How ‘The Brady Bunch’ Inspired Melissa Gilbert in Her Portrayal of Laura Ingalls in ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Melissa Gilbert is best known for playing Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. During the course of filming the hit series, Gilbert would sometimes be given a scene that portrayed something she had no personal experience with in real life. Whenever that happened, she just mimicked what she saw on The Brady Bunch.

Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson sit in a carriage on the set of 'Little House on the Prairie.' They are in white dresses.
Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson | NBCU Photo Bank

When Melissa Gilbert copied what she saw on ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Partridge Family’

In Gilbert’s memoir, Prairie Tale, she wrote that she was interested in boys much later than most of her friends. She was more concerned with exploring the ins and outs of the Paramount lot and enjoying sleepovers with her co-star and best friend, Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on the show. So when Laura started to have feelings for boys, Gilbert had no idea how to act. So she just mimicked what she’d seen on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. Those girls had plenty of crushes. For the most part, it worked.

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Melissa Gilbert couldn’t make herself cry in the ‘The Love of Johnny Johnson’ episode

Gilbert remembers filming one episode in particular, “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” where Laura is supposed to have a crush on an older boy (Johnny Johnson). Laura gets upset when she learns that Johnny has feelings for her older sister, Mary. But when it came time to film, Gilbert couldn’t make herself emotional about her character’s situation.

“Putting myself in Laura’s shoes didn’t work,” she wrote. “Nor did dragging up some kind of horrible memory from the Dungeon. So Mike helped me.”

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Charles Ingalls actor, executive producer, writer, and director Michael Landon pulled Gilbert aside to help her get where she needed to be. He employed a “technique” that he used frequently throughout filming that always got her crying. Looking back, Gilbert calls what Landon did a “bizarre manipulation,” but, at the same time, “it worked.”

The Laura Ingalls actor’s first crush

Eventually, Gilbert caught up to her Little House on the Prairie character. She developed a crush on Robert Redford after watching The Great Waldo Pepper. She also began hanging pictures of her celebrity crushes inside her locker at school. John Travolta, David Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy, Parker Stevenson, and her future husband Bruce Boxleitner all greeted her in between classes.

In real life, Gilbert had her eye on another actor at the Paramount lot: Scott Baio of Happy Days.

“I felt like my life might change the first time I saw Scott Baio on the Paramount lot,” she wrote. “My friend and fellow Chachi devotee Tracy Nelson was even more excited. The two of us went to tapings of Happy Days whenever possible.”

Nothing came of the crush, but the actors did become friends. Baio even escorted Gilbert to a high school dance of hers a few years later.

From then on, Gilbert no longer needed to look to The Brady Bunch to know how to act like she had a crush.