‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert on the Family Secret That She Calls ‘Damaging’ – ‘You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets’

Many Americans grew up with Melissa Gilbert back in the ’70s and early ’80s. She played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, one of the most-watched and beloved shows of its time. Still, today, audiences can watch re-runs of the iconic show. The series even experienced a spike in popularity earlier this year. Gilbert thinks the reason may be that people are yearning for a simpler time.

While audiences may know all there is to know about Laura Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert’s past is more of a mystery. In an interview the actor did with CBS Sunday Morning in July 2020, she spoke about the secret her family kept from her until she was 45.

Melissa Gilbert sits for a portrait in her home
Melissa Gilbert | Nick Hagen for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert’s family secret

Gilbert was adopted, so much of the actor’s family tree remains a mystery to her.

“I tell people, I do not have a family tree, I have a family shrub,” she said.

Gilbert was adopted (the day after she was born) by actors Barbara Crane and Paul Gilbert. When she was 11, she was told that her father had died of a stroke.

“I was 45 when I found out that my father had taken his own life,” she said. “Yeah, that was a very deeply-hidden secret from pretty much everybody in my life.”

The interviewer asked Gilbert if she thought “it was a good thing” that she wasn’t told the truth about her father’s death.

“You know what? I think it’s my thing that it was hidden from me,” she replied. “It’s not my thing, like my fault. That’s what I’ve been dealt. Would I do something like that with my kids? No. But, because I know how damaging those kind of secrets can be. You know that expression, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets,’ is absolutely true.”

What is Melissa Gilbert doing today, all these years after ‘Little House on the Prairie’?

Today, Gilbert is 56. She married fellow actor Timothy Busfield. And she’s a mother and a grandmother. She lives in Sullivan County, New York, which she calls “very rustic.”

“This is our ‘Little House in the Catskills,’ I guess you could call it,” she told CBS from her garden. “What’s really exciting for me is that nothing has died!”

Gilbert says she is who she is today because of her time on “the prairie.”


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“I absorbed so much without even realizing what I was learning – really important life lessons about family, community, tolerance,” she said. “Because I was saying all of these things, and having to understand all of these things, they became a part of what I learned as well.”

Gilbert says the show’s values came from Michael Landon himself.

“The show’s values, I think, were absolutely a reflection of the values of our leader, of Michael Landon,” she said. “He was that man. He believed that people are always really good at heart. And that anyone is redeemable, and that the only way to change things is to do it from a place of love and fairness and understanding. It’s unfortunate, for so many reasons, that he passed away when he did, because I think his voice would’ve been an incredibly important voice to have today.”