Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie

by | Apr 8, 2017

Cassandra Cooper: “I want homework.”
Caroline Ingalls: “What?”
Cassandra Cooper: “I want homework!”
Caroline Ingalls: “Well, if you want homework, you’re gonna have to go to school.”

—The Lost Ones: Part 2

The sign-in sheet read “Little House on the Prairie,” but to me, this audition would be just like any other. At the age of eight, I had already spent the majority of my life smiling in front of the camera. From sudsing my hair to sell Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo, to hawking (cold, painted) hamburgers for McDonald’s, to more serious turns in dramas, I had worked pretty steadily since before my first birthday. I’d been on a million and one auditions and boasted a damn good batting average to boot. I strutted into this one like I owned the joint. Now, when I look back, I know that day forever changed the course of the rest of my life.

Plenty of kids at my school watched “Little House on the Prairie.” However, in our house, the show was on past my bedtime. I had never seen that wagon roll into the tall grass of the prairie during the opening credits or watched the girl who played Carrie wipe out while running down the hill. My sister and I were over-scheduled children before that was a thing, and my mother was absolutely done with us by 8 pm. Tiffany and I were always bathed and tucked in by then. I had no idea prime time television existed.

I should have known this one was different. The lines incorporated odd phrases like “Ma” “Pa” & “reckon.” Who talks like that? But when I casually mentioned I might tweak the language a bit, my stage mother fired back with her terrifying trademark force: “No! Do it exactly as they say.” Adding, “You really need to do well on this one.” She was wound tighter than a top.

When I entered the room, Michael Landon was there. I didn’t know who he was, but you could tell by the energy in the room that he was an important person. He electrified the audition the moment he laughed at my wide eyes, framed by long ropes of brown braids. “So, you’re Missy?” he boomed with a wide grin. Remember, I still had no idea exactly who he was, but suddenly that room felt like Christmas and that man was clearly Santa.

We did two scenes together. The first was run of the mill, a back and forth at the dinner table. The second called for me to work my signature magic: cry on cue. This was my forte. I was perhaps the only girl on the audition circuit under ten years old that could jump into character and turn on the waterworks from a standing start. I crushed it. Totally owned the scene. I knew because a nice lady in the room offered me tissues and Michael smiled ear-to-ear at my misery. Still, I walked calmly from the room and out the door to the street, letting my mother trail me from the building, desperate for any details. I could tell by this point; this was big.

Never-before-seen photo of Melissa as Cassandra Cooper on the “Little House on the Prairie” set with her character’s original parents. Exclusive photo for courtesy of Melissa Francis.

The sets of “Little House on the Prairie” were filled with raucous fun, and childish pranks book-ended by solid blocks of high-quality grown-up work (I’ll break out all those details and stories in the new book, Lessons from the Prairie). One big bonus for me: Jason Bateman, cast as my big brother. Here’s this older boy, with shiny red hair cut in a straight line across his forehead and dreamy freckles. We did every scene together. Jason was almost always forced to hold my hand! And occasionally hug me! Jackpot!!

Michael was one of the first true entrepreneurs in Hollywood. He made a mint in the cottage industry he created around him – writing, producing, starring in, and directing his productions. He was the first to arrive and the last to leave after sundown, and he watched every penny that came in and went out. He had a no-nonsense approach that put a high value on efficiency and quality — and came down swift and hard on anyone who squandered time or resources. But he was also very playful when the time was right and injected plenty of joy into every day. More than once, he turned to the kids to speak, and as he opened his mouth, a frog popped out! Our squeals of terror and disgust delighted his childish side and brightened the day.

Melissa as Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on the “Little House on the Prairie” set with her character’s adoptive family, the Ingalls. Photo courtesy of Melissa Francis.

A decade after the show ended its historic run; I decided to leave Hollywood behind and board a plane to Boston to study economics at Harvard University. I never really looked back. I was done chasing that particular dream, and I wanted to try on a life without acting. I was more than happy to ditch the uncertainty and inconsistent joy that life brings without my controlling stage mother pushing all those buttons behind the scenes. (You can read more about that in my first book: Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter)

After graduation, I decided to try my hat at television reporting. Noticing a theme here? I can admit I have a strong desire to be in front of the camera, but to me, this career would be much different. I would be able to control what I said – not just saying what others wrote for me. But the road to my dream was certainly less-than-glamorous. I started on the ground floor, running the teleprompter in Portland, Maine for minimum wage. I could not have been more excited! A year later I landed my big break in New Hampshire, in front of the camera again – only to choke and get fired.

I dusted myself off and trudged on to higher ground. Today I host shows on the Fox Business Network and the Fox News Channel, but that path hasn’t always been littered with unicorns and rainbows. I’ve had plenty of heartaches and upset, all of which have helped me develop My Foolproof Formula for Turning Disaster into Golden Opportunity. Sharing that golden, go-to strategy is one the main reasons I wrote this book!

Melissa appears on “The Five,” a news and talk show on Fox News Channel. Photo courtesy of Melissa Francis.

I’m also now a mother to my three precious jewels: Thompson, Greyson & Gemma, and I want to arm them with the tools needed to tackle life’s toughest challenges and help them build a happy life. I see other women (and men!) in the trenches as they parent or work, trying to lean in, and I have this uncontrollable urge to place a calm hand on their shoulder and tell them to stop worrying. Don’t lean in, maybe sit down and take a load off instead. Those superheroes you’re watching? More often than not, they are faking it.

Melissa with her husband Wray Thorn and their children, Thompson, Greyson, and Gemma. Photo courtesy of Melissa Francis.

As I take inventory of the most important things I want my children to know, I realize that I picked up so many bits of wisdom in those few precious years on the Prairie. What I learned in front of the camera and behind the scenes on “Little House” laid the very foundation and provided the essential tools to build a happy, meaningful life today. Who could ever be more resilient than the pioneering Ingalls? Instead of just lying down on the dusty road and letting the next wagon that rolled by put them out of their misery when their crop failed for the fiftieth time, they found deep inside the strength to pull up their petticoats and soldier on to better times.

The “Little House” experience taught me, among other things, how to turn disaster into golden opportunity; that the good guys really do win in the end, even though they may not always lead at the turn; to identify and chase my passion without letting myself be distracted by fear; and to believe in miracles.

What I took as a playful and distant time on our dusty set, deep in the scorching sun of Simi Valley, was in truth a priceless training ground. There was a lot of wisdom in our makeshift location and in those books, and if you join me on this ride, I promise to sprinkle a little on your head.

You can purchase Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America’s Favorite Show here.

Facebook Live Video with Melissa Francis

See the replay of the Facebook Live video chat with Melissa Francis herself below!

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.

Be sure to subscribe to the official Little House on the Prairie Newsletter for the latest information on upcoming events and fun information for fans.

Broadcast journalist Melissa Francis is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. She is an anchor on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and a regular contributor on financial, economic, and political issues. As an actress, she appeared in numerous motion pictures, TV series, and more than a hundred TV commercials, and is best known for her role as Michael Landon’s daughter, Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, on "Little House on the Prairie." She lives in Manhattan with her husband and their three children.


  1. Shelley R Cox

    I just Love Little House on the Prairie! It was Definetly My Favorite Show! I would have loved to have been Part of the Ingalls Family!

  2. Leslie Ann

    Hello. I found you page while looking for a stage mom named Marjorie Diamond (at least I think that was her name) that I worked for once a week while I was in high school. She had a daughter who was an actress and was on Little House on the Priarie. I would sleep one night a week at her home in Beverly Hills, in her daughter’s bedroom but I never actually met her daughter. I don’t remember much about the room except that she had a photo of Micahel Landon in her room and I felt a little uncomfortable sleeping in her room and I didn’t even know her… Anyway, do you have any idea who this actress was? I have always wanted to know. FYI – my next door neighbor was Alvin Childress (actor). His first wife wrote A Hero Aint Nothing But a Sandwich. His second wife is how I got the job. She used to be a RN. Hope you know who I am talking about.

  3. Linda Boatwright

    I saw all of the Little House On The Prairie with my children. You have accomplish so much. I too have written so many short stories, poems, church lessons for children and have many many journals and i would love to publish them but i do not have anyone who could help me what do i do? Thank you for being so nice. Love you.

  4. Linda Boatwright

    Im watching you now sittingin for Martha. I like you very much. Your life values haveimpressed me. I would like to have you on my FB page. I have so many questions for you. I love to see how you interact with people.

  5. Mary Ellen Exton

    When I was a girl, a long time ago, I wished that I belonged to a family just like the Ingalls family. There was lots adventure, but most of all, lots of love.

  6. John Roskoski

    Michael Landon and “Little House” portrayed exemplary American values and provided great role models. Now, you have grown into a breathtakingly beautiful woman whose intellect matches her beauty. Essentially, you have become the role model you, and cast, portrayed years ago. Thank you and blessings for further success!

  7. Diane Nivens

    That was an awesome Live Broadcast. I missed it, somehow could not find the link….. and then it popped up on the fb page. Don’t know what I was doing wrong, but glad for the re play. What a sweet lady. Thank you. Looking forward to reading the book. 🙂

    • Angela England

      The live chat is on the Facebook page. We will be embedding the video here in this article when the giveaway ends as well but for now it’s near the top of our fabook page or in the videos section of the Facebook page. Hope you enjoy hearing Melissa’s wonderful stories!

  8. Chris Badgett

    I have watched Little House on the Prairie all my life. I love how they lived, their values, and the simplicity of the old ways. I try to get everything that has to do with the show,but am limited on a budget. Melissa, you did an outstanding job in the series and are most fortunate to have gotten to work along side of the rest of the cast and the same with them to you. I hope to one day get your book and I am sure that it will live up to the little House reputation and yours as well. Thank you for taking the time to do the live show. I know how busy your schedule is and how little time you have to promote your book. Wish you the very best of luck with it and everything that you do! Thanks

  9. Sharon

    I grew up near Mansfield, Missouri. My home town is Ava, Missouri. So every weekend my Dad would take me to go through Laura and Almanzo’s homes and visit their graves right there in Mansfield. I always had to take flowers to put on their graves. To this day I still go to visit their homes and their graves to put flowers on them. Watching “Little House on the Prairie” and reading the books have brought so much inspiration and love to so many of us, especially me. I have the complete dvd set of “Little House” and the box set of the books and now I have every book that’s out there about Laura and Almanzo. Now I sit with my grandaughter and read and watch “Little House” with her. She is going with me this summer to share the moment of going and seeing their homes and grave in Mansfield. I can’t wait. She is so excited to see and learn more about how they lived in Mansfield. She so loves Cassandra on Little House. I really hope to have a good chance in winning, not for me but for my granddaughter.

  10. Tracey O'Brien

    I just bought a Little House coloring book and can’t wait to get started! The illustrations are the ones by Garth Williams in the books, and they are absolutely breathtakingly beautiful!!

  11. Norma Edlemon

    When you had a not-so-perfect childhood, the Little House books made you feel like you had a chance. I started my first grandchild out on the Little House paperback books. Each time I would find one I bought it. I so loved the family life of the Ingalls.

  12. Jeri Hutchins

    Love Little House on the Prairie. Have collected the whole DVD set of the show. When James and Cassandra joined the show it made a nice addition.

  13. Lisa Leppo

    I grew up reading the Little House books. So imagine my surprise when Michael Landon brought the books to life on TV. It was my favorite show of all time and still is today in reruns. My boys loved the show as well! My youngest son came home from school one day and said mom can we go to the library and get the Little House books to read. We are going to read them in school. I told him I can do better than that. I already have the whole set. Igor them out and we read them. Now, I am hoping to share them with my grandchildren as well. It was the best TV show ever. A great family show for everyone. Michael Landon was my favorite actor as well. He left us with a lasting legacy of greatvtv shows that were family oriented. So sad there aren’t more like that today. I am a diehard Little House fan and woyks love to win a copy of this book.

  14. Charlene

    I love little house on prairie. Thanks for letting enter contest.

  15. Debbie Snyder

    This is a great giveaway! Thank you for the opportunity to win a signed copy of your book! Love LHOTP and still watch every chance I get!

  16. Debra Hoyt

    As a teacher, I incorporated my love of “Little House on the Prairie” with having my 3rd grade class read, “The Long Winter” story. We would churn butter, using an antique daisy churn, in the classroom and enjoy it on freshly baked bread. One year, my class put together a patchwork quilt with fabric the students brought in. I did the sewing part; but, I set up my grandmother’s quilting frame in the classroom and had my students tie quilt the sewn quilt. We then presented the quilt to a family who had lost their house to a fire. When my daughter was born, people thought I would name her Laura. They encouraged me to put on a Little House play for the school. In college, I took a Children’s Literature course which I read the first book in the series by candlelight. My son, recently gave me the Little House DVD set for my birthday in May. I currently offer to 5th graders an interest group, entitled “Pioneering the Past”, which is a spin off from what I offered many years ago as an after school enrichment class, which was always packed! Laura Ingalls Wilder was a history in the making by sharing her life as a pioneer family!

    • Angela England

      How fun! We recently published a post about making butter with kids as a fun activity to do in a classroom or as an educational experience at home. We love hearing how people have used inspiration from Little House on the Prairie books and TV show to teach their children in fun and meaningful ways! Thanks for sharing.

  17. JoAnn Tyler

    I didn’t know about this book! Would love to win it!!!

  18. Mage

    I would love to win. Little House on the Prairie was a time for my family to sit together, laugh, cry and talk about what our ideas were on the program. Beautiful memories.

  19. Barbara Wenner

    I would love to win one of your book,thank you for a chance to win

  20. Cindy Wilson

    So exciting, I grew up with little House and all its cast members!

  21. mary mattis

    Little House inspired me in too many ways to count! I once even tried living without electric lamps, lighting all of the oil lamps I had for light…….Monday nights were spent with the Ingalls family for many years, via television… When reruns were shown in the mornings, I would get up early to watch and quilt…. I devour Little House Books and would love to add this addition to my library… I dearly wish that it was back on the air……..I adored Cassandra with her pouty smile!

  22. Molly Schrader

    I’ve watched Little House forever. My kids watch it and now my grandkids do also. I even named my second daughter after your character on the show. She used to love watching it and saying “is that who you named me after?” She was just to adorable when she would say it. Looking up at me with her big brown eyes. I’d love one of your books to hand her and tell her who wrote it.

  23. Trula Greer

    Have been a little house fan and follower for aboit 55 years…this would be a wonderful addition to my little house treasures! Thank you for this opportunity!

  24. Dianne Leighty

    Loved Little House on the Prarie. Such a wonderful family show back then. Loved each & every character involved. Always enjoyed & still enjoy watching every episode.

  25. Rolena Eliot

    Congratulations on your new book. I hope it is really successful. I enjoy watching Fox and Fox Business channels. I see you on all of the time, but I did not realize you played Cassandra Cooper! I grew up on Little House books and the show. Loved it. I watch re-runs with my kids now. Basically, I’ve been a “fan” of yours most of my life and I had not a clue until today! SMH.

  26. Jackie McNutt

    Little House on the Prairie has been an inspiration for many years.
    As a great grandmother I still enjoy sharing these stories with another generation.

  27. Jazmin

    My mom and I watched every Little House episode together and when I was 8 years old she purchased the Little House 9 book set, which we read together every night. My 6 year old son watches the reruns now of Little House and is so “clued in” as we read the Little House books together. This is one of our Family Traditions which I hope he will continue with his children one day.

  28. Pennie Byrd

    I would love to win

  29. Erica

    Little House was my favorite show as a child and still is today. I would love to read this book. I have every episode and movie there was made. I have the complete set of Little House books!

  30. Sheila Andrews

    My husband and I have been watching Little house since we married in the 80s! Absolutely our favorite show, we have every episode on our recorder, and it’s alot! I feel that I grow up with this family, I really could of been and Ingalls! I would love to get a copy of your book Melissa, you were as cute as a button on the show, your acting was excellent! God Bless and thank you for all these years of family entertainment!

  31. Carol Luciano

    Thanks so much for the giveaway opportunity. I look forward to reading Lessons From The Prairie. I love this show and now my grandchildren watch it.
    Carol L

  32. Elizabeth

    I would love to win as I am doing a Little House themed Summer REading program for our library.

  33. Melissa Kozuch

    Little House on the Prairie was a such a big part of our lives when our girls were growing up! We have three daughters and had so much fun watching the show and since I sew, the girls even had “Little House” dresses to wear! They are all grown up now but for this past Christmas, our oldest daughter (who is thirty years old)! asked us for the complete season collection box! That’s how much we enjoyed the show! Thank you for being a part of such a wonderful and wholesome program for my children, and me!! And by the way, we are loyal FOX New fans and love seeing you and hearing your sharp analysis! Keep up the fabulous work and thank you again.

  34. Melissa Kozuch

    Little House on the Prairie was a such a big part of our lives when our girls were growing up! We have three daughters and had so much fun watching the show and since I sew, the girls even had “Little House” dresses to wear! They are all grown up now but for this past Christmas, our oldest daughter (who is thirty years old)! asked us for the complete season collection box! That’s how much we enjoyed the show! Thank you for being a part of such a wonderful and wholesome program for my children, and me!! And by the way, we are loyal FOX New fans and love seeing you and hearing your sharp analysis! Keep up the fabulous work and thank you again.

  35. Mary Jones

    I’ve always loved, loved Little House on the Prairie TV shows and read all of the books at least once. My family and I also visited The Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri. I want to go back there and want to go to the other places that she lived. What a wholesome family!

  36. janet fedor

    My grandchildren just love watching Little House.

  37. Susan

    Thanks for the opportunity! I love the Little House books, and it’s fun to know your connection to Little House as well as Fox News, Melissa! I have probably watched you on the The Five without putting all those connections together. Your family is beautiful!

  38. Carol

    could i be entered into the giveaway book drawing?


    • Angela England

      Carol – you absolutely can be entered yes but you’ll need to enter yourself. Go to the giveaway widget and log in (you can either use your Facebook account or your name/email to log in). The first entry method is to confirm your subscription to the newsletter. Once you complete that you will see additional, optional entry methods open up to you. Let me know if you have any trouble.

  39. Carla Squires

    I would love to win a copy. That was my favorite show growing up. And I still watch it!!

  40. Terri Fields

    Love the shows. I got to visit Little house on the Prairie Museum in independent ks few months ago. Love it

  41. Debbie Bauder

    I would love to read this book, my self and my daughter have loved Little House for years. Now I’m a grandmother and want my granddaughter to love Little House also.

  42. Karen

    Enjoyed her on Little House. Also seeing her on Fox news. ☺

  43. Sharma Darby

    i hope that i win.

  44. Brenda Williams

    I love little house on the prairie. I seen every eposide

  45. Becky Pennington

    What an amazing giveaway! Thanks so much for the chance to win. I just loved the Little House series in books and on tv. I used to watch all the time as a kid. Some of the episodes are still in my head as if I had just watched them yesterday. <3

  46. Hannah Hanson

    I am so fascinated with Little House! Both the TV series and the actors as well as the real life Ingalls/ Wilder families!

  47. Gwenda

    I have always loved Little House on the Prairie, and would enjoy winning. I really want to visit the homestead in Kansas being how I was born in Kansas in the Flint Hills.

  48. Cindy A. Snider

    Love The Little House series and would be delighted to win this new book!

  49. Diane Nivens

    I missed half of the series growing up, but have watched the whole thing this year at 56. I love the series! What a great accomplishment by everyone involved. Hope it lives on forever. Maybe even a new series with Almanzo & Laura living their lives on the orchard with Rose. Would love to see as many of the original cast join in. That would be so cool. Thank you for helping to keep this legacy alive. My great grandparents actually homesteaded in Plainville, Kansas to raise wheat. I can relate to so many things in these books & the tv series. Love it. Thank you, Diane Nivens 🙂

  50. Rita Wray

    I loved Little House on the Prairie, I never missed an episode. Heartwarming wonderful show.

  51. Cheryl jagiello

    I don’t like that you have to be on Pinterest,Twitter,or Instagram to get points to enter into contest. Doesn’t make sense. Ch

    • Angela England

      You do not have to be on any of those other channels, they are just optional ways to connect with us. Not all of our readers are on Facebook, for example. Please just connect with us however you feel comfortable.



  1. About Ketty Lester - Little House on the Prairie - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  2. About Karen Grassle - Little House on the Prairie - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  3. Remember ”Cassandra Cooper Ingalls” from Little House on the Prairie? - […] ”I didn’t know who he was, but you could tell by the energy in the room that he was…
  4. About Shannen Doherty - Little House on the Prairie - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  5. Wendi Lou Lee: A Prairie Devotional - […] « Melissa Francis: Lessons from the PrairieHomemade Applesauce Inspired by Little House on the Prairie » […]
  6. About Dean Butler - Almanzo Wilder on Little House on the Prairie - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  7. Page not found - […] Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  8. Little House on the Prairie® Community Story Index - […] Melissa Francis: Lessons From The Prairie […]
  9. About Melissa Sue Anderson - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  10. About Alison Arngrim - Actress playing Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  11. Miss Beadle and Me - Charlotte Stewart Speaks Out - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  12. About Melissa Gilbert - […] Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie […]
  13. Little House on the Prairie – Episode Guide – Season 8 - […] Trivia! In this episode, Cassandra (Melissa Francis) becomes the only Ingalls child (other than Mary) to win a prestigious…
  14. Little House on the Prairie™ Gift Guide 2017 - […] Melissa Francis’ memoir – Lessons from the Prairie by Melissa Francis (otherwise known as Cassandra Cooper) will have you laughing…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *