‘Little House on the Prairie’: What Melissa Gilbert Meant When She Said ‘the Lines […] Blurred’ in Her Relationship With Michael Landon

Melissa Gilbert describes her relationship with Michael Landon as a “special bond.” Though they played father and daughter on Little House on the Prairie, their relationship transcended what viewers saw on their TV screens. Gilbert saw Landon as an actual father figure, especially after her own father died. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert wrote that the lines blurred in her relationship with Landon, at times. Here’s what she meant.

Michael Landon hugging Melissa Gilbert in black and white. A still from 'Little House: A New Beginning'
Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert | Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank

The ‘Little House on the Prairie’ actors formed a connection immediately

Gilbert took to Landon right away. She recalls her audition for the part of Laura in a room at Paramount Studios. when she read for Landon she thought “he gave off a different kind of energy than ordinary people. It was a higher wattage.” She also thought he was “really handsome.”

During the pilot, she wrote that “he couldn’t have been warmer or more nurturing to me.” And she “could hardly take [her] eyes off him.”

Gilbert was enchanted by Landon’s charm and masculinity.

“I’d never seen a man in person who was built like him,” she wrote. “He was an upside-down triangle, thick and muscular, and tough beyond my imagination […] I’d never seen such a macho man. He was like James Bond—or Batman.”

Why the lines ‘blurred’ for Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon while filming ‘Little House on the Prairie’

In writing about her “special bond” with Landon, Gilbert wrote that “the lines also blurred between Mike and me.” Sometimes it was almost difficult to know where Charles and Laura ended and Michael and Melissa began.

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Gilbert notes that her connection with Landon started to form during the filming of the pilot — “when we repeated the scene that I’d read in my audition, the one after we’ve lost the dog while crossing the river and Laura apologizes to him for thinking he didn’t care about Jack being lost.”

“It was a sweet father-daughter moment, one that was very real to me,” she wrote. “It wasn’t a stretch at all to think of Mike as my dad. I could easily imagine having such a conversation with him.”

Michael Landon would use his relationship with Melissa Gilbert to get her to cry in emotional scenes

Because their connection was so intense, Landon would sometimes use his relationship with Gilbert to inspire tears for emotional scenes, particularly when the Laura Ingalls actor had a difficult time accessing those emotions.

Gilbert remembers Landon helping her to cry while filming the “The Love of Johnny Johnson” episode.

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“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?’”

The “technique” always worked. Gilbert felt a lot of pain and confusion regarding “the mythology of [her] existence.” She was adopted just after she was born and had a lot of questions about her history. She’d find the answers to those questions when she was in her 20s. In the meantime, it was particularly special to her to have a relationship like she did with Landon.

“Looking back, yes, it was a bizarre manipulation, a kind of twisted way to get a kid to perform,” she wrote. “On the other hand, it worked. And I have no doubt that it was therapeutic; by crying, I was able to release some of my own emotions I kept bottled up.”