Reflections on the Prairie

Sidney Greenbush and Toban Rinehart at the Walnut Grove reunion in Plum Creek, Minn., last July.

Sidney Greenbush was three years old when she filmed the pilot for “Little House on the Prairie,” an American Western drama television series about a family living on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minn., in the 1870s and 1880s.

Greenbush and her twin sister played the alternating role of Carrie Ingalls, the third daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, portrayed by Michael Landon and Karen Grassle in one of the most popular shows in America, based on novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her childhood in a pioneer family. 

Born at Hollywood Community Hospital with her twin, Rachel Lindsay Rene, Greenbush lived in Silverlake until she was two, when her parents moved to Malibu. 

“My family moved up Deer Creek around 1972 and then moved by Point Dume in 1977,” she recalled. “Back then Malibu was not a city but an unincorporated area of Los Angeles and homes were much more affordable.” 

Over the years, she attended public school. 

“Malibu was so small back then there was no high school; just the junior high that ended at ninth grade,” said Greenbush, 44, who graduated from a high school in Santa Monica because the campus was the closest within the school district. 

When she was on the set, she and her twin were overseen by social workers keeping track of their school time. 

“You were required to do ‘X’ amount of hours depending on your grade level,” she explained. “Even if you were done filming for the day if you had not done your school hours then you had to stay until it was completed.” 

Knowing the filming schedule in advance “we would ask our teachers for the assignments for the days we were filming, complete them on the set and turn them in when we returned,” Greenbush said. “We had to renew our work permits every year, so we had to keep our grades up.” 

Her father, an actor, was billed as Billy Greenbush in films including “Five Easy Pieces,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and “Jason Goes To Hell.” 

“My parents really didn’t have a plan to get any of their children in acting,” she said. 

Her father was in a director’s office when a call came from a director. 

“The director said … he wanted twins,” Greenbush said. “My father’s friend suggested my sister and I.” 

Their mother took the girls for the interview and they landed the role of Jill in the movie “Sunshine” directed by Joseph Sargent, who referred the twins to Landon during the casting for “Little House on the Prairie.” 

“When we went for the interview Michael took us in his office without my mother to see what we would do; it didn’t faze my sister or me,” Greenbush said. “Without my mom taking us to the interview and to work every day we would never have had the chance to be on ‘Little House.’” 

In the early years Greenbush filmed at Paramount Studios and later moved to MGM. 

“We also filmed in Simi Valley but we would sometimes film in Sonora and Twain Hart, California,” she said. 

One of her first memories on the set was the time she and her sister each received a miniature director’s chair with their name on the back just like the rest of the crew. 

There were so many different components to playing a child actress she couldn’t pinpoint what she enjoyed most. 

“When you grow up doing something from a young age you think everyone does it,” Greenbush said. “You think it is all normal everyday life. By the time I was 12 it was all over.” 

The most challenging part of portraying Carrie was not growing up on the show. 

“They wanted her to stay a little girl so they would write things for Carrie that would have been for a much younger child,” Greenbush said. 

While Greenbush no longer acts, she continues to participate in “Little House” reunions, most recently attending a reunion at Plum Creek in Minnesota in July. 

“This year was the 40th anniversary of the airing of the first episode so there were a few appearances to do,” said Greenbush, who is not married and does not have children. 

She currently works for a residential builder as a sales system administrator. “I never thought I would have an IT type job but that’s what I do,” she said. 

Looking back on her life so far, Greenbush believes life is about learning and growth. 

“Sometimes we learn by our mistakes and sometimes we learn by our success; when you stop trying you stop learning,” she said. “Every second, emotion, highlight, tragedy, failure, success, human interaction … has had a hand in shaping the person I am today.”