‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Didn’t Know Who Michael Landon Was Before She Played ‘Laura Ingalls’
Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon played father and daughter on Little House on the Prairie. In 1974, Landon created the series and starred as Charles “Pa” Ingalls. He selected Gilbert to portray Laura Ingalls, his second youngest child, and the show’s central character.
Decades after Little House on the Prairie’s premiere, Gilbert shared what she thought about Landon during their first meeting.
Melissa Gilbert met Michael Landon at her audition
When Gilbert auditioned to play Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, she was barely 9-years-old. The former child star had several commercial roles to her name. In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gilbert said she remembered meeting Landon for the first time during her audition. Surprisingly, Gilbert never saw Landon in Bonanza, where he starred as Little Joe Cartwright.
“I didn’t know who he was; I didn’t know what Bonanza was,” she said. “It was just another audition until I walked in the room with him. He had this unbelievable glow that was captivating. It’s trite to say, but he had me at hello.”
In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert continued to explain how she felt about Landon. She said Landon made the audition easy for her with his kind and magnetic personality.
“I read for him in a room at Paramount Studios,” Gilbert wrote of Landon. “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.”
Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon became close friends
While she initially didn’t know him, Gilbert and Landon worked together for over a decade. Following a successful first season of Little House on the Prairie, the show would last for more than 200 episodes. During that time, Gilbert became friends with Landon’s real-life children. Gilbert said spending time with Landon filled the void her father left when he suddenly died in 1976.
“Our relationship was very close, and it grew even deeper when my father passed away,” Gilbert said. “Our families got close. We went on vacation to Hawaii together every Easter. His son Mike Jr. was my prom date.”
Gilbert said her bond with Landon resonated on set. She shared that Landon would join her in pranking the other cast and crew members of the show.
“I would catch frogs, and Mike would put them in his mouth and walk over to people, and they’d jump out,” she said. “That was our big trick.”
Why Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon went years without speaking
In Prairie Tale, Gilbert shared that she and Landon’s families often intertwined. Throughout filming, Gilbert’s mother, Barbara Crane, became close with Landon’s second wife, Lynn. The relationship between the two families suffered when Landon began having an affair with a Little House makeup artist.
Once Gilbert learned that Landon divorced his wife to be with the “makeup girl,” her positive views about her “surrogate father” changed. She would continue to work with him, but her family ultimately sided with Landon’s ex-wife. Gilbert and Landon didn’t talk until his daughter Leslie Landon’s wedding in 1990. It was there that Landon told Gilbert he always wanted her to be apart of the Little House on the Prairie family.
“Oh yeah. I knew. I knew immediately that you were [Laura],” Landon said, according to Gilbert. “And I didn’t even want them to think about anybody else.”
After their reunion, Gilbert joined Landon for his final appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1991. One week later, the actor died of cancer.