Legacy Documentaries’s new film, “The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” makes a woman out of the little girl whom so many readers grew up with.
Unfortunately, many of her readers never get beyond the “growing up” years of Wilder’s life, which she lovingly preserved in her fiction series. “The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder” takes viewers beyond their initial impression of young Wilder and reveals her as a woman of perseverance against adversity.
Dean Butler, who played love interest Almanzo Wilder in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series, is the narrator of this insightful documentary. He guides viewers through the important stages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s later life, including the partial paralysis of her husband, Almanzo, the death of her newborn son, and a fire that destroyed part of her property.
“What she had were memories of her childhood—stories of a time in danger of being forgotten,” Butler says. In “The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” these stories are lifted out of the page and on to the screen with the help of dramatic re-enactments, which are enhanced by wonderfully simple period costumes, frontier scenery, and a peaceful original score. Yet even the lovely imagery cannot take away from the film’s true message: Wilder’s life, although happy, was fraught with trials that tested her spirit.
Many viewers may not be aware of some key tragedies that marked her childhood. For example, Wilder had a baby brother who died at 9 months old. Her family then moved to a town called Burr Oak in Iowa where they lived across the street from a drunken and lecherous tavern.
Wilder chose to omit these more difficult years of her life, perhaps because they brought too much pain to think about. Some of the things she did decide to include—Mary’s blindness, for example—was argued against by publishers and her own daughter, Rose, who helped her mother edit.
Rose Wilder Lane acts as a bit of an antagonist in “The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” and it this mother/daughter, writer/editor relationship that is the most interesting to witness. Many times Rose’s editorial advice pushed her mother to become a better writer. Other times, their opposing viewpoints clashed; one would want the story’s details to remain truer to life, while the other would advocate for artistic liberty.
At one point during the writing process, Rose even steals some of her mother’s stories and uses them in her own work—without permission—a deed that damages their relationship.
All the while, these encounters are illustrated by footage of actors’ hands making argumentative gestures against a turn of the century backdrop.
But like the best stories, their relationship comes to a happy conclusion. “The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder” is as informative as it is inspirational, and it ensures that Wilder’s life is a story of hope and courage until the very end.
“The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder”
Directed and Narrated by Dean Butler
Running Time: Documentary, 56 minutes,
Bonus Material, 35 minutes
Chelsea Scarnegie, from the Chicago area, has a degree in writing.