During the past 17 years, reality television has had a major impact not only on American television viewership, but also on our culture — and many would say on our politics. The point has been made that Donald Trump likely would not have been elected president had he not been a star on reality television.

One of the primary individuals who helped popularize the phenomenon of reality television was a woman who attended grade school in West Fargo. Mallory Cangialosi and her younger sister, Alenda, were likely the only children in North Dakota to have parents who had both been Hollywood movie stars.

Mallory learned much about the craft of television production from Norman Lear, and later became a producer for A&E television network. Among the long-running shows she co-produced in 2004, before her tragic death in 2005, were "Growing up Gotti," "Dog the Bounty Hunter," "Airline" and "The First 48."

Mallory “Mal” Ann (Prestlien) Cangialosi was born May 26, 1962, in Hollywood to Robert and Marcia (Henderson) Prestlien. After her birth, Mallory and her mother were brought home from the hospital in a limousine chartered by her parents’ good friend, Charlton Heston.

At that time, both of her parents were well-known actors in show business. Her father, using his acting name Robert Ivers, had starred in several motion pictures, one of which was directed by James Cagney, and he later had feature roles in movies starring Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis. Mallory’s mother, Marcia Henderson, at the age of 20, received rave reviews as Wendy Darling in the Broadway hit "Peter Pan." After more success in the theater, Marcia became the lead actress in a number of films that featured major actors like Rock Hudson and Edward G. Robinson.

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In 1963, Marcia gave birth to Alenda, Mallory’s younger sister. Not only did Marcia now have two babies to care for, but was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder that affected her joints, skin and internal organs. She decided to give up her acting career, and unfortunately, Robert’s acting career had stalled, and he was “relegated to small roles on different television shows.” With a growing family and a sporadic and decreased income, Robert decided to change his career path.

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The Prestliens relocated to Phoenix, where Robert took a job as a weatherman for WPHO. On television he shortened his name to Bob Ivers, and soon he was also doing the news. In 1970, “after a short stint as a news reporter on station WJIM in Lansing, Mich., he accepted an offer to become the news director and principal anchor of KTHI (now KVLY) in Fargo.”

The Prestliens relocated to West Fargo where Mallory and Alenda attended elementary school, but their childhood was not routine. On several occasions they were called out of school because they were told that their mother was in the hospital and might not make it. Lupus was causing Marcia’s organs to fail, and when she was at home, she was frequently depressed, because her medical disorder “tore her apart.”

In 1972, the Prestliens moved to Yakima, Wash., after Bob had been offered the position of news director and anchor at the television station KAPP. It was in Yakima where Mallory really began to blossom. From 1976 to 1980, when she attended Eisenhower High School, Mallory became involved in sports, drama and music, playing the flute in the school band.

After graduating in 1980, Mallory attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she was very popular. One of her classmates commented, “Mallory was a friend to everyone. She was one of those positive and encouraging people who makes a lasting impression on everyone she comes in contact with.” She was selected to be in the “Looking Good, Women of USC” calendar, and her escort for the evening celebration was classmate Mark McGwire — who, in 1998, broke the MLB single-season home run record held by Roger Maris.

Mallory Prestlein as seen in the University of Southern California in Los Angeles yearbook. Special to The Forum
Mallory Prestlein as seen in the University of Southern California in Los Angeles yearbook. Special to The Forum

One day while walking across the USC campus, Mallory had severe back and chest pains and was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). “She had surgery and numerous horrible cobalt radiation treatments, but was cured.”

While in Los Angeles, majoring in broadcast journalism, Mallory got to know a number of people in the television industry. In 1982, NBC was getting ready to launch a new show about parents who were ex-hippies. They were raising a son, played by Michael J. Fox, who had become a staunch Republican. The show was called "Family Ties," and when the production team set about choosing the names of characters for the show, they settled on Mallory for the name of Fox’s oldest sister. They chose that name because they knew and liked Mallory Prestlien.

Mallory graduated from USC in 1985 and went to work for CBS television in Hollywood. That same year, Norman Lear founded a media company named ACT III that would be creating movies and television shows “dedicated to creating and producing content that not only entertains, but also creates a conversation,” and Lear hired Mallory to work there.

In 1992, New York 1 News began operation. It was a 24-hour cable news channel owned by Time Warner, and Mallory was hired to be a news producer. It was her responsibility to select and “sew together bits of pre-recorded anchor commentary and taped reports from the field.” While working at NY 1, she met Steve Cangialosi, a sportscaster for the Madison Square Garden Network, and on April 1, 1995, they got married.

In 1997, Mallory was hired by the A&E to be a producer. When A&E began in 1984, it focused on fine arts, documentaries (with its flagship series "Biography") and dramas, including programs imported from the United Kingdom — shows that could be considered a “thought-provoking alternative to other television channels.” In mid-2002, A&E underwent an overhaul in management, including Mallory’s promotion to managing producer, and the network decided “to move its focus toward reality television in order to attract a younger demographic.”

Shows that are considered reality television do not include “documentaries, television news, sports television, competitions, talk shows and traditional game shows.” The first reality shows made for A&E included most of the shows that Mallory had a hand in producing, and all of them ran for at least 40 episodes.

Just as the shows she had helped launch began to attract many viewers, she became ill, and Mallory (Prestlien) Cangialosi died on Oct. 19, 2005.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.