Dean Butler has left the prairie and is now on the coast--the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood, that is, where he is one of six singers in "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," a revue featuring the works of lyricist Harold Adamson and composer Jimmy McHugh.
Best known for his 1979-83 role as Almanzo Wilder, Melissa Gilbert's TV husband in "Little House on the Prairie," the 34-year-old actor has more recently been focusing on singing.
"Acting and singing are integrally locked together," Butler says. "Yes, there is the technical aspect of singing the song, but once that's aside, you're much more an actor than a singer. And singing can help acting. When you're used to having to produce sound (as a singer), concentrating on dealing with a story and trying not to panic about how it's sounding tonight, you then also try to make your work in front of the camera as unfettered and uncluttered by concerns as to whether it's right or wrong."
Having begun acting in high school in Piedmont, the San Francisco suburb where he grew up, Butler's first job before that camera was a starring role opposite Stephanie Zimbalist in the 1978 film "Forever." After "Little House," he appeared in the feature "Desert Hearts" and starred for two years in the syndicated series "The New Gidget."
As an actor, Butler is trying to dispel some of his wholesome "Little House" image. He recently rode with members of the Los Angeles Police Department gang unit, researching his role as a vengeful cop during the 1965 Watts riots in "Without a Pass," an upcoming Discovery Project film.
"I had on a bulletproof vest and an LAPD coat. I'd never in my life experienced that feeling before, of being a potential target. Those kids, after all, didn't know who I was. The ones the police were stopping weren't necessarily home watching Pa on the prairie."