‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Thought Melissa Sue Anderson’s ‘Coldness’ Showed up on Camera

Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson played sisters on Little House on the Prairie, but they were not close in real life. Anderson has said before that she and Gilbert weren’t friends. And Gilbert said in her memoir that “there was a distance” with Anderson that she experienced throughout their time filming together.

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson were ‘very, very different’

In Gilbert’s book, Prairie Tale, she writes about how she and Anderson never connected.

“I’d met Melissa Sue Anderson at my screen test, but we got to know each other much better while on location,” wrote Gilbert. “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. She was a strikingly pretty girl, and I wasn’t, at least I didn’t think so. As we got older, she was the girl everyone wanted to marry, and I was the plucky one they wanted to go fishing with.”

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Lindsay/Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Lindsay/Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

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Gilbert goes on to say that she found Anderson’s “reserve” apparent both on and off screen.

“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,” wrote Gilbert. “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.” 

Anderson wrote her own book about her time on Little House on the Prairie. Her memoir is titled, The Way I See It. In it, she hardly mentions Gilbert.

In an interview with AJC’s Radio & TV Talk blog on May 5, 2010, Anderson said she didn’t write about Gilbert because they simply weren’t friends.

“I honestly do not have a lot of memories of the two of us,” she said. “We were very, very different.”

Two Melissas on set at ‘Little House on the Prairie’  

Since Gilbert and Anderson share the same first name, the matter of what to call the two young actors came up immediately.

“Right away we faced the dilemma of having two Melissas on the same set,” wrote 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.”

Melisssa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder
Melisssa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder | NBCU Photo Bank

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Michael Landon was the one who addressed the two-Melissa issue first.

“Why don’t we solve this problem before it even starts,” Gilbert writes Landon saying.

“‘She’s going to be Missy,’ he said, looking at Melissa Sue Anderson. And then turning to me he said, ‘And we’ll just call you Half Pint.’”