‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Had No Idea How Famous She Was When She Was Young — Here’s How She Learned

When Melissa Gilbert was young she had no idea how famous she was, despite starring in a hit show. The Little House on the Prairie actor recalls asking her mother one day about her celebrity status. She told her daughter that she was a huge star, like Jane Fonda. The comment didn’t even sink in with Gilbert it seemed so far from the truth. It wasn’t until the Laura Ingalls actor had an experience in an airport with an angry fan that she began to really contemplate her celebrity.

Melissa Gilbert reading in a director's chair on set at 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert used to love celebrity-watching at Paramount

Gilbert was cast in the part of Laura Ingalls when she was just 9 years old. When she first started filming Little House on the Prairie, she saw the Paramount lot as her personal playground.

“I explored the lot whenever I was able to get away, which wasn’t often; I was unable to resist the lure of checking out the places where scenery was stored, the other soundstages, and the commissary, which was a hub of activity and star-gazing,” she wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.

Everyone on the lot broke for lunch at about the same time. Gilbert couldn’t help but let her eyes dart across the sizable dining room.

“Oblivious to my own profile as one of the stars on a hit show, I was always looking around,” she wrote. “I got excited whenever I saw someone famous, like Mork & Mindy stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber or the guys from Happy Days.”

When Melissa Gilbert started to realize how famous she was

Gilbert was at the airport with her mother and sister when she first started to think about what it means to be a big celebrity. Once they landed, Gilbert was tasked with watching her then-toddler sister, who’d been unruly throughout the entirety of the flight.

“I wasn’t big; Sara was already half my size,” she wrote. “As I tried to hold her in my arms, with our backs arching and my head dodging her flailing hands, a woman came up to me and asked if I was Melissa Gilbert.”

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Gilbert told her she was and the woman went on to say: “Oh gosh, my daughter loves you. Can I get your autograph?”

Gilbert told the woman that she’d couldn’t right then, given her sister’s state.

“I struggled to hold my sister, who was trying to wiggle out of my grasp,” she wrote.

In response, the woman said: “Oh, what a little brat you are.”

What the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ actor learned about being a celebrity from the interaction

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The exchange Gilbert had with the woman in the airport stayed with her for weeks.

“She walked away, leaving me shattered by this, my first unprotected brush with my own celebrity,” she wrote.

But it taught her a lesson about what it means to be famous.

“Later, I realized while everyone else in the airport had been able to behave in whatever way they felt like at the moment, including that woman who was insensitive, or just oblivious, and downright mean, I had to be perfect, smiley, kind, and polite, or else I was a little brat,” she wrote.