Kindly Doc Baker in 'Little House on the Prairie'
Thursday 28 July 2005
Kevin Hagen, actor: born Chicago 3 April 1928; four times married (one son); died Grants Pass, Oregon 9 July 2005.
As a child, Kevin Hagen often accompanied his uncle, an Illinois doctor, on house calls in an old Ford car. His life turned full circle when, after years of playing villains in screen westerns, he was cast on television as the kindly Dr Hiram Baker in the wholesome family drama Little House on the Prairie (1974-82), based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's 1930s books about her frontier-farm-owning family and the townsfolk of Walnut Grove, in 19th-century Plumb Creek, Minnesota.
The much loved and respected Doc Baker healed all creatures, from humans to farm animals, but his love for all people was put to the test when his workload became so great that he advertised for an assistant. Only a black doctor responded and he found it difficult to overcome his prejudices, but he was eventually won over when the new physician saved a pregnant mother and her child - displaying more medical skills than he himself had.
In the final series, Little House: A New Beginning (1982-83), after the departure of its star, Michael Landon (the Ingalls patriarch), Doc Baker finds himself a near outcast in Walnut Grove. Laura Ingalls Wilder (Melissa Gilbert) blames him for the sudden death of her newborn baby. With his reputation in tatters, he plans to leave the town, but Laura's young daughter Rose contracts smallpox and he has to stay quarantined with the Wilders for two weeks. When Doc saves Rose's life, Laura and the community realise they have been rash and persuade him to stay.
Born in Chicago in 1928, Kevin Hagen was the son of professional ballroom dancers who toured country fairs and amusement parks, but his father walked out when he was five. After gaining a degree in international relations from the University of California, Los Angeles, he started acting and became a prolific character actor in American television series. He later wrote and performed in his own one-man show, A Playful Dose of Prairie Wisdom.
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