Hersha Parady, who won the hearts of Little House on the Prairie viewers with her 1977-1980 portrayal of Walnut Grove schoolteacher and Ingalls Family friend Alice Garvey, died yesterday in Norfolk, Virginia, following surgery last month for the brain cancer meningioma. She was 78.
Her death was announced by her son Jonathan Peverall. Parady died in Peverall’s hometown of Norfolk.
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In a Facebook post last night, co-star and friend Alison Arngrim, who played the troublemaking Nellie Oleson on Little House, wrote, “Our wild, untameable, talented Hersha has left us. Rest in power.”
Although Parady made her TV debut in 1971 on the series Bearcats! and appeared that decade on Mannix, The Waltons and CBS Afternoon Playhouse, she debuted in her signature role of the Little House teacher in 1977, beginning a three-season run that would end with one of the series’ most shocking and well-remembered installments: The February 4, 1980, episode titled “May We Make Them Proud: Part I.”
In an era when series regular cast members infrequently were killed off, Parady’s Alice Garvey met just such a fate in a fire that ravaged Walnut Grove’s School for the Blind. Unintentionally ignited after young Albert Ingalls (Matthew Labyorteaux) surreptitiously discards a lit tobacco pipe in the basement, the fire would claim the lives of several people including teacher Alice and the infant son of Mary Ingalls Kendall (Melissa Sue Anderson).
The scene in which Parady’s Alice, holding the baby, attempts to break through a stubbornly sturdy schoolhouse window would later give rise to a TV urban legend that series creator Michael Landon pranked Parady by substituting an unbreakable window for the standard fake, easily shattered glass typically used in such scenes.
While the Landon legend is unfounded, the sturdy window did cause Parady to apply extra effort in her escape attempt, prompting the image of the schoolteacher using the infant as what many fans still refer to as the “baby battering ram.”
Despite the grim ending, Parady often referred to “May We Make Them Proud: Part I” as her favorite Little House episode, once saying in an interview, “In spite of the impending doom it would bring – at least I went out with a roar and not a whimper! Working with the special effects guys and the LA fire department was a first for me, and to be surrounded by ‘controlled’ fire and readied fire extinguishers, I was ready to act up a storm! I loved every minute of it!”
After Little House, Parady made appearances on such TV series as The Phoenix (1981), Unsolved Mysteries (1996), Second Noah (1996), and Kenan & Kel (1997).
According to a GoFundMe page started by her son following the tumor diagnosis, Parady had relocated from her home in Van Nuys, California, to Peverall’s home in Norfolk as her illness progressed. While brain surgery earlier this summer initially seemed successful, Parady subsequently developed pneumonia and was placed on a ventilator as her condition deteriorated.
A native of Berea, Ohio, Parady began acting at the Cleveland Play House before relocating to Los Angeles and launching her TV career. She is survived by Peverall, her son with the late John Peverall, producer of The Deer Hunter and The Man Who Fell To Earth.
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