‘Little House on the Prairie’: Did Melissa Gilbert Like Being a Child Actor?

Some child actors use their childhood experiences as a springboard for adult fame, however, others have a less pleasant story to tell. Melissa Gilbert became an incredibly famous child actor for having a main role on Little House on the Prairie. Here’s a look at how the show effected her — and whether she saw the experience as positive or negative.

Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank

How Melissa Gilbert dealt with the dark side of her life on the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ set

During an interview with Parade, Paulette Cohn mentioned Gilbert once said acting on Little House on the Prairie was a formative experience for her. “How could it not be?” Gilbert replied. “The most formative years of my life — from the time I was nine until I was 19 — were spent on that set.”

Cohn mentioned that Gilbert went through some unspecified “rough times.” Afterward, Cohn asked if those difficulties were the result of being a child actor. “A lot of the difficulties I went through as a child didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I was on a set or working,” Gilbert revealed. “It had to do with what was going on at home. It was my family’s dysfunction that I had to walk through. We all have that. That’s universal.”

The theme from Little House on the Prairie

Gilbert actually found working on Little House on the Prairie to be emotionally healthy for her. “I think I was actually very blessed because not only did I have a place to escape to and not have to be embroiled and entrenched in all of that stuff all the time, but I also had a place where I could vent it out on film,” Gilbert said. “Let’s face it, I was crying in every other scene. I had a great place [for emotional] release.”

Melissa Gilbert reveals her childhood issues

In an interview with HuffPost, Gilbert discussed her family life. She revealed her parents divorced when she was six and her father died when she was 11. She was told her father died of a stroke, however, he actually committed suicide. Gilbert described her home as a place of “sadness and discomfort.”

Gil Gerard, Melissa Gilbert , Melissa Sue Anderson, and Karen Grassle | Bud Gray/NBCU Photo Bank

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The legacy of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

It’s interesting Gilbert described the set of Little House on the Prairie as a place where she could let out her emotions. Some child actors have a reputation for being overly cute or wooden. Gilbert, however, brought a level of inevitability to her acting — perhaps because her performance was rooted in her real emotions.

Decades after the cancellation of Little House on the Prairie, Gilbert remains a television icon. In addition, her portrayal of Laura Ingalls Wilder has engrossed generations of audiences. While Little House on the Prairie was entertainment for fans, it served an important role in giving Gilbert emotional release. 

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.