Merlin Olsen

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.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Deaths, Highway to Heaven, Little House, Michael Landon, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Merlin Olsen

  1. Steffen says:

    Very nice tribute post there about Merlin Olsen. I still love watching “Little House on the Prairie” and I own seasons dvd of “Highway to Heaven”. I didn’t know that about the hospital scene with the footballer though.

    “Aaron’s Way” is a show I have yet to see but I’d be very interested in doing so. Like you I have also wondered about the swearing on the bible thing. In “Highway to Heaven” a few times the angel Jonathan Smith says ‘swear to God’ which I thought strange too.

    Anyway good blog thanks.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for your comment, Steffen! I was thinking of including an anecdote in my post about what Merlin Olsen said about Michael Landon’s spirituality—he said it was mostly about loving one’s fellow-man. He also talked about how Little House was like the old movies—you watched them, and then you left, ready to face a new day. I feel that about Little House and Highway to Heaven.

    The hospital scene for Highway is in season 2. It’s in the episode called “The Good Doctor.”

    Did you ever get to see Father Murphy?


  3. urdead2me says:

    RIP – Merlin Olsen, 69, played football w/ the Rams & then was a sports commentator. Then what? Olsen tried acting, playing Jon Garvey on Little House on the Prairie…Just before dying of cancer he sued NBC for exposure to asbestos.


  4. Steffen says:

    I’ll check that Highway to Heaven episode out thanks.

    Yes I have both seasons of Father Murphy on dvd. I thought it was a good show and even prefered the second season over the first one. I thought the first season dwelt upon that old couple trying to take the children, so they could work in the workhouse, too much. But the second season didn’t last long unfortunately.

    I agree with Merlin Olsen about Little House. It is like that. My favourite episode was ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ from the first season.


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