Publishers Weekly announces Friendly Family Productions’ New Licensing agreement for Little House “Lifestyle” merchandise

Publishers Weekly Announces Friendly Family Productions has new Licensing Agreement for Little House “Lifestyle” Merchandise

The industry digest, Publishers Weekly, has announced that Friendly Family Productions, owners of the rights to television, movie, theme parks (!) and other media and merchandising of “Little House on the Prairie” -related productions, has made and agreement with Knockout Licensing to represent a “Lifestyle” brand. The vision for the brand is focused upon marketing to 5- to 10-year-old-girls with a few select products for adults, and features items such as dolls and journals. 

The article indicates this effort was spawned by research conducted on behalf of FFP which concluded the “Little House” brand was more recognizable in 2010 than it was during the television series’ first run in the 1970s and early 1980s. The news is hardly surprising, since the children of that era are the parents, even grandparents, of today, and not only grew up with the TV show as background noise, but very often discovered the books as a result of the attention given the show. Those children, most of whom are now in their 40s and 50s, and the next generation, have grown up reading the original Wilder series and had access to hundreds of related publications, both scholarly and fan-fiction. In the media, as well as viewing the TV series, there have been various made-for-television movies, including the 2005 Disney effort, and the wildly popular (although not technically related) PBS series, Pioneer House.

One of my earliest Laura treasures...handcrafted "Laura" dolly for Christmas, about age 6.  Will the new "Lifestyle" products look like this, or should we be prepared for something more tiara than sunbonnet?

One of my earliest Laura treasures…handcrafted “Laura” dolly for Christmas, about age 6. Will the new “Lifestyle” products look like this, or should we be prepared for something more tiara than sunbonnet?

What else could account for this increased visibility? Significantly, the last few decades have witnessed the aforementioned huge increase in scholarship surrounding the Ingalls and Wilder families. This research push began in earnest in the 1970s with the investigative works of William T. Anderson, who began publishing while still a youth himself, and who inspired scholars and curators around the country to dig deep in the local archives and see what relevant information could be unearthed. Primary finds were often the result of collaborative efforts among interested parties: Anderson had the foresight to interview numerous family and friends of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. While still a boy, Anderson even had the good fortune to corresponded with an elderly Lane! With the help of such local figures as De Smet News (South Dakota) publisher and defacto town historian Aubrey Sherwood, Anderson was in turn able to identify Ingalls and Wilder artifacts and historic structures/landscapes which were in danger of being forever lost. His publications relevant to the Ingalls and Wilder legacies number about 20, and several have undergone multiple revisions and republications. Anderson is a very visible and active supporter of the Wilder legacy, spending most of his free time venturing from one Laura town to another, researching and fundraising at various Wilder homesite museums. He has advised and advocated for these museums throughout his career, and has served on the board of the Laura Ingalls Wilder-Rose Wilder Lane Home Association in Mansfield, Missouri for decades. He makes regular public appearances at the Wilder homesite museums and several other locations where an interest in Wilder is the big draw. His personal appearances always gather a large crowd as he addresses myriad questions on the details of the real Ingalls and Wilder families. His books sell heavily throughout the U.S., and are a staple on Wilder fans’ bookshelves, as well as in the gift shops of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite museums…not to mention at dozens of similar shops at history museums throughout the country.

Some of the earliest acquisitions in my "Laura Books" collection, including Spaeth, Anderson, Miller, Walker, an early edition of Wilder's These Happy Golden Years, and my original set of 9 paperbacks from childhood.

Some of the earliest acquisitions in my “Laura Books” collection, including Spaeth, Anderson, Miller, Walker, an early edition of Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years, and my original set of 9 paperbacks from childhood.

A smattering of the publications available to die-hard fans, including Trini Wenninger, Amy Lauters, Mary Jo Dathe, Catherine Latane, Pamela Smith Hill, the late Dorothy Smith, and several Anderson and Miller titles.

A smattering of the publications available to die-hard fans, including Trini Wenninger, Amy Lauters, Mary Jo Dathe, Catherine Latane, Pamela Smith Hill, the late Dorothy Smith, and several Anderson and Miller titles.

Another, related factor is live entertainment. Traveling theatre troupes, such as Arts Power! stage productions and the Little House on the Prairie Musical (another FFP effort) have enjoyed large audiences and frequent sell-out crowds. Public appearances and promotional segments with Little House television cast members have increased greatly in the last decade. The Little House Musical stage production, initially starring a grown-up Melissa Gilbert (the former “Half-Pint,” this time starring as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls) had a successful and long-term run across the United States: this writer attended, and met Gilbert backstage, in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2010. Add to that, several television cast members have published memoirs, and embarked on book tours. Alison Arngrim (“Nellie Oleson”), Melissa Sue Anderson (“Mary Ingalls”), Melissa Francis (“Cassandra Cooper” and now featured at Fox Business) and Gilbert (“Laura Ingalls Wilder”) all released books in the last 5 years and promoted such with numerous appearances at bookstores and large history museum events, including several at Wilder museums. Arngrim also tours the U.S., Canada, and France with her stand-up comedy show, and works tirelessly to advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse; hers has become a household name in some very unexpected places. 

Other important factors? I’d be remiss to leave out the hundreds of presentations of authors and independent researchers, many of whom, at least among Laurati, have become household names in their own right. Fans of all ages regularly turn to these authors’ and researchers’ publications and presentations for more detailed information concerning any number of Laura-related topics. I cut my researcher teeth on John E. Miller’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town (a study of the early years of De Smet, Dakota Territory, in which the Ingalls and Wilder families were quite literally among the very first white settlers), and learned new ways of analyzing the novels with Janet Spaeth’s contribution to the Twayne United States Authors Series of literary criticism, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Community and school audiences have been delighted by the Arts Power! productions, certainly, but it is also true that researchers who have devoted their lives to the legacy of Wilder are in demand, and not just in the form of sales at booksellers. Rather, they are also in demand at schools, libraries, colleges, historical societies and small museums which play host to bestselling memoirists (Kelly Kathleen Ferguson and Wendy McClure, most recently) as well as historians with an emphasis on niche scholarship.

These presenters all share a common bond of being inspired from an early age by Wilder’s writings; indeed, many of these authors count Wilder as THE reason they developed literary aspirations. And, published or not, several historians–yep, I’m one of them!–have been touring the States for many years, presenting research-based, and often first-person, interpretations of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder. The programs are typically interactive, wherein the presenter will often use historic objects and skills demonstrations to vividly illustrate Wilder’s works, while answering questions covering all aspects of Wilder’s real life, career, and the era in which she lived. To name a few: Connie Neumann, Judy Green, Marie Tschopp, Marian Cramer, Ann Weller Dahl and many others have years–in some cases decades–of public presentations in a wide variety of styles and subject areas relevant to Wilder to their credit. Sarah Utoff has presented at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library a dozen or more times. Nicole Elzenga, collections manager of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Tourist Center in Walnut Grove, Minnesota (http://www.walnutgrove.org/museum.htm), spends a good deal of her working life visiting and presenting at elementary schools throughout the region to share an insider’s knowledge of the extant artifacts. In just over 4 years of my first-person programming, I have already presented educational programming at schools, libraries, museums, and community events in seven states. The interest in our work is everywhere.

Clearly these presentations, which sometimes are delivered to crowds numbering several hundred, are in demand with both educators and anyone else who worries as the the current generation becomes increasingly detached from knowledge of our nation’s earlier period, and with those who seek to make a connection to the past using Wilder’s work and life as the conduit.

The logo for the first LauraPalooza, 2010.

The logo for the first LauraPalooza, 2010.

If you need more proof, make yourself a plan to attend the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association‘s third academic conference, lovingly known as LauraPalooza, next July 2015 at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. There, you’re likely to find hundreds of Laura enthusiasts from all walks of life in rapt attention as speakers ranging from NOAA scientists to YA authors, physicists to librarians, musicians to college professors, all present their research on any aspect of Ingalls and Wilder research which one might imagine. For many of us, the biggest thrill of attending LauraPalooza is the opportunity to listen to our Laura heroes give talks about their work, and later hobnob with these people who have set the stage for the latest crop of researchers. John Miller, Barbara Walker (foodways historian and author of The Little House Cookbook), Bill Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, Kelly Ferguson, and Wendy McClure, among many others, have all been most generous with their time and knowledge at these conferences. I hope the membership can convince more of the most beloved Wilder scholars to attend in 2015. And if you’re a Wilder researcher yourself, you might want to think about submitting your work when the call for papers goes out this summer: http://beyondlittlehouse.com/2014/05/15/countdown-to-laurapalooza-2015-timeline/

Judy Green, Connie Neumann, and myself at LauraPalooza 2012.

Judy Green, Connie Neumann, and myself at LauraPalooza 2012.

So, what does this all mean? Undoubtedly, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Little House and related activity; a market for merchandise generally goes hand-in-hand with any popular interest. My (far too many) years in retail management and visual merchandising tell me that any merchandise effort must be carefully planned and executed, regardless of the beneficiary of the spoils. Not insignificant here is the timing: Blu-Ray pressings of the Little House TV series are off and running, after a successful DVD box-set launch several years ago which featured the production of several hours of interviews and bonus materials brought together by Dean Butler (“Almanzo Wilder,” and the force behind Legacy Documentaries). FFP, in its partnership with Knockout Licensing, would be wise to make note of what the fans are most inclined toward and skip the pink-princess aisle of the local MegaMart, but one wonders if that is an option such an entity would even consider. Perhaps the pink-princesses need a run for the money; perhaps this is what FFP is banking on. There is no doubt the market for children’s toys has been noticeably and increasingly gendered in recent years, and the big box stores hold much sway in the production, marketing, and even packaging of toys. Will the Little House dolls and other children’s merchandise in the works through this deal be as–forgive me–Rose-y as the rest of the so-deemed “Girls” aisle in the MegaMart? Or will Friendly Family Productions take the high road and offer attractive, quality, non-sweatshop-produced toys that even us grownup fans can appreciate? Only time (and the bottom line?) will tell.

As for me, my devotion is, and always has been, to the preservation of artifacts, manuscripts, correspondence, ephemera, structures, homes, and landscapes with historically significant ties to the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. While my childhood self adored the television show, my adult, historian/preservationist self recognizes that the show was a means to sparking my interest in the legacy which would serve as the primary link to all my scholarly inquiry. And as most any starving scholar will likely tell you, I prefer to spend my hard-won fun money in support of the nonprofit institutions which protect those artifacts, manuscripts, correspondence, ephemera, structures, homes, and landscapes with significant ties to Laura. Any t-shirt, doll, or coffee mug I acquire these days is in direct support of the institutions operating with a stated mission to preserve the heritage of real people and educate the public with work rendered by dedicated scholars. If that happens to include the occasional “Not your Mother’s Child Advocate” item featuring an in-character Alison Arngrim-as-Nellie Oleson graphic to support http://www.Protect.org., so be it; Arngrim has made many appearances in direct support of Wilder’s legacy, so supporting a cause we both hold dear is only logical. But you won’t find her image in the pink princess aisle of the MegaMart, either.
Wink, wink.

My sister and I met Alison for the first time in 2010, at a booksigning event at R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut.  Alison's knowledge of the three women who inspired the Nellie Oleson character she portrayed for 7 years on television is impressive.

My sister and I met Alison for the first time in 2010, at a booksigning event at R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut. Alison’s knowledge of the three women who inspired the Nellie Oleson character she portrayed for 7 years on television is impressive.

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“Road Trip!!” Adventures in LauraLand, v2013, about to commence…

2 July 2013

In a few days, I’ll be embarking on yet another cross-country (well, most of the way…) trek from my home in New England to various points West, reaching, at minimum distance, Keystone and Custer State Park in South Dakota. With any luck, and some careful planning, I will be able to add at least a new state or two to the running tally of those I’ve visited in my lifetime. I’d like to get to Wyoming, Colorado, and a new-to-me section of Nebraska so I can finally see parts of the Oregon Trail. Originally, the plan also included some historic sites in the OKC area as well as return visits to 2 primary Laura sites: the Little House on the Prairie Museum (site of the Ingalls family’s “Indian Country” settlement near Independence, Kansas) and Bessie and Manly’s final home at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri with one of my Laura friends.  But, as is de rigeur for my experience, Life is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans.

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A little hiccup (okay, a really big one, but I’m trying to be cheerful here) in the health of my baby kibbie, a.k.a. Quinn, has necessitated a delay in my departure.  Quinn is a fighter, and still very kittenish for her 15 or so years, but, as a former stray, the unknowns of her early history make her a bit susceptible to various health problems, and she ended up in surgery on the day of my planned departure for the west.

Just prior to my departure for GCV&M Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, August 2012.

Just prior to my departure for GCV&M Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, August 2012.

Not being one to take pet care lightly, I elected to delay my trip by a week to give her time to get the healing process underway and make sure she’s improving before I hand her off to my very capable family for the next several weeks.  Plus, I like to snuggle her, and since I have the time off from work anyway, why not get a few more hours of QT with kitty while I do some of the reading I would otherwise do in a lonely hotel somewhere in Huskerdoo?

1880 Town, Midland, South Dakota.

1880 Town, Midland, South Dakota.

Price Tower Arts Center (Frank Lloyd Wright design) Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Price Tower Arts Center (Frank Lloyd Wright design) Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Besides, I’ve seen many of the states I’ll be trekking through before, and my mission on each trip is to experience something new and visit places I’ve always wanted to go.  I’ve seen a lot of states over the years, and have racked up a relatively impressive number (…of states visited…get your mind out of the gutter!) by some standards.

Hole in the Mountain, at the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, Highway 14.  This view is looking east, because the sky was prettier and this side of the sign was more legible for some reason.  Strange, I would think this would be the side where all those sweeping winds would scour the lettering flat!

Hole in the Mountain, at the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, Highway 14. This view is looking east, because the sky was prettier and this side of the sign was more legible for some reason. Strange, I would think this would be the side where all those sweeping winds would scour the lettering flat!

How many states have I been to?  Well, I’m not at 50, nor 40, nor even 35.  BUT, I’m working on it.  I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and take every opportunity to visit somewhere new.  Beginning in early childhood, when my parents took us to visit family in Upstate New York, or friends in Florida, travel has nearly always involved a roadtrip. By the time I had a driver’s license, I was planning when and where I’d go the minute I had my own car (which, in my family, meant when I had saved enough of my own earnings to buy and insure one!).  Almost deliberately, I chose a Toyota with a standard transmission so I would have to learn to drive a stick, which meant that, between classes and shifts at the grocery store, I was taking little Joey out for a lot of practice trips on back country roads through various counties in northern New Hampshire.  Almost immediately, I began to discover just how much I adored exploring rural countryside, and roadtrips of any distance were soon a way of life.

Somewhere near Mansfield, Missouri, 2011.

Somewhere near Mansfield, Missouri, 2011.

Over the years, I found ways to fit travel into my meager budget by combining missions.  A friend wants to go to her nephew’s birthday party 3 states away?  Road Trip!  My new favorite band will put me on the guest list at shows around the northeast if I promote them everywhere I go?  Road Trip!  My boss needs to get something delivered 100 miles away by 5 pm?  Road Trip!!!!!  Any excuse I could find.  Before I knew it, I’d racked up over half a million miles on various old beater cars: the Toyota, two VW Foxes, a Saab, and two Jettas.

Stormy Outhouse DeSmet ish 2011 DSCN2435

Are You Privy? Just behind the town house, east of De Smet, SD.

These days my mileage total is upwards of 850k, over 6 cars, in some 20 years. The newest car was 4 years old (but I kept it until a cargo van ended its life at age 12); all of the cars were at least a dozen years old when they retired, and all but one of the retirees registered well over 200,000 miles on the odometer.  The record holder for most miles in shortest time was Gretyl, acquired in May 2010 with 119k miles.  Twenty-one months and NINETY THOUSAND MILES later, while attempting to return from a Laura gig a few hours from home during a nasty ice storm, Gretyl, with her superior handling, spared my life but sacrificed her own.  The odometer read just over 209,000.  Something tells me she had a lot more miles in her, but the frame, although intact, would never be quite right again, and I couldn’t risk it. But, I was so impressed with her fortitude in my near-death experience that I went out and bought another Jetta just like her…

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My current Jetta, acquired last year, is a relative youngster, only 11 years old and just crested 150,000 last weekend.

Gretyl, on the LIW Historic Highway, Rt 14 West, Lake Benton, Minnesota. July 2011.

Gretyl, on the LIW Historic Highway, Rt 14 West, Lake Benton, Minnesota. July 2011.

Where have I been in all those miles?  Hmmm…well, some states I have only driven through a corner of, not even stopping to buy gas or eat a meal.  So, I will skip those.  If we count only places where I have at least gotten out of the car, looked around, eaten, or stayed overnight, the tally as of now is 30/50 States. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you I have spent about a year’s worth of days and nights traveling in the U.S., even though I have lived in the same state my entire life.

Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, May 2011.

Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, May 2011.

So, where have I done all this roaming?  All of New England, all of the Eastern seaboard, plus…Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri…30 states, plus Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.

Porch of Almanzo Wilder's birthplace, Burke (near Malone), New York, 2011.

Porch of Almanzo Wilder’s birthplace, Burke (near Malone), New York, 2011.

In recent years, I have been visiting LauraLand on an annual basis.  In 2012, I was there twice!  This year, I hope to finally ride the 1880 Train between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota.

I hope to finally see the Badlands for longer than just the occasional glance out the window as I’m whizzing down the highway in a hurry to get back to Brookings for a gig the next day.

Main Avenue, Brookings!

Main Avenue, Brookings!

I hope to visit Prairie Homestead, and the land Carrie Ingalls homesteaded as a single “spinster” near Philip, South Dakota, prior to her marriage 101 years ago.

West of Pierre, South Dakota.

West of Pierre, South Dakota.

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers…although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

A bison farm along the Missouri River, close to the North Dakota/South Dakota border, October 2009.

A bison farm along the Missouri River, close to the North Dakota/South Dakota border, October 2009.

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers...although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers…although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

But mostly, I hope my keet-ten is feeling better really, really soon (and wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for her to travel comfortably with me, in no fear of over heating or losing her to an amble on the high plains?).  I don’t like to leave her behind, and if I wasn’t already committed to several gigs some 1,700 miles from home, I’d stay put for now.

Quinn, about age 7, October 2005. Back in those days she had to put up with a beagle, a burmese, and a second person in the house!  She's much more spoiled these days, being undisputed Monarch of the Manor.

Quinn, about age 7, October 2005. Back in those days she had to put up with a beagle, a burmese, and a second person in the house! She’s much more spoiled these days, being undisputed Monarch of the Manor.

Just a few necessities for the Meet Laura gigs.  Sometimes I almost forget which are the street clothes and which are "Mrs. Wilder's."

Just a few necessities for the Meet Laura gigs. Sometimes I almost forget which are the street clothes and which are “Mrs. Wilder’s.”

“That’s right, you saw what you saw.  That’s how we roll in the Shire!”

Closed, in observance of Native American Day, De Smet, South Dakota, 12 October 2009.

Closed, in observance of Native American Day, De Smet, South Dakota, 12 October 2009.