Before Bonanza, Linda Sue Risk perfected playing lost little girls on The Red Skelton Hour
Years later, Michael Landon reunited with Linda Sue on the variety show.
Read to Me
When a young boy and distant relative named Sam turns up on the Ponderosa, the Cartwrights suspect something is amiss. Their instincts are correct. It turns out that Sam is actually a girl named Samantha, only instead of being made of sugar and spice, she's just about the wildest young thing the Cartwrights ever encountered.
For the Bonanza episode "Little Girl Lost," Linda Sue Risk played Samantha, who stirs up all kinds of trouble until Ben and the others begin to show her the proper way to behave.
In the 1960s, little Linda Sue may have not been recognizable as a Cartwright, but she was a familiar face for fans of The Red Skelton Hour.
At only seven years old, she began sharing scenes with comedy legend Red Skelton, and in nearly every scene, she played a "little girl lost." It's clear where Bonanza got the idea to use the young child star for this episode.
In 1967, Risk told The Daily Times that The Red Skelton Hour was her most important credit and that she wanted to secure her spot on the show so badly, she even skipped a screen test for a film series to audition for the holiday special, where she, of course, played a "little Christmas urchin."
Early in her career, Risk had already been on TV shows like Mission: Impossible and Bonanza, as well as movies, and she also did a bunch of work on commercials.
Those gigs led to a fun bit she got to do in 1967 on the game show Truth or Consequences.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Risk entered an ice cream scoop stacking race with two boys randomly selected from the audience. The random kids from the audience didn't realize the game was rigged in Risk's favor, though.
As Risk began stacking scoops, an iron rod was maneuvered under the table and through her cone to keep her scoops stable as she was furiously stacking high, while the boys' scoops kept falling off.
Most frequently on TV, we saw Risk play orphan girls who are never dealt a fair shake, but at least on Truth or Consequences, she got to come out on top — and there was ice cream involved!
Two years after Risk appeared on Bonanza, she got to reunite with at least one of the Western's stars when Michael Landon appeared on The Red Skelton Hour during an episode where Risk also performed.
In a sketch called "The Yacht Club," Landon played "the richest boy in town." Red's character cooks up a scheme to swindle the rich boy, but in a twist, Landon's character swindles Red's.
For the silent spot in that episode, Risk also appeared across from Red, who for this sketch was playing a cranky man who despises the neighborhood kids who keep breaking his windows. Risk played a new little girl in the neighborhood who teaches Red that the kids are only giving back what he puts out. For once, Risk got to play a ray of sunshine who isn't there to be saved, but rather to be the one doing the saving.
It's worth noting that the same year, Dan Blocker also appeared on The Red Skelton Hour, and he was even given his own "The Dan Blocker Show." We can't help but wonder if Linda Sue led both Cartwright boys to appear on the variety show!
On Bonanza, Risk fit in so well, she could've been a fifth Cartwright, but by the end of "Little Girl Lost," the writers found a different permanent home for little Linda Sue, other than the Ponderosa.
We're not quite sure the show would've been the same with a young girl sticking around, anyway.
Not much is known about Linda Sue Risk after she left her TV home on The Red Skelton Hour, though. She stopped acting in 1970 at the age of 12.