Ed Friendly’s Life and Legacy

by Rebecca Friendly | Mar 30, 2018

About Ed Friendly

Ed Friendly was born in Manhattan on April 8, 1922. He spent his formative summers on a ranch in Idaho where he fell in love with horses and the American West. He served as an Army captain in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, he worked in New York in advertising, produced and directed radio and television shows, became National Director of Sales for ABC Television and eventually Vice President for Special Programs at NBC. At NBC he worked with many of the great talents of the day like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Julie Andrews and supervised such shows as the Hallmark Hall of Fame and event programming such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rose Bowl Parade, the opening of the World’s Fair, and the Emmy Awards.

In his unpublished memoir, Friendly writes that the position at NBC was a tremendous experience and a great launching pad for his subsequent career as an independent producer. In 1967, he started his own company, Ed Friendly Productions, Inc. and moved his family to California.

Ed Friendly as a young boy in Idaho.

One of the first programs that Ed Friendly created, together with partners George Schlatter, Dan Rowan, and Dick Martin, and talented writers like Paul Keyes and Digby Wolfe, was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, a weekly sketch comedy show that ran for 140 episodes on NBC. The groundbreaking show served up rapid-fire comic sketches that brought early acclaim to comedians Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Jo Anne Worley, and many others. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In became the #1 rated show on television in 1968-69 and 1969-70 and won an Emmy for outstanding variety program in 1968.

Friendly later created and executive-produced “Little House on the Prairie”, an adaptation of the beloved children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder based on her childhood in the late 1800s. The show, starring Michael Landon as the patriarch of the family and Melissa Gilbert as his plucky daughter Laura, ran on NBC from 1974 to 1983.

Ron Simon, curator of the Paley Center for Media, formerly the Museum of Television & Radio, said of Mr. Friendly, “With his programming expertise, Ed Friendly could both satirize the present and look back nostalgically at American history.

Ed Friendly on the set of "Little House on the Prairie" in 1973

In 1979, Friendly produced the NBC mini-series Backstairs at the White House, a depiction of eight American presidents, Taft through Eisenhower, through the eyes of White House staff. The series received 11 Emmy nominations.

And in his eighties, Friendly decided to revisit the Little House stories by producing a mini-series based on the Little House on the Prairie novel. It aired on The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC in 2005.

Ed Friendly passed away on June 22, 2007.

The Creation of Little House on the Prairie

The story of how Little House on the Prairie came to television screens across America is quite interesting though not well known. It all started with Ed Friendly’s wife, Natalie, who grew up reading the books in the 1930s shortly after they were published. She fell in love with the books and read them to her own children as they were growing up. For many years she urged her husband to acquire the rights to create shows based on the books.

One day Ed went to check on his teenage daughter Brooke who was at home in bed with a cold. He noticed that she was reading one of the Little House books and asked her why she was reading something that her mother had already read to her as a child. Brooke explained that she re-read all eight of the books every year and asked if he would get her the ninth book, which had just been published. Her passion for these books struck a chord with him and he decided to take one of the books with him on a business trip to New York.

In his memoir, he describes how he bought a Time magazine and hid the book inside of it, so that no one would know he was reading a children’s book! He read the book on the flight and when the plane landed immediately called his attorney to find out if the rights were available.

The timing was perfect because Walt Disney had just inquired about optioning the rights to one of the books from the rights holder, a man named Roger Lea MacBride who had inherited the copyrights from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. When Ed spoke to Roger, he explained that he didn’t want to develop just one book, but rather all of them. Roger flew out to California and they spent some time together. Ed explained that he wanted to produce a pilot and then a weekly series, and outlined how he wanted to lay it out. Roger shared Ed’s vision and they reached an agreement.

Ed Friendly on the set of Young Pioneers, a television movie based on novels by Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter).

Ed then engaged a talented writer named Blanche Hanalis to write a script for a pilot. They worked together closely over the course of two months to get it right and be as faithful as possible to Wilder’s novel. In his memoir, Ed describes how much he enjoyed the collaboration with Blanche. During that time Ed had conversations with all three television networks, but none expressed interest – they said it was “out of fashion and too soft a property.”

Enter Michael Landon. Ed and Natalie had seen a Bonanza episode that Michael had directed called “The Wish”. Ed decided to call Michael to let him know that he had a script that he wanted him to direct. He sent Michael the script in the early afternoon and by the late afternoon received a call from Michael asking if he could come by and talk about it. Michael said he loved the script and not only wanted to direct it, but also play the role of Charles Ingalls (“Pa”). Michael had an exclusive contract with NBC as an actor and a director.

Casting Melissa Gilbert

Below is an excerpt of Ed Friendly’s fond recollections of Melissa Gilbert’s audition.

Ed Friendly on the set of "Little House on the Prairie" with Melissa Gilbert in 1973

“When we were casting the show, we had done screen tests with about five or six different people for each of the children’s roles, and we first met with the kids in the office and then after we selected the five or six best ones we did screen tests… Melissa came in the office the next day and was absolutely charming. She won all of us over. When she went to leave, the NBC Casting Director asked how tall she was. Bear in mind that each one of these little youngsters came in with their casting summaries, which included their pictures, and vital statistics. As all of them had, Melissa’s had her height, age, etc. listed on it. So the question, “How tall are you?” was really unnecessary. I remember little Melissa looked at me and with half a smile put her hand on top of her head and said to the Casting Director, “Oh, so big.” She then exited. For my money, she had the part right then and there. We followed through with the screen tests and she was by far the best. What a great choice she was for the part of Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie.

Rebecca was one of the driving forces in developing and launching the Little House on the Prairie® website. She is committed to preserving Laura Ingalls Wilder's legacy and meeting fans from around the world. For the past four years, she has worked in the education technology sector in both early learning and higher education, helping people access opportunities to learn and succeed. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and enjoys hiking and gardening.


  1. My husband and I went to the 50 th reunion of little house in simei valley and we had a wonderful time meeting a lot of celebrities and talking to them taking pictures with them and the bus tour was incredible love seeing where they filmed the show hope they would have a nother one. Thanks to everyone who put this event together .

  2. Hi there,
    My sister, son and I had the greatest weekend at the reunion & festival last weekend! We caught the panel where there was talk of a possible reboot? Is there any way of knowing more about that and about casting? My 11yo loves Little House – he dressed as Nels, Pa and Albert/Willie. He is acting in plays, etc. I know he would love the opportunity to be involved, if he could.
    Thank you

  3. To me it’s amazing how things like this come to be. Truly Gods work at hand leading the way to bring years of enjoyment and memories. I’ve watched all the shows -I’m 42- and had my children watch the show from when they were babies and they loved it just as much as I did.

  4. Grazie Rebecca per aver condiviso la storia di tuo nonno , ho visto tutte le serie della Casa nella prateria quando ero una bambina e le sto rivedendo tutt’ora che di anni ne ho 64. Finalmente sono riuscita a leggere anche tutti i 9 libri fino a poco tempo fa introvabili in Italia e poi finalmente trovati su Amazon . Poi di questi tempi così difficili, leggere e vedere questa serie aiuta a non perdere la speranza che il mondo ritorni ad essere un posto meraviglioso !!!

    Thanks Rebecca for sharing your grandfather’s story, I saw all the House on the Prairie series when I was a child and I am still reviewing them now that I am 64. I finally managed to read all 9 books up to recently unavailable in Italy and then finally found on Amazon. Then in these difficult times, reading and watching this series helps not to lose hope that the world will return to being a wonderful place !!!

  5. Family entertainment..?…not many around anymore…so sad

  6. Hello, I loved watching the show when i was a kid. Born in the mid 60’s it was my favorite show to watch.. No matter how many times i watched it through the years and still love watching it on insp, It will always bring tears to my eyes… What a great family show!!! I wish it still aired new shows to this day. But since not possible, I will reminisce in the reruns!! Thank you all who made the show possible and an absolute success!!!!
    This TV series can run for many many years to come!! Thank you….

  7. A special thanks to your grandfather Edd Friendly for giving us such a wonderful family show, as Little House on The Prairie. We watched every episode when our son was growing up. I am 89, live alone and still watch when I am able to find it on TV. I grew up on a farm during the depression, and could relate to many of the episodes. I bought the set of books for my niece, when she was a little girl. I wish my grandchildren, and great grandchildren could watch the series, and see what life was like in such a wonderful uncomplicated time. Thanks for the memories, and giving us a look behind the scenes.

  8. Thank your grandfather Edd Friendly, for giving us such a wonderful family show, as Little House on the Prairie . We watched every episode, when my son was growing up. I am 89, live alone, and still watch when I am able to find it on TV. I bought the books for my niece when she was a little girl. I was raised on a farm during the depression, and could relate to some of the episodes. I wish my grandchildren and great grandchildren could watch the series, and see what life was like in a much simpler an uncomplicated time. Thanks so much for giving us a behind the scenes look of how Little House was created.

  9. Yes thank you Rebecca Friendly and your father Ed for getting this show on the road. Also I big thank you to the late Michael Landon. All of the shows were great and I would have loved it if Ed and Michael would have made the Long Winter for the series as it never really depicted the book that Laura wrote, that in itself would have been a great episode. But it never happened, I am just thankful that I have the book “The Long Winter” I love the show anyway and I have been to De Smet, SD. Walnut Grove MN. and Mansfield, MO. I am planning on visiting Independence KS. this summer and Burr Oak, IA. Sure would love to meet Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Anderson and Alison Arngrim some day before I die.

  10. thank you to one and all for all the comfort and happiness I felt reading all the LITTLE HOUSE books and I was a grown adult at that time. read each one at least three times and just wanted more. Have always wanted to go down and see laura and almanzos farm, maybe one day. I am only 69 yrs old………many blessings to all of you especially the original author. good looking fella in his day too, huh? lol

  11. I grew up watching LHOTP and the Walton’s, I love this era of life. I dream of going to the place that Laura grew up at. This article was really educational and I think knowing Me. Friendly and Mr. Landon would have been a dream come true. I also love your website.

  12. Just amazing!! Thank you xxx

  13. ilove little house on thepraire
    its awonderful program
    thanks aurora

  14. ilove little house on the praire it is a wonderful program

  15. dear rebca ilove little house on the praire it s wonderful program

  16. Very interesting read about your grand-father, Rebecca ! Thank you for writing it and sharing some of Ed’s memoirs.

  17. Thank you everyone for your lovely comments. It is such a joy for me to be able to share my grandfather’s story and to meet and interact with you all as a result. For those of you who knew Ed personally, thank you for sharing your memories of him.

  18. I had the pleasure or meeting Ed and Natalie in 1994-1995 when the company i worked for built the house in Rancho Santa Fe. I was on that project for more than a year and would see them quite frequently. They both were very nice, welcoming, and a joy to talk to. A very generous couple that treated us to lunch at the job site on many occasions. It was an honor to have met them both

  19. A very nice article. It touches my heart and brought me back to my childhood when I always used to sit and wait to watch all the beautiful episodes. It was a wonderful era (70s & 80s) of the world.

    Many thanks

  20. Rebecca,

    What a wonderful tribute to Ed and your family. Not only did I enjoy the LHOTP I had a chance to meet Mr. Friendly a few times through his granddaughter Kate who was my daughter Jenny’s college roommate. I am so grateful to Mr. Friendly for giving us such a wholesome family show. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Rebecca,

    I enjoyed reading your post about your grandfather. I will admit that I knew nothing about him other than his connection to LHOTP. I was 10 or 11 the first time I visited Rocky Ridge and I clearly remember the ladies in the museum telling us about the ‘new’ Little House movie that was going to air soon on NBC. They were excited but were disappointed that “the best scene had been left on the cutting room floor.” They were talking about a the story of Dr. Tann saving the Ingalls family. Looking back, I’m not sure how they knew that or if they really knew. I don’t think they’d be disappointed any more given the attention that Laura has received due to the series.

  22. Rebecca, what a lovely memory and tribute to your grandfather and his essential role in bringing the “Little House” stories to television. I was just starting to teach school – 3rd graders – when the TV series started and well remember having a classroom of “little Lauras” as we read-aloud the books and learned about the pioneer days. It’s nice to know that Ed Friendly cherished Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and wanted to stay faithful to their tone and underlying message of faith and family – just as he lived his own life. Precious memories, indeed, for you and for all of us. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  23. I grow up in the 70s watching I liverd them then and I love them now thank you for everything you do to keep these wonderful memories alive. ☺

  24. Thanks for an interesting behind the scenes look at how “Little House on the Prairie” came to be.

  25. Thanks so much, Michael, Sandy, and Amanda! So glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  26. I’d loved reading this little bit of Friendly family history! Thanks for sharing! I love the site.

  27. Thank you! I really enjoyed this story!

  28. Fascinating story! Thanks Rebecca! ???


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