About Richard Bull

by Website Editors | Jun 6, 2020

You know, an animal is no different than a person. It needs to be with someone who loves it.

—Season 3, Episode 2 “Bunny”

About Richard Bull - The wonderful actor who brought Nels Oleson to life in Walnut Grove


Richard Bull was born June 26, 1924 in Zion, Illinois about 50 miles north of Chicago. His family eventually moved to Chicago, which was great for Richard because “I was a movie nut. In the beginning, I was allowed to see one movie a week, but after we moved to Chicago I went two or three times a week. I couldn’t get enough.”[1]

Richard fell into acting by accident. “I never gave a serious consideration about becoming an actor. As a senior in high school, I decided to study music, but a friend suggested we attend the Goodman Theater School. In two weeks the friend dropped out, but I was hooked.”[2] There was a three-year interruption when he served as a radio operator for the Army Air Corps, but when he was discharged in 1946 he resumed his acting studies at the Goodman.

While at the Goodman he met the love of his life, Barbara Collentine, a talented actress in her own right and in January 1948 they became engaged.[3] For the next 66 years, they often appeared together on stage and occasionally on screen until his death in 2014. The summer of 1948 both Richard and Barbara were acting in summer stock theatre at Bella Itkin’s Lake Zurich Playhouse. It was here that Richard played “Petruchio” opposite Geraldine Page as “Katherine” in William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” [4] After three years working in Chicago and another seven years trying to break into the acting world in New York, the couple made a career decision and moved to Los Angeles.


After moving to Los Angeles, Richard and Barbara became very active in theatre, often appearing in two or three stage productions a year, sometimes separately, but usually together. As Richard’s film and television commitments began to consume more of his attention he could not devote as much time to the theatre, but he never lost his love for the stage. He believed, “The theater keeps you alive as an actor.” [5]

Over the span of his acting career Richard appeared in 32 films and TV movies, such as “The Satan Bug”, “The Stalking Moon”, “The Andromeda Strain”, and “High Plains Drifter”. He also appeared in 86 television series, including “Gunsmoke”, “I Spy”, “Mannix”, “Mission: Impossible”, “My Three Sons”, “Peyton Place“, “The Fugitive“, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“, “The Streets of San Francisco”, “The Virginian”, and of course “Little House on the Prairie”.

Richard’s television career began to take off in 1965 when he was cast as the Seaview Doctor in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and appeared in 27 episodes of that series with Richard Basehart.

Richard Bull crossed paths with Michael Landon on the set of “Bonanza” when he played a rancher caught in a vicious range war.

It was possibly this connection with Michael Landon which helped launch Richard into “Little House on the Prairie“.


If you were on trial, you would want Nels Oleson as your judge. His good judgment and sense of fairness are the glue which holds the Oleson family together. When possible, he avoids conflict with Harriet, his domineering wife, but when it is time to rein her in or smooth the waters with someone she has offended, he does so firmly and gracefully.

He loves his daughter, Nellie, and son, Willie, but if and when they need to be disciplined he does not shirk from his responsibility, no matter how painful it may be for him to carry it out. In fact, one of the moments where Nels puts his foot down with Nellie made our top ten countdown list.

As Richard once remarked, “I sometimes feel sorry for Nels Oleson. I couldn’t take some of the things he does.”[7]. As audience members, we could also feel sorry for what the actor playing Nels Oleson had to endure in portraying the role. Read about Alison Arngrim’s memories from the show here.

Richard enjoyed working on “Little House on the Prairie”:“…this series is especially nice. It is about as steady a job as one could get as an actor, and the company is a joy to work with.” [8] He especially respected working with Michael Landon. “As a director and a producer, Mike knows what he wants and he gets it. But, as an actor, he gives to other actors, and, as a director, he understands actors’ problems since he’s an actor himself.” [9]

Michael Landon had a firm idea of what he wanted the character of Nels Oleson to be. “When we began the series Michael Landon told me he didn’t want Oleson to be a stupid character, and neither did I. He’s a man who can function quite normally when he is with other people. It’s merely when she’s around [Mrs. Oleson], I don’t seem to function as well.” [10]

He truly understood the values which “Little House on the Prairie” stood for and how the series made people feel better about themselves when watching it. “The series has been criticized for being ‘too good,’ but I think its idealism is a good antidote to life as we have to live it.” [11]


After “Little House on the Prairie” came to an end, Richard continued his acting career, appearing in popular series such as “Knots Landing”, “Hill Street Blues”, and “Designing Women”. He also reunited with Victor French and Michael Landon in several episodes of “Highway to Heaven”. Richard and Barbara appeared together in the 2000 release of “A Day In A Life“, a story of five seniors coping with retirement and advancing age.

After this time frame, Richard and Barbara moved back to Chicago. He continued acting and appeared in the 2003 Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of “Man from Nebraska”. After several years in Chicago, Richard and Barbara moved back to California in 2012 where they took up residence in the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement home.

Richard Bull passed away due to complications of pneumonia on February 3, 2014. [12]

About Richard Bull

As Alison Arngrim told Variety Magazine, “Today we lost my TV ‘Pa,’ the wonderful Richard Bull. In real life, he was just as kind, intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable as you’d expect Nels Oleson to be. I am so grateful that I was able to spend time with him and his wife Bobbie (actress Barbara Collentine) over the last year. I am truly very touched by the overwhelming — and worldwide — outpouring of love for Richard Bull.” [13]

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.

[1] Elsner, Carmen. “Actor Richard Bull enjoys the friendliness of Madison.” The Wisconsin State Journal23 September 1975: section 3, page 3
[2] Elsner, Carmen. “Actor Richard Bull enjoys the friendliness of Madison.” The Wisconsin State Journal23 September 1975: section 3, page 3
[3]“Betrothed” The Wisconsin State Journal25 January 1948: section 3, page 17
[4] “Lake Zurich presents classic comedy, ‘Taming of the Shrew’.” Arlington Heights Herald23 July 1948: volume 21, number 48, section 3, page 20
[5] Scott, Vernon (UPI). “Stage couple like the simple life.” The Wisconsin State Journal3 July 1979: section 2, page 7
[6] Richard Bull: Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB.com)
[7] Scott, Vernon (UPI). “Stage couple like the simple life.” The Wisconsin State Journal3 July 1979: section 2, page 7
[8] Elsner, Carmen. “Actor Richard Bull enjoys the friendliness of Madison.” The Wisconsin State Journal23 September 1975: section 3, page 3
[9] Anderson, Nancy. “Accents spoil show says Richard Bull.” Valley Morning Star9 July 1976: page B7
[10] “Hen-pecked Bull finds happiness”.” The Chanute Tribune 24 July 1976: page 3A
[11] Elsner, Carmen. “Actor Richard Bull enjoys the friendliness of Madison.” The Wisconsin State Journal23 September 1975: section 3, page 3
[12] Langer, Emily. “Richard Bull, television character actor, dies at 89.” The Washington Post 14 February 2014: obituary section
[13] Khatchatourian, Maane. “Richard Bull, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star, Dies at 89”. Variety Magazine 4 February 2014

The editors of the Little House on the Prairie® website are pleased to bring you interesting articles, interviews, fan features, videos, and much more.


  1. One of my favorite shows growing up, I still watch the reruns and have the dvds.

    • I loved Mr Oleson! He was my favorite actor on the Little House series!!!

    • Now that I am retired I watch the show 6 days a week from 9
      to 2pm on weekdays and until 3pm on Saturdays. It is a wonderful show.

    • Veramente! Anch’io ????

  2. Really enjoy seeing this page ! Hope it keeps going .Thank you Gina

  3. My favorite episode is Family Qurrel . Where Carolyn takes the eggs in to Olsen’s and Mrs. Olison dumps those all over his head ! There are so very many episodes with Thier family in it . I love looking at the store ! Reminds me of days we loved . He certainly was a great actor. ❤️ Gina

    • I also loved the scenes inside the store! So much so that I recently purchased a mini scale version of Oleson’s Mercantile!.

  4. Agreed indeed !
    Matilda LeRoy Shnookenschacken
    LeMars Iowa.

  5. I’m in my early 50’s now. When I was 9yrs old we didn’t have Cable TV-6 channels, bc we lived out in the Country & my Parents said 2 Channels were enough. Our neighbors nx door did. But the girl nx Dr was more the age of my older sister, 4 & half yrs older than me. I begged her could I come over & watch LHOTP on Thurs eve, she was a nice person. So about 2 mo’s in a row, I went nx Dr 1 eve a wk to watch the series, not aware that I had already missed the Movie & the 1st whole season of it. I had already read all the books + Rose Wilder books. I knew where the 2nd season was in. My dad (wk’d shift wk), he finally got us cable when he found out I was going nx dr once a wk to just watch a TV series. I rem I was so Happy bk then. I’ve always ???? LHOTP & still do to this day. I’ve read my 2 children all the books & they’ve watched the whole series. They’re both in College my daughter getting her Master’s & my son has just finished his 1st yr of College. So I’ve already told them all of my LHOTP books + the Pioneer Women books all by LIW are in Storage. I will bring them bk out 1 day whenever I hv a few Gr-Children to read the books to! Michael Landon done Excellent with the show & chose the perfect actors/actresses for each role they played. They always will be rem’d by their awesome character roles. As well as Michael Landon as the Director & as an awesome Actor on Bonanza, LHOTP & Hwy to Heaven. Him & Victor French (Mr Edwards), had always been good friends. Victor French was in a few episodes of Bonanza & then a regular on LHOTP & Hwy to Heaven. May the ones who have already passed on, may they always be remembered & Rest in Peace!

  6. always loved the show,well casted and acted.Recently caught richard bull in the film ” a day in a life” and decided to revisit all his old work,especially little house.Great character actor.I met Alison arngrim a while back,delightful person and shared many stories of Richard.

  7. I read all of the Little House on the Prairie books as a young girl and I loved them!! When they came out with the televised show, I was so excited:) I still love them both to this day.

  8. Never watched Little House On the Prairie until very recently! Have recorded every episode and avidly watch it. Richard Bull is a particular favourite of mine in the show. Harriet and Nels are a wonderful partnership. So very well casted. I’m now nearing the end of the last Series – really don’t want it to end!

  9. I loved michael landon and the whole cast.

  10. Love Little House and Nels Oleson was definitely one of my favorites! Happy Birthday Richard.❤️

  11. I miss Richard Bull also. He was wonderful as Nels Oleson, giving his badly behaving kids Nellie and Willie what they deserved, a good ole fashioned whipping while his wife Harriet was much more lenient.

  12. I liked Richard Bull as Nels Oleson on “Little House.” When Nellie and Willie (Alison Arngrim, Jonathan Gilbert) misbehaved, he gave them whippings with a belt or a strap that they’ll never forget while his wife Harriet (Katherine “Scottie” MacGregor) was too lenient on the children. It’s hard to believe that Bull is no longer with us, as are Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls), Kevin Hagen (Doc Baker), Victor French (Isaiah Edwards, called Mr. Edwards to Laura’s Mr. Edwards), Karl Swenson (Lars Hanson) and Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey) among others. May they all rest in TV Rerun Heaven.

  13. Little House was a big hit for me when i was younger but now, because I am older, I take away so much more from it than in my youth. It still is my number one show and recently I bought the end scene episodes because they don’t show them on the tele. I want to personally thank the cast for making such a wonderfully inspiring family show. We especially need shows like this in this day and age. Thank you for being a special part of my life………

  14. love richard bull and all the cast of little house. i am 62 and just as much in love with it now as when it first appeared on tv in england. would so much like to come to the usa and meet some of the cast, but must be content with any info i get, remembering past cast and good wishes to remaining actors.

  15. Love this show I grew up watching and I love the people who portrayed the characters on the show. Little House on the Prairie is one of my all time favorite shows. Family television at its finest. We watched as a family the whole family around the set as this series played out. Brings back some of my greatest memories as a child and teen with my family.

  16. Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite movies. I still watch the reruns. Good family movie. No cussing, nudity or killing. It is hard to find movies like that any more.

    • Seriously!:)

  17. What a wonderful actor he was. I have “Little House on the Prairie” on DVDs and so I get to watch them whenever I want. He was one of my favorite characters on the show.

    • I so agree! He was a fabulous actor. One of my favorites in the little house on the prairie. We only had one tv channel here in Norway ???????? back in those days and the little house on the prairie was the highlight we looked forward to watch! You felt like you grow together with the characters and was a part of it all… I loved it dearly back then and I still love it today in a age of nearly 60 years old. As a matter of fact I follow it every day (they send two episodes every day in on of the many channels we can enjoy here in Norway today!) And I enjoy it today with the same passion as I did in the beginning 70’. You never get series’s like this ever again I think. And you never ever get back all the brilliant actors that participated in the little house on the prairie that unfortunately has left before us. Sad but true. I whisk they all knew what an huge impact they had in people’s life and how much they was adored. I shine light and love over their memory’s ❤️


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