About Melissa Gilbert

by | Apr 29, 2017

For me, Little House on the Prairie means “home” in the truest sense of the word.

—Melissa Gilbert in My Prairie Cookbook

Melissa Gilbert’s Early Years

Melissa Ellen Gilbert was born May 8, 1964, in Los Angeles, California, and adopted by dancer and actress, Barbara Crane, and her husband, comedian Paul Gilbert. Her parents later adopted again, a son named Jonathan, who would go on to play Willie Oleson, Nellie Oleson’s brother on “Little House on the Prairie.” (1)

Melissa Gilbert’s Early Acting Career

Although most of us recognize Melissa’s name from her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie,” she always says she was born to perform. She recalls one of her earliest memories from about two and a half years of age, where she recited her father’s stand-up routine along with him while he was on stage performing. (2) Her first job was with Carter baby clothing at only two years of age. Some of her first television jobs were in commercials such as this fun commercial for Alpo dog food. Ironically, this commercial was shot with Lorne Greene, who played Michael Landon’s father in the long-running television hit Bonanza.

Melissa Gilbert, Alpo Commercial, 1979

She graduated to episodic television work with an appearance in “Gunsmoke” in 1972, where she played the daughter of a pioneer family. Her next television appearance was in the hit medical drama, “Emergency.”  And then came an opportunity that would change her life forever.

Melissa Gilbert in “Emergency”

Little House on the Prairie

Melissa Gilbert was one of many girls who auditioned for the role of Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie.” But as you can see in Melissa Gilbert’s screen test below, and according to Ed Friendly and Michael Landon, there was not a more perfect candidate the part. They knew instantly that she was “the one.” The exclusive screen test is a testament to the incredible talent of the then 9-year old Melissa and the instant bond she shared with Landon.

Melissa Gilbert’s Screen Test for “Little House on the Prairie”

“I read for him in a room at Paramount Studios. I remember thinking, “Oh gosh, he’s really handsome.” He gave off a different kind of energy than ordinary people. It was a higher wattage. I’d been around stars and thought nothing of it, but Michael was different, and that difference was tangible without him having to say or do anything. It was a power, a mix of charisma and confidence that affected other people.” 

 —Melissa Gilbert (3)

The pilot show was shot in 1973 and saw overwhelming success. For 9 full seasons and several special episodes, across 11 years, Melissa Gilbert warmed the hearts of millions of fans as Laura Ingalls. She appeared in 190 of the 204 episodes. It is quite amazing to think about how young Melissa was when she landed her part on the show and that she was nearly 20 years-old when the show ended in 1984.

“Little House on the Prairie,” Season 1, Episode 2, Country Girls

Many of the actors and actresses made an impact on Melissa and even helped her develop her own acting style. She remembers admiring Karen Grassle and watching her warm-up routine with fascination. Victor French was a favorite and often took the time to entertain the kids between shoots. Scottie MacGregor, the actress who played Mrs. Oleson, had a strong point of view as an actress.

Many people may not know that Melissa Gilbert made an instant connection and friendship with Alison Arngrim on the set of the show. However, Alison played the character of Nellie Oleson, and their characters’ relationship on the show was far more tumultuous.

Ten Times Nellie Oleson Gets What She Deserves

“Little House on the Prairie” will never truly end because it lives on in each of us who experienced it, whether you worked on the show or watched it on television. It’s impossible for me to tell where Half-Pint ends and Melissa begins. That is the real blessing for me. I had the chance to live out every little girl’s fantasy, mine included. And I got to do that surrounded by the loving arms of my Prairie family.” 

 —Melissa Gilbert (4)

Beyond Little House

Nearing the end of “Little House on the Prairie,” Melissa also appeared in several popular television films, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Miracle Worker.” After “Little House on the Prairie” ended in 1984, Melissa continued her career in television. In 1983, Melissa landed the leading role as Jean Donovan in “Choices of the Heart” and in 1986 starred with George C. Scott and Jacqueline Bisset in the television movie “Choices.”

Melissa Gilbert in “The Miracle Worker”

In 1985, Melissa received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her countless contributions to the television industry, one of the youngest actresses to ever be awarded a star. Melissa went on to guest star in “Babylon 5,” and also provided the voice of Batgirl in the 1990s “Batman: The Animated Series.

Melissa was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2001 and continued as president through 2005. In 2008, Melissa went from the screen to the stage, starring as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls in the production of Little House on the Prairie, the Musical. Who better to play Ma than the girl who spent 11 years playing her daughter! A few years later, she joined “Dancing with the Stars” in 2012.

In 2009, Melissa published her engaging autobiography, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, Melissa traces her complicated journey from the sweet freckle-faced Laura “Halfpint” Ingalls to Hollywood starlet, wife, and mother. She reveals how she partied with the Brat Pack, bad boys like Billy Idol, dated heartthrobs like Rob Lowe, and began a self-destructive pattern of addiction and co-dependence. Eventually, Melissa came to the realization that her career on television had earned her admiration, respect, and love from millions of people, but that she didn’t feel the same about herself.

“To me, at forty-four years old, my book was a search for truth and identity.” Melissa Gilbert (5)

In 2014, Melissa published My Prairie Cookbook, which offers Little House on the Prairie fans comforting, family recipes, along with childhood favorites. Melissa peppers her personal recollections and memorabilia, including behind-the-scenes stories, anecdotes, and more than 75 treasured scrapbook images, throughout her cookbook.

In 1988, Melissa married Bo Brinkman and gave birth to their son, Dakota, in 1989. They were divorced in 1992. In 1995 she married Bruce Boxleitner, becoming step-mother to his two children, Sam (born 1980) and Lee (born 1985). Together they had a son of their own, Michael Garrett Boxleitner who was named for Michael Landon and a friend’s son. Bruce and Melissa remained married until 2011. (6)

During her marriage with Bruce, Melissa faced some hard realizations in her life about a growing dependency on alcohol. She began working with her therapist and a private women’s only AA group to work through the steps and tackle life fully sober. In her memoir she says she learned to, as Laura Ingalls Wilder herself wrote, embrace “the sweet simple things…“.

After leaving her position as president of SAG, she was elected president of the board for the Children’s Hospice & Palliative Care Coalition, to address the disconnect in pain management and health care regulations for seriously ill children. With her help, the Nick Snow Act was passed in California in 2009.  You can learn more about the Coalition for Compassionate Care California on their official website.

In 2013 Melissa Gilbert married actor/director Timothy Busfield.  She briefly ran for U.S. Representative from Michigan before withdrawing from the race due to health issues.  Who knows what the future holds for this talented and driven woman.

In July of 2020, Melissa did an interview with Mo Rocca for CBS News.  “This is our ‘Little House in the Catskills,’ I guess you could call it,” she said, showing off her garden. “What’s really exciting for me is that nothing has died!” Rocca asked, “Why are people watching the show now?” “Oh, my gosh, with everything that’s going on in the world right now, I think, from what I’m hearing from people, is that ‘Little House on the Prairie’ is a reminder of when things were simpler for us in our lives, those 45 years ago.” (7)

The “Little House in the Catskills” became the subject of her next book, Back to the Prairie, A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered, released on May 10, 2022. The book recounts her life during the pandemic “on a DIY budget” (8), where Melissa and her husband begin to fall back in love with nature.

Melissa represents an important role model for many women for her hard work and perseverance, for her personal journey, and for her accomplishments and contributions to the entertainment industry.

What does Melissa Gilbert mean to you? What do you most remember about her portrayal of Laura Ingalls Wilder?

Recommendations from the Website Editors

A number of the cast members from “Little House on the Prairie” have written about their experiences.

For information about Laura Ingalls Wilder whose novels inspired the TV series, please visit our Recommended Reading lists for children and young adults and adults. You may also be interested in a documentary film about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Be sure to share your thoughts with us on our Facebook Page or on Twitter and subscribe to our monthly newsletter for free resources about Little House on the Prairie.


  1. Wikipedia, Melissa Gilbert
  2. My Prairie Cookbook
  3. Melissa Gilbert, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, pp. 35-36
  4. Melissa Gilbert, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, pp. 4
  5. Today.com, Melissa Gilbert
  6. Wikipedia, Melissa Gilbert
  7. Life lessons learned from “Little House on the Prairie”
  8. Publisher’s Weekly


  1. Stephanie Denomme

    I think you are a remarkable lady that played a wonderful part in the history of this country. I admire you very much. I was an amateur actor at the time of your show, and raising two daughters as a single mother. I am now 65 – have 6 grandchildren. I am hoping my daughter’s remember we watched your show and never watched the Simpson s or south park. (It was forbid in my house). I actually screentested against Linda purl for young pioneers. Faced her again for spin-off of happy days. Never had much luck. But I do understand acting. I studied well and hard at “the craft”. You made a good life of it and used your pain and fame for the good of humankind. Thankyou for that. Most would not have done so. Bless you and yours.

  2. Laura

    Hello Melissa,
    An Ingalls (Cousin) here, my Pops name also Charles. My Ancestor is Mary Ingalls, NOT Laura’s Sister. Surnames Ingalls and Wheeler in the family tree.

  3. Linda B Piernas

    Im 65 yrs old and watvh 3 eposodes evrry day back to back. I love thr simplivity of the show an the caring nature of the characters edpevially micheal landon. I love everytjinh thing he did its like he brougjt his own personal characteristic s to the characters he played. Its a nice wholesale show to watch and i always feel like ive gained some spiritual meaning from it. And believe it or not it makes me cry
    I love the show. Gilbert brought a lot to the show

  4. Lucie Lafave

    I have a picture of myself in elementary school back in the early 70’s and I look just like Malissa Gilbert. I would like to show her the picture where can I email it too. I believe she would get a kick out of seeing it. I loved the show and just happened to look like her when I she this picture of myself. I am now 58 and have always thought I should send in this picture some day. Well I just moved and found it again.

  5. Kirk A. Opperman

    Melissa Gilbert was a Real pleasure to meet at a filmfest in Tombstone, AZ. My Mother, Charlotte, spent most of the weekend associating with Melissa, as well as the other Cast members that made it for the LHOP reunion. I beleive this was early Summer, 2002.

  6. Lynn Sessions

    Happy birthday! I am a teacher and enjoy sharing the Little House books with my class. The show reflects a simpler time and that gives us all courage to keep making our nation a good place for kids to grow and learn. Thank you for your part in making the world a little sweeter. Hope you have a great day.

  7. Dale Pate

    Happy Birthday, Melissa!! Loved you on Little House, and all your movies and books. I watch Little House almost everyday and am currently reading the Little House Books. Would love to see you in a movie again soon, or better yet, a series. You are a beautiful woman, inside and out and your talents are missed on the big and small screens. Have a wonderful birthday.

  8. Pamela s Boyle

    I love LHOP and Melissa Gilbert the best. I try and imagine doing the acting the job that she did every week and at such a young age. A real joy to watch her grow up throughout the years on the show and see her all grown up now. She is my favorite actress of all time!

  9. Robert Keesling

    Happy birthday Melissa , God Bless you enjoy your show every single day. Have a Fabulous Day

  10. Kelly Reynolds

    I love Little House on the Prairie .I watched every episode.I miss watching the show,my favourite character is Laura when she played the role of a teacher she did a very good job.I miss the show a lot

  11. Christy Carr

    Happy Birthday Laura you are amazing wishing you the best birthday ever I love you and absolutely adore watching you on all the little house movies

  12. Fran Quirk

    I was so excited when the series came out. Melissa was exactly how I’d pictured Laura as I was reading her books!

    Several years ago I was able to meet her at a bookstore event introducing “My Prairie Cookbook”. She signed my copy of the book and chatted very briefly.

    She was funny and reflective during her talk. I will never look at Kentucky Fried Chicken or a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew again without thinking of Melissa!

    Picturing Melissa and Alison Arngrim as Best Friends on the Prairie brings a smile to my face. Alison is a hoot and watching her reading Little House books has been a joy during the last few days.

  13. Dottie Hogan

    Grew up watching Little House and don’t get tired of watching reruns, best show on tv!!!!❤️ Bought a lot of the episodes already.

  14. CORRINA A Ulloa-Ulloa

    I love Little House on the prairie I love all seasons and every episode I have one through eight seasons of the DVDs I have been watching them every day for the last 2 weeks I can’t get enough of them and the courtship between Laura and almanzo is amazing

  15. Pedro Oscal

    Hace unos meses atrás compré la serie por Internet, y hemos disfrutado mucho de cada temporada. Al principio, cuando llevé “la casita” de discos a mi casa, mis hijas pusieron cara de aburridas, porque expresaron que era una serie muy antigua… pero al ir viendo cada episodio, se han encantado!! ahora, disfrutamos mucho como familia de esta excelente, triste y divertida en ocasiones, y muy sana producción!!! Saludos cordiales desde Guatemala. A few months ago I bought the series online, and we have enjoyed each season very much. At the beginning, when I took “the little house” of records to my house, my daughters put on a bored face, because they expressed that it was a very old series… but when they watched each episode, they were delighted! Now, we enjoy this excellent, sad and fun family as a family sometimes, and very healthy production !!! Best regards from Guatemala.

    • Terry Rodriguez

      Hola! desde Amarillo, Texas. Nosotros también disfrutamos la serie como niños , adolescentes, y adultos. Ahora como padres, la disfruto con mis hijos. Es una serie clásica para toda la eternidad.
      Hello! from Amarillo, Texas. We also enjoy the series as children, teens, and adults. Now as parents, I enjoy it with my children. It is a classic series for all eternity

  16. Nancy

    I’m watching the series from the beginning and it brings me back to my childhood. My bestfriend and I would watch and call each other to talk about the episode we’d just watched. It made you laugh it made you cry and still to this day I watch it and still laugh and cry as if I’m watching it for the first time. I can say Little House On The Prairie was and is still my favorite show to watch. ❤????

  17. Yvonne Jeffords

    Little House was one of very few series you could watch with your kids…they had many Great values ..they addressed many many issues we as parents have addressed….I’m 72 years old I still encourage my grandkids…great grandkids to sit down and enjoy..”Little House On The Prarie”

  18. Cheryl

    Loved little house on the prairie. Loved the the courtship between Laura and Almanzo. They were well suited. Never be a show like it again. It touched many hearts.

  19. Diana Dalton

    I have always love this show, it’s nice and clean show. I always learned from this show

  20. Charlene Perkins

    I am sitting here watching a Little House Marathon. I absolutely think this is the very best series I have ever watched. Ii have watched her grow up on Little House and the other shows I have watched her in. I loved seeing her on “Dancing with the Stars”. I would love to write to her and thank her for this precious portrayal of a little girl growing up on the prairie, the best times to have been a child. Great morals/lessons taught!

  21. Robyn Mendez

    I have always thought she was a great actress. It’s nice that she’s shared her personal experiences and and has overcome her demons. She is a real inspiration to all women and I admire her strength!
    Best wishes for the future!

  22. cindy

    Was the death of the ingals son,Mary’s son and Laura’s real or made u

  23. Trisha Andrews

    Melissa Gilbert is one of my favorite actresses, and I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I started watching “Little House” at the beginning of Season 6, the best season ever, when Laura met the man she would later marry, Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler). I even like some of the TV movies-of-the-week she has done, from her portrayal of Helen Keller in a remake of “The Miracle Worker” with the late Patty Duke, who played Keller on Broadway and in the original big screen version, as Annie Sullivan, as well as those women-in-crisis movies. I would like to write to her as well as meet her in person someday.

  24. Lisa Helm

    I grew up reading the books about Laura In gals Wilder Melissa brought her to life.I adore her.Much enjoyed her on Dancing with the Stars.Have followed her and her career.She’s an amazing lady.

  25. Deanne Bland

    Happy birthday love your book

  26. Debbie Thomson

    Just want to tell Melissa, how much I have loved her since the first time I saw her on little house. Melissa is such an amazing actress and person. I hope the best for her in the future,and hope to see her in more tv shows . Hope you have a great birthday Melissa. ???????????????❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️????????

  27. Roisin

    Loved little house on the prairie my favourite program named my daughter Melissa after both girls

    • Aurora J Harmon


  28. Myra

    I grow up watching little house wish it had never ended.i have movies of little house.I would love to meet Melissa and some of the other actors. But I know,it will never happen because of money. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MELISSA!



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