American Masters


Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page trailer

An unvarnished look at the unlikely author whose autobiographical fiction helped shape American ideas of the frontier and self-reliance. A Midwestern farm woman who published her first novel at age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder transformed her frontier childhood into the best-selling “Little House” series.

AIRED: December 29, 2020 | 0:03:26

(gentle music)

- [Voiceover Actor] "Once upon a time 60 years ago,

a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin,

in a little gray house made of logs.

The great dark trees of the Big Woods

stood all around the house,

and beyond them were other trees,

and beyond them more trees.

There were no people."

- [Narrator] When Laura Ingalls Wilder told the stories

of her childhood,

millions of young readers were spellbound.

For teachers, the "Little House" books

were a perfect primer on the settling of America,

written by someone who was there.

- "I realized that I had seen and lived it all,

all the successive phases of the frontier.

First, the frontiersman, then the pioneer,

then the farmers, and the towns.

And then I understood that in my own life,

I represented a whole period of American history."

- Laura Ingalls Wilder

is the quintessential American pioneer.

Thousands of people had very similar experiences

as Wilder and her family,

but her storytelling made that an adventure story.

- [Voiceover Actor] "Pa and Ma were still and silent

on the wagon seat,

and Mary and Laura were quiet too,

but Laura felt all excited inside.

You never know what will happen next,

nor where you'll be tomorrow

when you are traveling in a covered wagon."

- [Narrator] After more than 30 million copies sold,

and a long-running TV show,

the "Little House" books are a part of the American fabric,

and so is the woman who based them

on her extraordinary childhood.

- We have the image of this wonderful white-haired,

pretty lady telling America's kids

all these great stories.

That became an urban legend.

- [Narrator] To her readers,

Wilder's novels were a wondrous achievement

from a humble farm woman who seemed

to have perfected her craft all on her own.

They had no idea the books emerged

from a hidden collaboration with her daughter, Rose.

- Rose's role in this is not to be dismissed.

- Friends of hers ask her,

"What did you have to do with your mother's books?"

And she cut them off very sharply.

It was a deep, dark secret.

- I think all good writers are mysterious in some way,

what was real and what was not real in their lives.

- They're wonderful family stories.

They show us who we want to think we are.

We want to think that we're self-reliant pioneers.

We want to think that that's the truth about ourselves,

but when you examine that fantasy,

you realize that the reality was much, much,

much more complicated.

- [Woman] There are two Lauras.

There's Laura of the book,

and there's Mrs. Wilder, who used to be Laura.

- "All I have told is the truth, but not the whole truth."

(gentle music)


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