Was stuck at home with a sore throat that was keeping me from sleeping. I was tooling around the dial and came across a Michael Landon marathon on TV Land the other night. I was not a regular watcher of Little House on the Prairie when I was a little kid, but everyone my age remembers this episode called “May We Make Them Proud,” which was the talk of the playground the day after it originally aried.
Yes, everyone in their mid-thirties. I’m talking about the blind school fire.
Generally, this show was a sweet, old-fashioned confection, always topped off at the end with a lovely Landon-ized moral, most often something along the lines of “it’s not nice to make fun of fat kids,” “it’s not nice to make fun of stuttering kids,” “don’t cheat on your math test,” “it’s not nice to make fun of kids with one leg seven inches shorter than the other,” “progress is bad bad bad!,” or “never hide in an ice house that has a trick lock on the outside.”
But every so often, Landon would slap us viewing sheep upside the head with some perectly repugnant horror story, like a little girl getting raped by a mask-donning psycho, morphine addicts blowing chunks on camera, ma going crazy and trying to gnaw off her own leg, or parents rolling off a fifty foot cliff and crashing into a ravine as their newly orphaned kids wept in the panic of total abandonment.
Also, on occasion, one of the Ingalls kids would get shot in the head, suffer a stroke, get mauled by a pack of wild dogs, or drown in the local lake.
But all of those pale in comparison to the infamous blind school fire.
Television wasn’t promoted to the extent it is now, where you’re pretty much told all week long what to expect on the next episode. So kids in the seventies would plunk themselves down to watch their favorite shows, bowl of chocolate chip ice cream in hand, expecting nothing more than the ultimately upbeat Little House morality plays they were used to seeing, week after week.
Then this crazy shit goes down, and none of them slept for the next month.
Let’s take a frame-by-frame look at the scariest-ass piece of 80’s television this side of Gary Coleman almost getting his cornhole fingered by Gordon Jump on Diff’rent Strokes.
Baboon-faced Ingalls Foster Child and Anonymous Day Player are toking up in the basement of the blind school. Okay, so far the episode is shaping up to be nothing more than a cautionary tale on the dangers of tobacco and disobeying ma and pa.
Several minutes later – oops! Okay, but everyone will make it out safely and it will be like that episode of Happy Days where Chachi accidentally burns down Arnolds. A cautionary tale on fire safety and owning up to one’s mistakes. After all, this is family hour television. Nice production work, though.
Good-hearted long-standing third-string character Alice Garvey hears crying and busts into the room to get the baby. Oh, thank god. All will be saved, and this will be a cautionary tale on rescuing crying babies from fires, or something like that.
Finding it difficult to make an exit down the burning staircase, Alice heads for the upstairs window and uses Baby Ingalls as a battering ram. But apparently a single pane of 1870’s glass proves too much for her, and she and the baby go down in flames accompanied by a distrubing amount of screams. Meanwhile, blind Mary and Adam and all the blind orphans sit outside and watch… well, not so much watch as point their faces in what they hope to be the general direction of the conflagration, proving that while stutterers, hobblers, and fat-asses can still make positive contributions, blind people are basically useless drains on pioneer society.
Okay, what the fuck is going on here? Is this Little House or an Irwin Allen disaster flick? I signed up for an hour of light-hearted wilderness merrymaking. Where’s the lovable drunken frump Mr. Edwards? Where’s that half-witted gork Carrie? Why couldn’t she get torched? Where’s the prairie bitch? Where’s Manly? Where’s Half Pint for god’s sake?
Charles goes dead-baby hunting and hey! He comes up a winner. Another Ingalls kid bites the dust, but at least the horses will eat tonight.
As the camera winds through the smokey wreckage, nine year old Gary Green is torn. Do I run out of the room and admit to my parents I’m being terrified by an epsiode of fucking Little House and need a re-assuring hug, or do I suck it up? My trust in television has been irrevocably shaken. What’s next? Jennifer Hart getting anally raped by a hot hair iron? Captian Stubing gutted like a salmon by guest star Barbi Benton?
Poor actress playing Alice Garvey asked Heir Landon for a pay raise, and now she’s been Fajita-fied right off the show. Husband and son gawk at wrapped up body. The way this episode was going, why bother with a sheet? Why not just show the two of them hugging and kissing Alice’s steaming, roasted loins? Instead, husband curses god and asks for directions to the neareat pine box outlet store.
Mary wakes up from a ten day morphine-induced praire nap, “Oh, I’m so refreshed! You know, I’m so fortunate. I’ve survived scarlet fever. I’ve lost my vision, but I can still look on the sunny side of life. Hey… where’s my baby?”
“Uh, Mary, sit down. I have some news. I hope you take this well.”
Unfortunately, Mary does not take it well. Jesus Christ! Am I actually seeing the slit-open wrists of Melissa Sue Anderson? Is that Ingalls blood spilling down the facade of Nellie’s family restaurant? That definitely won’t be good for business.
Mary ends up going bananas. Blind and bananas. Good thing she’s already landed a man.
At least we get to see Prairie Bitch for a moment. She’s a hoot! And no amount of tragedy will keep her from donning that oversized donkey bow.
Then suddenly it’s just over. I’ve soiled my pj’s, and I get abruplty smacked out of it with the traditional end credits, snappy upbeat music, and Melissa Gilbert skipping through the fields and pretending she’s a bird? Hasn’t she heard the news? Is she just in denial?
Of course the biggest question of all is, do I have ANYTHING better to be doing on a Sunday afternoon than create this post? Couldn’t I be reading a book? Getting some fresh air and exercise? Well, I suspect that other people out there were as disturbed by this episode as I was back in the day. This is a way for all of us to come together and share our grief, take comfort in one another’s bosoms. Fajita Alice Garvey and Bar-B-Que’d Baby Ingalls would have wanted it that way.