Susan McCray (Little House Casting Director) Exclusive Interview!
Susan, Thanks for letting PrairieFans.com interview you about your
job as casting director on Little House on the Prairie.
It is my pleasure to answer your questions.
1. Wow, It's been a little over 30 years now since Little House first aired on TV. What do you think of it's success after so many years? Would you have thought it would still be as popular today as it was many years ago?
It is not surprising to me that Little House is still successful after 30 years. Because it is a period piece and based on fact, it does not become dated. I think It will continue in perpetuity - especially through cable and local stations. Also because of the DVD's being released. There are, in fact, more people watching Little House than when it first aired all those years ago due to cable channels.
2. What was it like being the casting director on Little House on the Prairie? Any memories about this job that you will never forget?
It was a great joy working with a great group of people on Little House. Working with Michael Landon as his casting director was extra special because I was able to find actors who were not as well known on film We had no interference by network executives because they had faith in Mike's ability to get the right people for "his" show - in turn, he had faith in my ability to find them for him. He let me find and cast actors who had not been exposed to major roles on television and literally discover them.
I think the most memorable day for all of us on Little House on the Prairie was the day the town blew up and all the sets except for the church and the Little House were destroyed. It was truly the saddest day for all of us after being a family for so many years.
3. Speaking of casting, it has been said that Michael Landon was not the original actor picked to play Charles, but another actor was and he didn't show up on the set and Michael took the role on. Is this true? If so, who was the actor that was supposed to have played Charles?
That is not true. Michael Landon was the one and only actor asked and offered by NBC to portray the role of Charles Ingalls.
4. Michael Landon was loved by millions, but to you and your husband Kent, he was your best friend. What is your fondest memory of Michael?
We loved Michael. He considered Kent the brother he never had. He was family to both of us. He had the greatest sense of humor of anyone I ever knew. He was a great writer - who had the ability to touch people with his stories, He was a great director - truly an actors director. He knew when to let the actors do what they do best and guided them with great care. He truly was one of the most talented and underrated talents in the business. Michael's compassion for people and those who were in need was never publicized. He did things that no one knew about because he didn't feel it was necessary for others to know about it. He would never capitalize on the misfortune or troubles of others.
He was best man at Kent and my wedding and Kent was best man at Mike and Cindy's wedding. Since we lived near each other in Malibu, we would pick Mike up in the morning and drive to location. I would sometimes cast with him in the car using pictures and bios of actors. Because Mike would be working all the time - mostly on location and wouldn't have the time to
cast in an office, he would trust me that much - and that was wonderful. The best part of that is that it always seemed to work.
Sometimes I would bring actors out to the set and Mike and I would cast between shooting scenes - in his trailer dressing room. One of those was when I brought Jason Bateman in for Mike to meet and to read. Jason was scared, nervous, did not have much experience at all. But, Mike was great with him. Made him laugh, and put him at ease. Jason developed into a terrific talent. The dressing room/trailer was always a joke around the set. The story - Whenever I would make a deal for a guest star actor, usually the agent would ask for a major dressing room possibly RV for the client. My reply was always the same. Your client will get the same size dressing room as Michael Landon. That of course was always accepted. When the actor would arrive - they saw the dressing room was indeed the same - a room in the "Honey Wagon" which is the rig that is used, small space, to change clothes and has a very small bathroom. No big mobile home etc. for Mike - that was not important to him. He would sometimes even change in the wardrobe trailer. He was the best!
I would be remiss if I didn't make a comment on actors who have chosen to, what I call "trash" Michael in the media or within their work. They were lucky to work with him and they were lucky to know him. And if they don't feel that way - then they should think about who, and where they would be without "Little House" As a matter of fact all who have chosen to bad mouth Mike personally and/or professionally, not only use his name but they use the character name they played in "Little House", in order to promote themselves. Mike was the one who hired them.
5. Jennifer Landon, Michael's youngest daughter was nominated this week for the 2006 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series for her role as Gwen Norbeck on the CBS daytime soap opera "As The World Turns." Do you think Michael would be proud of Jennifer for this nomination and for following his footsteps?
Michael would be overjoyed with the success of Jennifer. Though she was only 7 when he died, she has his sense of humor and his ability to relate to people - whether it be acting or as herself. He would tear up with great pride at what she is accomplishing.
6. You did the casting for all of Michael's projects. Do you have a favorite project you enjoyed casting of Michael's the most?
I loved casting all of our shows because they touched people's lives. I also loved casting them because we were able to cast very special people. I had many great loves - one was "Where Pigeons Go To Die" with the great Art Carney who became a very dear and close friend until his passing. He and Mike loved each other because they were both basically shy people. I loved the "US" pilot we did for CBS - Mike's last project. I loved "The Loneliest Runner" based partly on Mikes' early life and I loved working on "Sam's Son" with Eli Wallach and the series "Highway to Heaven" with actual stories that touch everyone's lives. Actually driving to work in the morning, Mike would sit in the back seat of the car -because as he called us --mommy and poppy had to sit in the front, and Mike (we called him Sonny) would read the newspaper to us. Invariably some of those stories were written into story lines for Highway. Reality and truth is what touches people and that is what Michael knew..
7. Do you have a favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie?
I have several favorite episodes of Little House one starred Ernest Borgnine entitled "The Lord Is My Shepherd" another starred Patricia Neal entitled "Remember Me" I have a special feeling for that one in my heart because the poem read in the episode written by Michael Landon was read at his funeral. It always makes me cry I hope I get it right - "Remember me with smiles and Laughter for that is how I will remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears and sadness then don't remember me at all"
8. Fans around the world would love to see a Little House TV reunion. Do you see this happening down the road?
I don't see a reunion happening. But, the good thing is that we have the original to remember how very special and wonderful the show was. My personal feeling, as was exhibited in the recent making of a "Little House show on ABC, is that without the original cast - namely Michael, being not only the lead actor, but being the back bone of it, the show loses its special qualities namely love and relating to people. Remakes just don't seem to work when made from "classics" that people remember and love.
9. If you could go back and change one thing in Little House would you, and what would you change?
I can't imagine changing anything so special.
10. Finally, How are things going for you these days? Any projects in the works?
Things are going wonderfully these days. I have just finished a children's book based on my father's early career - he was an Oscar winning composer and concert pianist. The book is called Harry's Piano and it starts with Harry at the age of 5 playing piano and I take him up to Harry's first appearance as guest piano soloist at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood California. It is truly a labor of love for me. I start touring with the book for signings and reading to elementary schools.
I have a new Internet Radio show "Getting to Know You with Susan McCray" on ksav.org. It gives me the opportunity to interview and share the backgrounds of people from all walks of life with listeners. I have already taped several Little House cast members for the show including
Merlin Olsen and Dean Butler with more to come. I am on the Board of Regents at the University of Hartford in Hartford, CT. I have donated my father's career memorabilia and Steinway Grand piano to the University which is now in the new Foyer named for him - The Harry Sukman Foyer. I wrote the stories for all 9 panels which will be on permanent display in the Foyer. The dedication was fabulous. Vincent Falcone Frank Sinatra's musical director and good friend of my father's flew to Hartford and performed as conductor and pianist w/his trio for the dedication concert - it was spectacular.
I have produced and hosted several charity benefits. Including a celebrity fashion show luncheon to benefit the ALS Assoc. (Lou Gehrig's Disease) which I had done for five years in memory of my mother Francesca. The event raises money to go towards augmentative communication devices to those who have lost the ability to speak due to this horrific disease. I also have been hosting an event with celebrities to benefit The Council on Aging in Arizona..
Thanks again for letting PrairieFans.com interview you about your work on Little House on the Prairie. Do you have anything you would like to say to all the fans around the world?
To all the wonderful fans of "Little House on the Prairie" Please know and keep the thought in your hearts that the show was produced as a labor of love. by its star Michael Landon, and by its crew lead by its producer Kent McCray. It was produced in order to touch people and to show love and understanding within the family. If it moved you at all - whether it be in tears or in laughter then it succeeded in accomplishing all we hoped it would.
For more information on Susan McCray visit her Official Web site at www.susanmccray.com. To Purchase Harry's Piano and to receive an autograph copy of it visit www.harryspiano.com.
Webmasters Note: Interview was done on February 10, 2006. Special Thanks to Susan McCray for the headshot of her on the top of this page.