Seeing Double: Two Sets of Twins Portrayed Carrie and Grace Ingalls
Rachel Greenbush, Robyn Greenbush, Wendi Lee, and Brenda Weatherby Share Memories of Little House on the Prairie
Written by Karen Brewer
Identical twins Rachel Lindsay Greenbush and Robyn Sidney Greenbush portrayed Carrie Ingalls, and identical twins Brenda Turnbaugh Weatherby and Wendi Turnbaugh Lee portrayed baby Grace Ingalls on the beloved television series Little House on the Prairie.
The roles of the two youngest Ingalls daughters on the television series Little House on the Prairie were portrayed by two sets of identical twins: Rachel Lindsay Greenbush and Robyn Sidney Greenbush played Carrie for eight years (beginning at age 3 ½), and Brenda Turnbaugh Weatherby and Wendi Turnbaugh Lee shared the role of Grace for four years (beginning at age eight months). While visiting the real Walnut Grove, Minnesota, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the series, both sets of twins shared about their experiences and memories from their time as part of the Ingalls family on Little House.
Rachel and Robyn still live in southern California. Rachel lives in Simi Valley and recently married at the Big Sky Ranch, where Little House was filmed and where she first met her now husband, when she was age 7 and he was age 14 and visiting the set to watch filming. She recently completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting. “That was an achievement for me,” she said, “so you’re never too old to go back to school.” Both Rachel and Robyn expressed their delight at coming to the reunion and being able to meet Little House fans.
Wendi and Brenda also were happy to be able to greet fans at the reunion. Both live north of Santa Barbara, California and brought their daughters and their mother to the Little House reunion. “It’s my first time in Walnut Grove,” said Wendi. “We’re so excited to be here.” A wife and mother of two, Wendi has a home-based business, making flowers, and Brenda, a mother of three whose husband is a youth pastor, has returned to college, studying for her master’s degree. “I love the outdoors, and I’ve been training for triathlons,” Brenda added. “We’re so happy to be here. It’s so fun to see our cast family. It’s like a family reunion for us.”
All shared fond memories of the late Michael Landon, who portrayed their father, Charles Ingalls, and Karen Grassle, who played their mother, Caroline Ingalls, on Little House on the Prairie. “He was always kind of a jokester,” Robyn said of Landon. “The creek that ran by the house used to get little toads in the springtime, and we would catch the toads and take them to Michael, and we’d say, ‘Put it in your mouth. Put it in your mouth.’ And he would. He’d put the frogs in his mouth.”
“But then he’d go a step further,” added Rachel. “He’d put the frog in his mouth and go talk to someone and let it jump out at them.”
The Greenbush twins also remembered Landon teasing them about a creature he called the rhinogator living inside a box in front of the Ingalls barn on the set. “He used to tell us the rhinogator lived in that and you couldn’t open it. Melissa Gilbert and one of us, each twin, on either side of her, we’d creep up to it, and then, as soon as we’d get to it, he’d lift it up and go, ‘The rhinogator!’ And he’d slam it down and go, ‘Run!’ So, we thought there really was a rhinogator in there.”
“I would describe him as kind of like a teddy bear,” Robyn said of Landon, “because he was always joking around. And he would try and help us and mentor us. He was also very smart, because he saw a vision for the show and the path that he wanted to take it on, and he really built it into what it was, and it was his creative vision.”
“To that,” said Rachel, “I would add, when I think of Michael, I think of his silent strength that just came from within him. And a lot of times on the set, he didn’t talk, because he was really thinking about the next thing that he was going to do, but he just had this inner strength, that he had such presence, without even saying a word. He was just very strong.
“My Dad was an actor, too, so he was away from home a lot. So, I really do think of Michael as kind of a step-in dad. He was a role model for me. And Karen was so absolutely loving all of the time, and, in the early years of the show, she didn’t have children of her own, so she was so motherly, and just the way she was on screen, she was off screen. She was always looking out for me, always helping me, always guiding me. So, to have those two incredible role models in my young life was absolutely amazing.”
Wendi and Brenda were both so young when they started that some of their experiences they don’t remember but have enjoyed watching in Little House episodes. One of their favorites is in the episode “Oleson versus Oleson,” where Michael Landon, as Charles, is feeding little Grace. Pepper was put into their food, so that they wouldn’t like it, and Grace puts her arm over her mouth, refusing to eat Pa’s cooking. “But then we would never eat from him again, so I like that it kind of backfired on him.”
Other experiences have been shared by their mother, who was on the set. “Mom told us this as we were growing up. We had these little movie chairs (on the Little House set) that said ‘Wendi’ and ‘Brenda’ on them. We used to always go into the bigger chairs that all of the other cast members would have. One time, we fell out of the back of it, and so he said, ‘Okay, we’ve got to get little chairs for Wendi and Brenda.’ So, we still, to this day, have these little miniature chairs. They’re so petite, like a three year old would fit into them. And so he even thought of us and wanted to make us to feel like a special part, even though we were so small.”
While they did not have the exact same relationship with Landon as the older children who played their siblings, simply because they were so young, the Turnbaugh twins have fond memories of their television father. “He was so kind, and he really tried to show every person their value in the show, and that was important, because we were just little babies that could have been kind of looked over.” They said they appreciate not only the way they were treated but also the way that Landon treated their mother, who was on the set with her daughters every day.
Many of their memories of Landon, they said, are from watching the show. “Just like you, you see the model of a loving father and a loving husband and a loyal friend, who would stand up for what’s right.”
They were so young, and spent a lot of time with them on the set, that they said they trusted both Landon and Grassle, both of whom they considered an extension of their own family.
Both Turnbaugh twins have fond memories of their television mother. “We were babies. We had fun with lots of people, but I think she was kind of our on-set Mom. But I think we’d let anyone pick us up and twirl us around. We were in heaven.”
“I am still in contact with Karen,” said Rachel. “She lives up north (in northern California), and she’s very active in the theater up there. She continues to act and to be on television and do many things.”
The twins keep up with fellow cast members, particularly through e-mail. “It’s the most convenient way for everybody that’s on the go,” said Rachel, who saw several cast members, including their cast siblings Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls Wilder) and Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls Kendall) and Matthew Labyorteau (Albert Ingalls) on The Today Show in New York a few months earlier. “Melissa (Gilbert) lives out of state now, so I probably won’t see her as much, but we talk through e-mail with most of the cast members all of the time.” Referring to Melissa Sue Anderson, Rachel said, “I hadn’t seen her since the show ended. She used to live in Canada. She’s coming back to the States because her children are grown. It was really nice to see her again. She was really sweet. I enjoyed catching up with her.”
Matthew Labyorteaux’s first episode as Albert, “As Long As We’re Together,” the first episode of the fifth season, was also the first episode for the Turnbaugh twins. (Near the end of season four, in the episode “A Most Precious Gift”, in which Grace is born, another baby was featured, before the twins were cast.) “His first episode was our first episode. We were babies. We love Matthew. He’s great. Obviously, we were really little, so I think our memories of him are more what we saw of him on the show.”
“Both Matt and his brother, Pat, were sweet, nice people to work with, very professional for a young age,” said Rachel. “I would have to say our cast and crew were truly like a family. And when the series did end, it was disbanded so abruptly, the abruptness of not seeing anyone anymore was hard to deal with, because these people became woven into your daily life.”
The twins have fond memories of other fellow cast members.
Referring to the late Victor French, who portrayed the character of Isaiah Edwards, Rachel said, “He was the same fun-loving big kid off screen that he was on screen. He would ‘fly’ us around like planes when we were little and always make us laugh and smile.”
“And we used to play a game where we would sit in his chair, like the ones we had that had our names on them, and we’d form a line,” said Robyn. “Whoever was in the front of the line couldn’t laugh. If you laughed, you went to the back of the line.”
The late Dabbs Greer portrayed Rev. Alden and the late Kevin Hagen played Dr. Hiram Baker on Little House. “Dabbs was a super sweet man,” said Robyn. “I remember he was always so nice to us. And Kevin Hagen was also a very sweet man. His son actually used to be on the set, too, and you can find him in clips as one of the school boys. But they both were just wonderful, wonderful people.”
The late Merlin Olsen, a former NFL Professional Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman, turned to acting in the role of Jonathan Garvey on Little House. “He was the biggest gentle giant,” said Rachel. “I loved the man so much. He was so gentle. Pat Labyorteaux (Andy Garvey on Little House) tells a story about talking to Merlin. He goes, ‘Merlin, what were you like on the football field? What was it like playing football?’ And he looked down at Pat and he goes, ‘Son, you wouldn’t want to know me on the football field.’ But off the field, he was just a big, gentle, compassionate giant. I just loved him.”
“I think we all loved Merlin,” said Robyn. “Because he was such a big guy, he was kind of ominous, you know, but I never knew him to ever say a mean word, a rough word, to anyone. Matt Labyorteaux dated Merlin’s daughter for awhile, and he said that that was the longest walk he ever took, up to the door to pick up his daughter. ‘Hi, Mr. Olsen, sir, I’m here to pick up your daughter.’”
Wendi and Brenda remember Olsen in the same way. “When the show ended, we had kind of like a big celebration at the end, and I remember taking our Little House books around and having all of the cast members sign them. I remember Merlin scooped me up, and we had a little dance on the dance floor. And so I always remember he was very kind and gentle. There are special moments with all of them.”
Rachel describes the character of Harriet Oleson, as portrayed by Katherine ‘Scottie’ MacGregor, as “over the top. She was very boisterous and a very big presence.”
“She was loud,” said Wendi. “I really have very few memories of her, but I remember one time we were in the store (Oleson’s Mercantile). You know how the kids come in and all the kids grab the candy? Well, we got to get candy out of one of those jars one time, and I just remember thinking she was the nicest lady, because she gave us candy.”
“When I think of Katherine,” said Brenda, “I just think she’s talented.”
“The Olesons were characters on a show,” said Rachel, “and they were mean, but not one of them was like that in real life. Alison continues to keep me in stitches with her witty humor, and her quick-witted humor at that. And Richard Bull was an incredibly loving, compassionate, sweet gentle man.”
“It’s funny, because sometimes we associate the characters with being part of that person’s personality,” said Robyn. We get asked all of the time if Mrs. Oleson or Nellie were really that mean, and the reality is no. It was overdone to make it look that way. They were the most genuine, sweet, endearing people. Jonathan Gilbert, Melissa’s brother, who played Willie, was so nice and about the same age as our brother, so we all would play off the set together, because there wasn’t anybody else to play with. We all really got along very well.”
Rachel said that it would take 10 days to begin and complete an episode of Little House. “We had to have an episode shot, edited, and put together in 10 days, so that it could air every week. So, you had to have the filming done within 7 days. Michael worked a lot of extra hours in just a crazy schedule, and then I think about the times that he was doing Father Murphy at the same time as he was doing Little House. We’re really talking about burning both ends to the middle. He really was just a workaholic.”
Wendi said that her favorite episode in which she appeared in Little House is “Dance with Me,” in which guest star Ray Bolger played the character of Toby Noe. “There is a scene with me and Ray Bolger. I’m in the high chair, and he’s telling me his woman problems,” she said. “My kids and I just watched it a week ago. My son’s name is Tobey, a little bit after Toby Noe.”
Brenda said that it’s difficult to choose one particular episode as her favorite. “I have a lot of favorite episodes I wasn’t in. I have a lot of them I was in,” she said. “I think probably my favorite that I was in was when Laura and Almanzo’s house was hit by a tornado. This was one of the first episodes that they told me, ‘Okay, you have to do this,’ and I was very nervous about it. Laura and I are walking down the road, swinging arms, and then she sees the house, and she starts throwing rocks and all that, and then I have to run to this field and supposedly go find Pa. So, I was running and running, and they kept yelling, ‘Don’t look back; don’t look back!’ It was one of those tense moments that I felt like probably the first time I had to do something and take it really seriously. That was one of my favorite episodes that I was in.”
“How do you narrow it to just one?” Rachel asked, about choosing a favorite episode. “But “Ma’s Holiday”, for sure, is one of my favorites. The pilot. “Little Girl Lost” was a great one. There are so many good ones. But one of my favorite memories of Little House is being nailed to the roof by Mr. Edwards. I can remember them putting a harness around my waist, and I can remember them pulling my dress out around the harness, so the camera wouldn’t see it. I remember looking down at both Melissas and thinking, ‘Oh, this is so much fun.’ That’s probably one of my most favorites. But “The Lord is My Shepherd” was a great one. It’s really hard to narrow it to just one.”
“My favorite episode,” said Robyn, “always will be “The Godsister”, because, not only did we get to work together, but, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to scare the tar out of their sister with a huge spider? But we got to go to heaven and see Jack. And we used a new type of television filming called MagiCam, and it was one episode that was based around Carrie and her imaginary friend, Alyssa. So, that will always be my favorite, because we got to work together on it, and it was kind of Michael’s way of telling everybody that we really were twins, that we were two people.”
Identical twins Brenda Weatherby and Wendi Lee, who both shared the role of Grace Ingalls, and identical twins Rachel Greenbush and Robyn Greenbush, who took turns playing the part of Carrie Ingalls, share memories during a three-day cast reunion in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the television series Little House on the Prairie. (Photography by Karen Brewer)
When asked if their children watch episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Rachel answered, “My daughter used to, when she was younger, but not so much now, because she’s been around it so much, but she still enjoys it.”
“I have a seven year old and a nine year old, and we watch it on Monday nights,” said Wendi. “We watch the dvd’s, and we are up to the middle of season five. We were just born at the end of season four, so they waited a long time for us to be born.”
“My daughter is an avid watcher,” said Brenda. “And, if she’s home from school, sick, we always watch Little House.”
When asked how it was determined which twin would act in which episode or in which parts of an episode, Robyn answered, “When we were younger, it really just depended on what time of day they got around to filming a scene, because, when we were little, we used to go down for a nap, and they’d try to alternate our nap, so that one of us was awake and we were not napping at the same time. Sometimes, it was just luck of the draw. But, when we were older, and we could actually read the scripts and be more active, we would alternate.” There were times, she said, when her sister was more active in playing the role, “because I broke my arm and I had a big cast on my arm, so they had to hide it.”
In the opening credits, Mary, Laura, and Carrie Ingalls are seen running down a hill, and Carrie falls. “The clip that you see is me,” said Robyn. “The funny story,” she said, is that her sister did it first, “and she fell down, and she wouldn’t do it again. So, they came and got me, and I ran it. It was really steep, and I fell down. You can see when I get up, I kind of looked ahead of me, and my Mom was by the camera, going, ‘Come on, honey, run, run, honey.’ And I kind of had weeds in my fingers from falling down, and I look down and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, no.’ So, I walked the rest of the way down.”
In one episode, Carrie Ingalls falls down a mine shaft. “That’s an even better story,” said Robyn. Her sister was the one who fell down, but Robyn was the one who got rescued.
“That was a really fun scene to film,” said Rachel. “They tied the butterfly to my dress with a fishing line, so it could never actually get away from me. They tied it so close to me, so that it would stay in camera frame, that I could have caught it at any time. So it was hard not to touch it and still look believable. And then they dug out this big hole in the sand, and they put this board hanging out over the hole, and they threw sand on it, so you couldn’t tell it was a board, it would kind of blend in. So, then, I had to walk out on the board, coming through like I was chasing the butterfly, and jump off the end of the board and then hide down in the hole, so that I would be out of camera frame. And so that’s how I fell in.”
The Greenbush twins’ brother, Clay Greenbush, two years older, acted as one of the schoolchildren in Little House scenes. “He was in a few episodes, but the one that he is the most famous for is “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” where he makes the face.”
Their father, Billy Greenbush, is an accomplished actor. “He’s done a lot of westerns,” said Robyn. “He was on Gunsmoke and Bonanza twice. He did Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin. He played a cowboy in M*A*S*H. He did Tom Horn with Steve McQueen. He did Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. He was Alice’s first husband that crashes the Coca Cola truck before she meets Kris Kristofferson. He did Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson. And he did Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, Dukes of Hazzard, The Hulk twice. He did a lot of work. He did Forty Carats with Gene Kelly. He did The Culpepper Cattle Company with Geoffrey Lewis and Luke Askew and Bo Hopkins. He’s done a pretty good body of work.”
“He also did Mackintosh and TJ with Roy Rogers, which is the only movie where Roy Rogers actually gets hit,” said Robyn. “My Dad hits Roy Rogers.”
Rachel and Robyn were age three when they acted in the movie Sunshine a year prior to Little House. “It’s a true story about a woman that gets cancer and leaves a legacy through her daughter,” explained Robyn. “It starred Cristina Raines and Cliff De Young, and it was directed by a man named Joseph Sargent. We played Cristina Raines’ and Cliff De Young’s young daughter, Jill. Joseph Sargent loved us so much, when he worked with us on Sunshine, that he actually referred us to Michael the following year for Little House on the Prairie. At that time, they were just casting for a made-for-tv-movie which maybe could go into a series. So, my Mom curled our hair, and she took us to the interview.” Her sister, she said, “walked right up to Michael and climbed into his lap and said –”
“I’ve seen you on tv,” said Rachel.
“We passed that part of the interview, and we were cast for the tv movie, and the series was picked up.”
Wendi and Brenda had no prior acting experience. “We didn’t have an agent or anything,” said Wendi. “Our grandmother was friends with Kent and Sue McCray. And so they played bridge together and told them about the show all of the time. And it was like, ‘Oh, we can’t find a Grace.’ And my grandmother was like, ‘My daughter just had twins.’ Michael took a look at us and said, ‘Sure, they’re fine.’”
Rachel said that she loves the creative aspect of acting. “I think getting to play make-believe is the best part, getting to do things that you normally wouldn’t get to do in real life, especially in the case of Alison, as Nellie, who got to do things that you can’t do in real life, and have fun doing it.”
When they first started on Little House, Rachel and Robyn were too young to read and memorize their lines. “When we were really little,” said Robyn, “they would say, ‘When somebody says this, you say that,’ or ‘Do what Mary and Laura do.’ That kind of thing. And then, when we got older and we could read, we were more capable and we could remember our lines.”
Wendi’s and Brenda’s mother jokingly confessed, “One time, Michael asked Wendi to do something, and she said, ‘No way, Jose.’”
“My Mom said that, to have babies on the set, they have to be really good babies,” said Brenda. “So, my Mom was really strict with us, and I think that’s awesome, because she never wanted us to make anyone wait or be an inconvenience. I’m sure we had our toddler moments, but my Mom probably kept those under wraps.”
“That ranch was like our playground,” said Rachel, who added that the children on the set were often accompanied by an adult and taken out to the hills to search for fossils. “And there’s a big shale mine, which is part of the history of Simi,” she said. “They used to mine for shale, and now they mine for sand there.”
“When we had summer vacation and didn’t have to be tutored on the set,” said Robyn, “we never really got in trouble, but I would say we were a little mischievous. There was a big pond that went under the bridge in town, and there was the creek by the house, and sometimes we’d play around the pond and look at the polliwogs, and the one in town had the big cattails, and we’d pick the cattails and hit each other with them until they exploded. So, we would have fun. We never really got in trouble.”
“My poor Mom used to let us take polliwogs home,” said Rachel. “Like they were going to live, right? We’d go to the upper barn to get lunch every day, and they’d always have a cooler or a couple of coolers with dry ice and ice cream you could have for dessert, because it would be really hot in Simi. And we used to always steal the dry ice and then go throw it in the pond and watch it smoke and bubble. We did get into some mischievous stuff, but I don’t remember ever really getting into trouble.”
Of all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, upon which the television series was based, Wendi claims Farmer Boy to be her favorite.
“On the Banks of Plum Creek was good,” said Brenda. “I liked them all. I was a history major in college.”
“What I found was really neat,” said Rachel, “was to see the differences in the books from the tv show. We had this cute, fluffy dog named Jack that was nothing remotely close to a bulldog. And if you really think about it, he would have picked up every burr, every stick, every thorn on the prairie and probably would have had dreadlocks from not being brushed. But that was the neat thing for me, to go back and read the books and to see the differences between how they actually lived life, even from Carrie and Grace having straight long hair to growing up where I (as Carrie) actually wore braids and then the bun. Those were all rights of passage in pioneer life, and to be able to take that and associate it to the show and know that’s why, that was really neat.”
“There were a lot of things that were historically accurate,” said Robyn. “And being in Simi Valley, we would have planes fly over, so, every once in a while, you would hear somebody say, ‘Plane, Plane, cut.’ And you would have to wait for the plane to fly over. And then we always had to take off all of our jewelry and our watches and everything that we had, because nothing was authentic. And I remember when we would get our hair done, the hairdressers had what I thought was the strangest concoction, because it was like this round hole that got really hot and you put these scissors-like things in there, and they were period curling irons. When the women would get their hair done for the set, they actually would use the old curling irons to do their hair, so that it would have the same look. So there were a lot of things like that. You’ll see Ma has to pump the water and those kinds of things. They were set up to be realistic, because that’s what was in that period of time.”
“I would say the same thing,” said Rachel. “A lot of the props were authentic. They were replicas, but they were authentic. If you remember the butter churn that would be in the corner of the house, the wood hutch that Pa made, my doll that I still have, the porcelain dolls that Nellie had. There were a lot of things that were replicas, but they were true and authentic for that period of time.”
Rachel still has the doll that she, as Carrie, had on the Little House set, but there is something else that she wishes she had from the series.
“I do have the doll,” she said. “Her name is Debbie. But I wish that I had Melissa’s blue Sunday dress, because, when I grew up, and I got to wear my hair in braids and wear Melissa’s blue Sunday dress, I looked up to her so much, I thought I was so grown up. It meant so much to me, that I got to wear that dress and have blue ribbons in my hair. So, after the show ended, I really wish that I would have asked if I could keep it.”
After Little House, Brenda and Wendi were only four years of age, and, after briefly acting, entered kindergarten and a normal life of school. “After Little House, we did one commercial, and we got to dress up like little cowgirls, and we had little guns, and we chased around these little two Indian boys, and it was really fun. But it was so different from being on Little House, like going to auditions and leaving, saying, ‘Why don’t they like us, Mom?’ So she just kind of said, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore.’”
“After Little House, I did a movie called Hambone and Hillie,” said Robyn, “and I had a cameo role with Alan Hale, Jr., the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. That was a lot of fun. And then, when I got into high school, I participated in my high school production of the eight-hour version of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby, and that was a lot of fun, too.”
“After Little House, I filmed an episode of Matt Houston with Lee Horsley,” said Rachel. “The episode was called “Butterfly,” which was the name of my character. And then I tried out for Return to Oz. They did a nationwide search, and I got in the top 12, and then I got in the top 3, and they ended up choosing a girl that was a bit younger than me. I was 13 or 14 and she was 9, and they told me that the producer wanted me, but the director wanted a young girl. He said the reason for it was, if the movie was a success, they could make more sequels using the same girl before she outgrew the role. But I still have my script and my sweatshirt and everything that they gave me when I screen-tested at Disney. And then, after that, I decided that I needed to take a break. I was going into high school, and you’re kind of trying to find where you fit, so I took a break from acting after that.”
All of the twins agreed that, although they would love to be involved in a reunion movie of Little House, they are not sure that is possible, since so many cast members have passed away, and it would not quite be the same without those who are gone.
That makes a reunion like this really special, because they are able to meet with Little House fans and reunite with their fellow cast members. “We get to catch up with our extended family,” said Rachel, “because we really are an extended family.”