olsen in The Undefeated (1969) Photo by IMDb an Amazon Company

He made several appearances in TV series throughout the early 70s, including Petticoat JunctionKung Fu, and Police Surgeon. It wasn’t too long before Michael Landon approached him to be a part of “Little House on the Prairie” in the role of Jonathan Garvey.

Merlin Olsen on Little House on the Prairie

Merlin Olsen played Jonathan Garvey for several years, starting in 1977 in Season 4 and appeared in over 50 episodes.  As the father of Andrew Garvey, one of Laura’s age mates and friends, we see a lot of this family throughout the “Little House on the Prairie” seasons.

Many of the storylines written for Jonathan Garvey’s character had initially been written for Victor French, who played Mr. Edwards starting with the show’s pilot. In an interview later, Merlin recounts how he was nervous seeing the number of lines in his first scripts. Michael Landon reassured him, saying, “If I didn’t think you could do it, I wouldn’t let you do it.” Michael’s words encouraged Merlin to get started and gave him the confidence he needed

Fan-favorite episodes include The King is Dead and May We Make Them Proud. Merlin Olsen shared that May We Make Them Proud was emotionally tough for him to film. But he shared that The High Cost of Being Right episode was one of his personal favorites.

Beyond Little House for Merlin Olsen

To facilitate the spin-off of the series Father Murphy, Jonathan and Andrew Garvey had to move away from Walnut Grove. Three seasons on Father Murphy led to some additional television series appearances such as Fathers and Sons, The American Frontier, Aaron’s Way, and commercials for FTD flowers. Even after Merlin stopped acting, he continued working in front of the camera as a sports commentator.

He remained close to Michael and other friends from the show throughout the years. In fact, when Michael Landon passed away in 1991, Merlin Olsen gave the eulogy. Alison Arngrim recounts in her book, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, the following memory of the event.

“The eulogy was given by Merlin Olsen….His speech was absolutely brilliant, moving and funny at the same time. He started by saying, perfectly deadpan, ‘Hello, I’m Merlin Olsen. I sell flowers.’ He then went on to do a virtual stand-up routine about Michael. Michael had insisted his funeral be funny, and he got his wish.”

Merlin Olsen passed away from cancer in 2010, but his legacy lives on. This personal mission statement was found after his passing. Everyone who knows him says this sums up what they remember about him and his life.

“The focus of my life begins at home with family, loved ones and friends. I want to use my resources to create a secure environment that fosters love, learning, laughter and mutual success. I will protect and value integrity. I will admit and quickly correct my mistakes. I will be a self-starter. I will be a caring person. I will be a good listener with an open mind. I will continue to grow and learn. I will facilitate and celebrate the success of others.”

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.

Melissa Anderson

Alison Arngrim

Melissa Francis

Melissa Gilbert

Karen Grassle

Wendi Lou Lee

Ketty Lester

Charlotte Stewart

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.

We invite you to subscribe to the free Little House on the Prairie newsletter for all the exclusive interviews and events.

Mother of five living in rural Oklahoma with her husband and children, Angela is the Founder of Untrained Housewife, co-founder of the Homestead Bloggers Network and Organic Gardening expert at About.com. She is the author of Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less), as well as several other books, all with the common theme of helping people embrace the journey towards self-sufficiency.


  1. I love the series but Melissa Gilbert wasn’t a very good actress, it was all concentrated around her, but Landon was the real star. She never did any other acting once little house was taken off the air
    Unforgettable The Olsens – terrific sidekicks. The storylines reflected the North American issues regarding that period and they were very contemporary. That was Landon’s mission- to portray prairie farmers,but also the average American. It’s very popular in Italy where I currently live.

    • I couldn’t disagree more about MGs acting ability. She was brilliant. Every actor on that show was equally talented. She was a wonderful actress.

  2. Loved the show but couldn’t stand Laura she was the favorite. Mary and Carrie got pushed back but my favorite on the show was Mary. I felt so bad when she went blind.

    • The reason Laura was the center of attention is because the whole show was based on her stories- Laura Ingalls Wilder

  3. Watching this TV series made me love country life even more.
    I enjoyed the srories, the uniqueness of each character. I would love to buy the books or CDs or any souvenirs if I get the chance to.
    One can’t ever get enough of this story. I could watch it many times over and still feel like I was watching it for the first time.
    – Nina B. Aragon
    September 16, 2020

  4. Little House on the Prairie is my favorite show, has been and always will be. My favorite actor is Michael Landon, but I do like all of the cast crew members who starred in this Best Television Show that has ever been on TV. Thank You so much for sharing this with me. ????????. I wish I could still watch the seasons that I don’t have on YouTube. I plan on getting the rest of them, asap. I have Seasons 1, 2, and 5 on DVD

  5. We’ve been binge watching the whole series on imdb’s app on our smart tv. It’s free.

  6. Yes and i have it set to record all the shows hallmark presents. I loved that show and all the actors
    On that show. So family oriented, the struggles of life as a farmer but love always prevailed. Too bad theres not more shows on tv now like little house and the waltons

  7. I <3 Little House on the Prairie… I watch it when ever it is on. I hope that they never stop doing re runs of the series. be blessed in everything that you do…

  8. I loved this guy! Of course, I didn’t know him, but I just got the feeling he truly was a good guy.


  10. I am currently going through the DVD’s of Little House. I actually missed some of the original ones as in 1977 I became the mother of twin boys and for the next few years, my attention was on them. I was 33 then, I am 76 now and I am enjoying the series very much.

  11. I love Little House sooo much currently watching the entire series yet again lol. I heard there is a little house museum is this true if so where is it located

  12. I wish would put the show back on

    • Me too! I miss it. One of the only shows that made you feel good, unlike now a days.

      • UPTV has it on everyday from 8A-3p. Watch it all the time. Nice memories from back when it was on primetime.

    • Hallmark Drama has it on now!

    • It’s still in retuns

      • It’s on Cozi antenna tv

    • I watch it every morning and sometimes in the afternoon I will never tire of it just wish we had more shows on tv like it. Dr quinn Medicine woman is another of my favorites.


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