How Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert Rebelled When She Turned 18

Melissa Gilbert became a celebrity when she was just 9 years old. She was cast as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie and her life was never the same. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert writes about her childhood—playing with her co-stars and navigating the world of childhood stardom with a very involved mother.

Victor French as Isaiah Edwards, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Victor French as Isaiah Edwards, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert’s childhood on ‘The Prairie’

Gilbert describes her time as Laura as the best game of pretend a child could ever play.

“For me, work was a fantasy where I was a happy-go-lucky kid with a larger-than-life surrogate father, Michael Landon,” she wrote. “There were people I could talk to and count on, and horses and cows and other animals I could play with in an idyllic outdoor setting.”

In the first season, Gilbert says “work seemed more like play.” Every day on set provided a new adventure for Laura.

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“Various episodes required me to go fishing; fly a kite with a cute boy I kind of like on-and offscreen (fellow child actor Eric Shea, who attended my school); do scenes with guest star Richard Basehart, a giant in my eyes for having starred as Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; and pretend fight with Alison, who, though cast as my on-screen nemesis, was one of my best friends in real life,” she wrote.

When Gilbert wasn’t acting, she loved to sneak away and spend her time exploring the grand “playground” that is Paramount Studios.

Melissa Gilbert spent a lot of time with Michael Landon’s children and Alison Arngrim

Gilbert made some of her best friends through Little House on the Prairie. Her on-screen nemesis was her real-life best friend, Alison Arngrim. The Laura actor became very close to Landon’s children as well.

[Michael Landon’s] daughter Leslie was one of my best friends,” she wrote. “I was also close to Mike Jr., who was a year younger than Leslie and me. I slept at their house and they at mine, often enough that they felt like my weekend family, and I thought Mike and Lynn were the most glamorous, loving couple.”

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Gilbert has fun memories spending the night at Arngrim’s house, too.  

“When we had slumber parties at Alison’s house, we got to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live,” she wrote.

How Melissa Gilbert rebelled against her mother when she turned 18

Gilbert writes that her “mother was at the helm of everything, including my career, my food intake, and how I dressed—my whole life.”

Gilbert’s mother expected perfection from her in every facet of her life.

“For my first couple of decades, there was fairy dust sprinkled over everything in my life courtesy of my mother,” she wrote. “According to her, and via her, through the press, everything was sparkly, beautiful, and perfect.”

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Gilbert’s mother was also stricter than the parents of her new Little House friends.

“At my house, the lights went out much earlier [during sleepovers] and my TV intake was carefully monitored for age appropriateness,” she wrote. “My mom had a long list of rules that were impossible to explain to my friends. Among others, she didn’t believe girls should wear black or get their ears pierced until they were eighteen. I still haven’t figured that one out, though I lived by it.”

So what did Gilbert do when she turned 18?

“I pierced my right ear once and my left three times.”