I learned yesterday that Merlin Olsen has passed away. Merlin Olsen was a football player, a sports commentator, and an actor on such programs as Little House on the Prairie, Father Murphy, and Aaron’s Way. My family called him “Mr. Flowers” because he was a deliverer of flowers on TV commercials.
Here are some Merlin Olsen moments that I want to share:
1. Merlin Olsen was Victor French’s replacement on Little House on the Prairie, after French had left the show to star on the series Carter Country. Here’s what’s ironic. On an episode of Highway to Heaven, Victor French’s character, Mark Gordon, was delivering flowers to a football player in his hospital bed. The football player said to French, “With your beard and the flowers, I thought you were Merlin Olsen!”
2. I enjoyed some of Merlin Olsen’s Little House episodes, in which he played Jonathan Garvey. One was called “The High Cost of Being Right,” and it was about Jonathan and Alice getting a divorce, which, fortunately, did not happen. But the title has often moved me, since it reminds me that always having to be right can lead to a lot of disaster in relationships.
On another episode, a telephone network is set up in Walnut Grove, and the nosy operator, Mrs. Olsen, listens to other people’s phone conversations. She learns that Alice Garvey had a husband before she met Jonathan, and that he’s being released from jail. Jonathan is outraged to learn about this, and he goes to meet his wife’s ex-husband, who works at a bar. Jonathan doesn’t tell him who he is, and he comes to sympathize with the man, as well as appreciate the treasure that his wife truly is.
It was sad when Alice Garvey died on the show, and Jonathan and his son, Andy, had to move on. I admired how Jonathan still accepted Albert, the boy who accidentally set fire to the blind school, resulting in Alice Garvey’s death. He even went after Albert when Albert ran away.
There are other moments in my mind from the show, as when Jonathan became a wrestler in an episode with Ray Walston (who looked the same as when he was older), and busted corruption as a town sheriff. Then there’s the episode in which Albert and Andy try to prove to their fathers, Charles and Jonathan (respectively), that they can survive on their own. The fathers secretly follow their sons, hoping to bail them out when they turn out to be wrong. But it’s the fathers who end up with egg on their faces, on more than one occasion! And the fathers admit to their kids that the kids did a good job.
3. Unfortunately, I never got to see Father Murphy, which was another show made by Michael Landon (though Landon didn’t star in it). I’d like to someday, but the DVDs are too expensive for my budget! But my family enjoyed Aaron’s Way, which was on for only a year. On that show, Merlin Olsen played Aaron, the father of an Amish family, which was continually confronting modernity. I remember Aaron giving a Bible study to his family under a tree, which reminded me of my dad’s family Bible studies.
But another scene that sticks out to me after more than twenty years is when Aaron is called to the witness stand and asked if he swore to tell the truth. He replies, “I do not,” to baffled stares. After he explains that the Amish don’t believe in swearing and think that an oath is between man and God, the judge asks him if he’ll just be honest in his testimony. Aaron says that he will. This scene stuck out to me because I’ve often wondered if Christians are to swear oaths, since Jesus told us to swear not at all (Matthew 5:34). When my high school had a mock trial and I was a pathologist, I just said in response to the oath, “I affirm,” which got snickers, because it was so unusual.
In any case, R.I.P. Merlin Olsen. It’s sad that so many of the Little House greats are dying off—Michael Landon, Victor French, Kevin Hagen, and now Merlin Olsen.