Kent McCray explains the REAL story of the destruction of Walnut Grove in the Last Farewell TV-Movie
Many fans have asked over the years why did Michael Landon blow up the town of Walnut Grove? Many fans think Michael wanted to do it, and many programs such as the most recent TV Land special have reported false information. For the first time Kent McCray, producer of Little House on the Prairie and close friend to Michael Landon has shared with PrairieFans.com the TRUTH behind this story.
Lennon: Thanks Kent for taking the time out of your day to talk about what happened to the town of Walnut Grove that has become a special place to many people around the world.
Kent: A lot has been said of late
about why on Little House on the Prairie we blew up the town. I would like
to set it straight so that everyone understands what actually happened. We
have to go back to the start of the series when I made an arrangement to
rent the property from Newhall Land and Development in Newhall, California.
The agreement that I had with them was that at the end of the series we would put the acreage back to its normal state. The reason for this was that Newhall Land and Development used the acreage as a feedlot for their cattle empire. Therefore, they were afraid if the buildings still stood one of the animals might get into them and get hurt or children in the area might get into the area and start to smoke, and with the high grass area that could be very dangerous. So it was in our initial agreement that we put the land back to its original state--thus filling in the areas where we had the stream and the town, and the stream by the little house, and taking the buildings down. That was the original reason.
Now, lets talk about why we blew up the town. On a given day in the tenth season we had already done two two-hour shows and our commitment was to do a third. We had not decided on a script at this point and I was in the office working with Don Winter, our construction coordinator, about what it would take to dismantle all the buildings. While we were doing this and trying to run an estimate on the cost involved, Mike walked in the office and listened to what was going on and said, “How are you going to take the buildings down?” And I said, “We will probably bring in a large size crane similar to what you see on home makeover and knock the buildings apart, pick up the debris, and cart it away.” He said, “Let me think about that for a minute.” He went into the office and Don and I continued working and finished what we were doing.
About an hour and a half later Mike came back into my office and said, “What if we blow up the town? That would get the buildings all in pieces and you still can bring in your equipment to pick up the debris and cart it away.” And I said, “That’s fine.” He replied, “I will write a show that is where we will blow up all the buildings. I will not blow up the little house nor the church, but my thinking is to blow up all the other buildings.”
That in place Mike went and wrote a script called The Last Farewell. Now while we were preparing the show we had to run a few tests. We were not sure if we blew up the town what kind of force it would take and how close we could get our cameras. So the first building to be blown up was the Garvey house. That was a test. Luke Tilman, our special effects man, rigged the building with explosives and we set a platform which we thought we would have the cameras on. We had a few water wagons and a few other necessary pieces of equipment there to run the test. We blew up the Garvey house and as it blew up we realized that our camera platforms were really too close because they also fell apart. We brought in the water wagon, drug out the hose, and the hose had more leaks in it than anything else. So that was, we learned, a bad moment as well.
So, than it was decided the first building that we would blow up would be the house Laura Ingalls Wilder was living in, which was the two story ornate house that we had put up in a separate location from the town. After that it was decided on a given date when to blow up the town. I had to go to the local sheriffs department to make arrangements with them so they know when the actual explosions start that it wasn’t some attack or something happening in the area. I also had to alert the fire department. They brought out extra equipment to assist us if anything caught on fire. So it was quite a chore to rig everything that needed to be done in place, and therefore, we had it set for a given date to blow up the town.
On the given morning we had, I believe, five cameras running. The first building we blew up was the mill and when the water wheel came tumbling down it broke my heart because that was the centerpiece that brought everyone together in the town. And from there I think we blew up the seed and feed, we blew up Nellie’s Restaurant and Olsen’s store. I think the final things to go, but not sure of its order was the post office, Doctor Baker’s office and the blacksmith’s shop.
This is the original reason why the buildings were blown up. It is also true in some respect that Michael did say at a time that he wanted the buildings destroyed because he didn’t want any other show to come in and use them in commercials or another western to take over where we left off. I think that brings it up to date. Hope you all understand.
Lennon: Thanks again Kent for sharing this information with me and all the fans of Little House around the world.
Susan McCray, casting director for Little House and close friend to Michael Landon told me that Kent and Mike loved the town and wept as it was destroyed. During and most especially at the conclusion of the day, there wasn't a dry eye on anyone's face, most especially the faces of the two men who loved it the most ... they cried and hugged each other after they got home. Kent and Susan, most of the time, would pick up Mike, drive to location and then bring him home. That day Mike asked if he could come back to the McCray home for a little while and share a toast to a place that would remain in their hearts forever.
I also asked if anybody kept any items after the explosion or any memorabilia and was told by Susan that nothing but wood sticks were left after the explosions, but Susan saved and treasures the little figurine that was on the Little House mantle. Kent bought all the props and wardrobe pieces from the show after they wrapped. All were housed in a large warehouse at the western location "Old Tucson", in Tucson, AZ where they had filmed numerous shows. One morning Kent and Susan were awakened with the tragic, heartbreaking news that there was a major fire at Old Tucson and all was destroyed. Melissa Gilbert saved her wardrobe dress and had it beautifully framed. It hangs proudly on a wall in Melissa's living room.