‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Once Said Melissa Sue Anderson ‘Was the Girl Everyone Wanted To Marry’ While She Was Who ‘They Wanted To Go Fishing With’
Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson played sisters on Little House on the Prairie. Just as their characters didn’t always see eye to eye, Gilbert and Anderson didn’t have the easiest time getting along in real life. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert writes about her relationship with and feelings regarding Anderson at the time of filming.
Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson ‘never had a real sisterly kinship’
Gilbert met Anderson during the audition process for the part of Laura Ingalls (Anderson had already been cast as Mary). Immediately, it became clear that the two young actors were just very different people.
“We played sisters and were only a couple years apart in age, but from the start, for whatever reason, we never had a real sisterly kinship,” wrote Gilbert.
Gilbert went so far as to say that she feels the clear “distance” between herself and Anderson showed up in their acting.
“There was a distance to her, a coldness, though sometimes I wonder if it was just that I never knew how to get her to let me in,” she wrote. “She wasn’t easy to get along with. I think her reserve came across on-screen and was certainly apparent offscreen, whereas I wore my emotions as if they were a neon green T-shirt that glowed in the dark.”
Melissa Gilbert thought Melissa Sue Anderson was ‘way beyond [her] league’
Gilbert thought she and Anderson were girls on opposite ends of the spectrum.
“She was a strikingly pretty girl, and I wasn’t, at least I didn’t think so,” she wrote. “As we got older, she was the girl everyone wanted to marry, and I was the plucky one they wanted to go fishing with.”
Gilbert recalls the moment, seemingly overnight, when Anderson grew up. She “had really long fingernails (I bit mine ravenously), wore makeup, smoked cigarettes, and guzzled TaB. She was way beyond my league.”
“She wasn’t just out of my league,” Gilbert continued. “She was in a different universe. It was like all of a sudden she was grown up.”
How Michael Landon solved ‘the dilemma of having two Melissas on the same set’
Right away, it became clear that the fact that the young actors shared the same name was going to became an issue. So Charles Ingalls actor, executive producer, writer, and director Michael Landon said, “Why don’t we solve this problem before it even starts,” according to Gilbert.
“Her nickname was Missy, and though my dad called me Missy-do or Wissy-do, almost no one else ever did because I made it clear I thought it was the stupidest nickname ever invented,” wrote Gilbert.
So Landon went along with Anderson’s previously established nickname and began calling her Missy.
“And we’ll just call you Half Pint,” he said to Gilbert.