‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Episode Melissa Gilbert Completely Faked Her Way Through

Melissa Gilbert was cast in Little House on the Prairie when she was just 9 years old. The young actor grew up alongside her character, Laura Ingalls. But not always at the same time. Sometimes, Laura did something or felt something in an episode of Little House that Gilbert had yet to experience. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert recalls just that happening in the “The Love of Johnny Johnson” episode.

Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert on location shooting 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert couldn’t relate to Laura Ingalls in the ‘The Love of Johnny Johnson’ episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

In “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” Laura develops a crush on an older student by the name of Johnny Johnson. But Johnny is smitten with Laura’s older sister, Mary — though Mary doesn’t share his feelings. In her memoir, Gilbert wrote that whenever she had to portray Laura as having a crush on a boy in the early years of the show, she’d just mimic what she’d seen on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch because she hadn’t experienced those feelings herself yet.

Melissa Gilbert couldn’t cry about having an unrequited crush on Johnny Johnson

At the end of the episode, Laura has a heart to heart with her father about her unrequited crush. Charles tells her that it won’t be long until boys start taking a liking to her, just as they do with Mary. In the scene, Laura is supposed to get emotional and cry. But Gilbert had trouble accessing those emotions because she herself had never felt what Laura was feeling.

“Sometimes it was hard for me to get to those emotions, and this episode was one of those times,” wrote Gilbert. “Putting myself in Laura’s shoes didn’t work. Nor did dragging up some kind of horrible memory from the Dungeon. So Mike helped me.”

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Landon got Gilbert to cry using a “technique” that he employed many times throughout filming.  

“He put his arm around me and walked us away from the set, off to the side where we could be alone,” she wrote. “And in the time it took to walk fifteen to twenty feet, he got himself crying. Then he turned to me and with tears rolling down his face, he said, ‘Do you have any idea how much I love you?’”

Like a charm, Landon’s admission of love with tears in his eyes turned the waterworks on for Gilbert.

There was one real facet of ‘The Love of Johnny Johnson’ for the Laura Ingalls actor

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Though Gilbert faked her way through the crush portion of the episode, there was one aspect of “The Love of Johnny Johnson” that came more naturally for the young actor — the rivalry between Laura and Mary. Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson never hit it off during their time working together. They were not friends. Their relationship even bordered on tense, according to Gilbert. So the scenes where Laura and Mary don’t see eye to eye in “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” were easy for Gilbert to act out.

“The on-screen rivalry between Mary and Laura in that episode played off of the competitiveness that existed off camera between Melissa Sue Anderson and me,” she wrote. “When we snapped at each other, it was fairly real.”