Entertainment » Celebrities

At 90, Bonnie Bartlett Remembers 'Little House on the Prairie'

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Aug 14, 2019
Bonnie Bartlett
Bonnie Bartlett  

Bonnie Bartlett has been a working actor for more than 60-years; and, at 90, is still working, most recently on an episode of "Better Call Saul." Those with long memories remember her from an ongoing role on "St. Elsewhere," for which she won consecutive Emmy Awards for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1986 and 1987. Her husband, William Daniels, won the corresponding Actor Emmy in 1987 for a role on the same show, making them the second husband and wife team — after Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne — to win the award in the same year.

For many, though, Bartlett is remembered for her stint on "Little House on the Prairie," the Michael Landon-helmed family series set in the 1870s and 1880s on a Minnesota farm. Bartlett played Grace Snider Edwards, a widow working in the post office and raising three children. Her stormy marriage with a mountain man named Isaiah Edwards (Victor French) became the focus of her character's arc over her four-year stint on the series, which ran for nine seasons.

Bartlett has never stopped working over her 65-year acting career. From a long-running role in the 1950s on the soap opera "Love of Life," through guests roles on such hit series as "The Rockford Files," "Eight is Enough," "Lou Grant" and "ER"; as well as mini-series and films as "V" and "North and South." In the 1990s she appeared on her husband's series "Boy Meets World," then in this century has had roles on "Touched by an Angel," "Huff," "Boston Legal," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Parks and Recreation."

EDGE spoke to Bartlett recently about "Little House," which is celebrating its 45th anniversary, working in Hollywood and being married to the same man (William Daniels) for 68 years.


Bonnie Bartlett on "Little House on the Prairie."  

EDGE: How did you get your start in show business?

Bonnie Bartlett: I have been acting since I was about 5-years old and I knew that is what I wanted to do. Growing up, I performed in school plays and local theatre. After high school, I enrolled in Northwestern because my father wouldn't let me go to New York. After I graduated, I headed to Broadway.

EDGE: Thinking back on your more than 60-year career, what have been some of the highlights?

Bonnie Bartlett: In my freshman year at Northwestern, I had a big part as Barbara Allen in "Dark of the Moon." That was an amazing show and an amazing part for me. It turned out to be a very important role for me because a lot of people saw it who I later worked for in New York. Daniel Petrie, the film director, saw me perform at Northwestern and when I got to New York, he gave me a lot of work and recommended me for a lead role on a soap opera, "Love of Life."

EDGE: When you hear it's the 45th anniversary of "Little House" what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Bonnie Bartlett: I had the great opportunity to play on "Little House" for four years. I loved every minute of my time on the show. What I remember most is my very first day on set. Michael London immediately cast me as Grace. What made my character great was that sometimes the storylines were funny and then they could be serious. There was a great range of emotion that you got to portray.


Falling of a log
Bonnie Bartlett and Victor French on "Little House on the Prairie."  

Falling of a log

EDGE: What did you like about your role as Grace Snider Edwards on "Little House?"

Bonnie Bartlett: When we first moved to California, my husband, William Daniels, sent me to his agent and I thought I would not get any work because I was 45-years old. I ended up getting everything that they sent me on. For me, playing Grace was like falling off a log. She was so me. It was like I was put back in the 1880s and I was who I was meant to be. I am really a country girl and always will be.

EDGE: Do you keep in touch with any actors from "Little House?"

Bonnie Bartlett: Not anymore. I would see Melissa a lot because she became the President of the Screen Actors Guild after William. I was friends with Katherine MacGregor, who played Harriet Oleson on the show. We had worked together in New York in the early days of our careers. She was a great actress and played Harriet so well. She was so mean.

EDGE: What was it like working with Victor French, who played Isaiah Edwards, whom you married on the series?

Bonnie Bartlett: He was a lot of fun. We had a great relationship and I loved working with him. My fondest memories of him are when we filmed the episode when we got married. That episode was very moving for me. I was an older lady and to have a little romance was wonderful. Michael didn't treat us like old people, he treated us like family.


Key to a happy marriage
William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett at the Emmy Awards in 1987  

Key to a happy marriage

EDGE: Besides "Little House" and "St. Elsewhere," you have appeared on a lot of great shows. Do you have a favorite?EDGE: Besides "Little House" and "St. Elsewhere," you have appeared on a lot of great shows. Do you have a favorite?

Bonnie Bartlett: In the last couple of years, I have gotten to appear on "Better Call Saul," "Parks and Recreation," and "Grey's Anatomy." Its been a lot of fun to still be working and meeting some great new talent. I am going to keep going as long as I can.

EDGE: What are your thoughts about Hollywood now compared to when you started out?

Bonnie Bartlett: I am 90, so anyone who is as old as I am in this industry has seen a lot of change. Each decade of my career has introduced me to many new things. Although, I am glad I started out when I did I am glad to continue to have new experiences.

EDGE: In 1986, you and William both won Emmys for your roles in "St. Elsewhere." Where do you keep your statues?

Bonnie Bartlett: They are kept on a shelf in our family room. We are the second married couple to win Emmy's on the same night. The first couple was Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. They won back in 1965.

EDGE: Congratulations on your recent 68th wedding anniversary. What is the secret to your marriage with William?

Bonnie Bartlett: Love, admiration for each other (and the work that we do), and perseverance. William is a kind, gentle, and loving man. He has kept me laughing since day one.

Bonnie Bartlett: In the last couple of years, I have gotten to appear on "Better Call Saul," "Parks and Recreation" and "Grey's Anatomy." Its been a lot of fun to still be working and meeting some great new talent. I am going to keep going as long as I can.

EDGE: What are your thoughts about Hollywood now compared to when you started out?

Bonnie Bartlett: I am 90, so anyone who is as old as I am in this industry has seen a lot of change. Each decade of my career has introduced me to many new things. Although, I am glad I started out when I did I am glad to continue to have new experiences.

EDGE: In 1986, you and William both won Emmys for your roles in "St. Elsewhere." Where do you keep your statues?

Bonnie Bartlett: They are kept on a shelf in our family room. We are the second married couple to win Emmy's on the same night. The first couple was Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. They won back in 1965.

EDGE: Congratulations on your recent 68th wedding anniversary. What is the secret to your marriage with William?

Bonnie Bartlett: Love, admiration for each other (and the work that we do), and perseverance. William is a kind, gentle, and loving man. He has kept me laughing since day one.


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