Happy Birthday, Charlotte Stewart

Seldom am I tempted to treat of contemporary actors, but I find the life and career of Charlotte Stewart (b. 1941) so fascinating I had to make a little noise about it. We share a surname, that always catches my attention, but what is especially interesting to me are the divergent, yet parallel career tracks represented by her two best known associations.

First, she played Miss Beadle, the lovely schoolteacher on Little House on the Prairie (1974-78):

Yet she is also part of the David Lynch stock company, playing the female lead in his outre masterpiece Eraserhead (1977), and then playing the part of Betty Briggs in Twin Peaks (1989-1991), as well as the recent reboots.

The rest of Stewart’s career is just as fascinating to me, especially in light of these two credits. A native of Yuba City, she learned her trade at the Pasadena Playhouse. As a young person she appeared in numerous episodes of family sitcoms like The Loretta Young Show, Bachelor Father, and My Three Sons in the early ’60s. In 1965 she married the latter show’s Tim Considine, whom I wrote about here, hence her temporary billing as “Charlotte Considine”. This union lasted until 1969. She had small roles in Speedway (1968) with Elvis Presley, and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), and guest shots on numerous TV shows, such as The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Waltons, leading up to her regular spot on Little House.

At the same time, as you can glean from the title of her autobiography Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me, offscreen, she was a bit of a party girl. She says she was one of the countless women who gave herself to Jim Morrison, for example, and during her post-Little House drug phase was semi-homeless for a time. I find those details significant in relation to her co-stars in one of her biggest film roles, in Human Highway (1982): Neil Young, Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper, and the members of Devo. Some of what she writes about, like liaisons with the likes of Ralph Waite and Victor French, I’d rather not have heard about, and I’m sorry to have to do that to you.

With Kevin Bacon in “Tremors” (1990)

In 1990, Stewart was also part of the magical ensemble in the comedy horror romp Tremors, a guilty favorite of mine, later returning for a 2001 sequel. Other interesting stuff includes Murder in Peyton Place (1977), recurring roles on Coach (1989-1992) and Life Goes On (1992), and small roles in things like Buddy Buddy (1981), Irreconcilable Differences (1984) and Slums of Beverly Hills (1994). In 2018 she joined fellow Little House alumna Alison Arngrim in Pamela Bob’s comedy Livin’ on a Prairie, her most recent role.