‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Was Put in a ‘Horribly Uncomfortable Position’ When Michael Landon Left His Wife for His Younger Mistress

Little House on the Prairie’s Laura Ingalls lives a happy, wholesome life. Yet the actor who portrays her, Melissa Gilbert, wasn’t always as fortunate as her character. She felt a weight lifted off her shoulders whenever she’d arrive on set and get into costume because life with her TV family was a whole lot easier than how things were in her actual household. 

But the fairytale-like bliss had faded over time, once she learned that Michael Landon, her beloved father on the series, wasn’t as moral as the man he portrayed on TV. Once she realized that he was leaving his wife for his much younger mistress, Gilbert felt like she was thrust into a “horribly uncomfortable position.” 

Michael Landon and Cindy Landon
Michael Landon and Cindy Landon | Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert began to question Michael Landon’s relationship with his mistress early on

While starring in The Miracle Worker, Gilbert began to feel like something was off. It all started when Landon greeted another woman on set before greeting her. (Landon and Gilbert were incredibly close at the time.)  

Michael Landon and wife Cindy Clerico sighted on November 21, 1982
Michael Landon and wife Cindy Clerico sighted on November 21, 1982 | Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“Mike had become very friendly with a new stand-in on the show, a pretty young blond named Cindy Clerico,” Gilbert writes in her memoir, Prairie Tales. “I first noticed her during production of The Miracle Worker when Mike visited the set one day and said hello to her before he did to me.”

And although she was too young to know what an “affair” even meant, she began to put two and two together as she got older. “Though it didn’t register with me then, I’m pretty sure that was the start of their romance,” said Gilbert.

Yet when Gilbert confronted her mother about their “funny” relationship, she just called her daughter “crazy.” According to Gilbert’s mother, Landon was a stand-up guy who would never cheat on his wife. 

But lo and behold…

Melissa Gilbert lost faith in love after Michael Landon left his wife for his mistress

Michael Landon and wife Cindy Landon
Michael Landon and wife Cindy Landon | Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Recalls the ‘Trauma’ She Experienced on Set

Not only did Landon’s affair destroy his relationship with his former wife, but it also tarnished the bond he shared with Gilbert. His on-screen daughter once saw him as a real-life father figure, yet that changed after learning about his careless behavior. 

Because of his actions, Gilbert began “questioning the concept of love itself.” 

After her mother told her that Landon was leaving his wife for Cindy Clerico, everything changed for her. “The split rocked my world,” she writes, “which was dominated by Mike (Landon.) At a certain point, I thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute. What about me? I have to work with Mike. I can’t take sides, yet he’s done something that’s turned my world into angry, opposing sides.’ I was put in a horribly uncomfortable position.”

The public turned on Michael Landon after his affair with Cindy Clerico

Michael Landon and wife Cindy Landon
Michael Landon and wife Cindy Landon | Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

There was a drastic change in how the general public perceived Landon. One moment, he was regarded as America’s voice of reason. The next moment, the public saw him as a cheating man with loose morals. 

“In public, Mike was seen as a pillar of morality and family values. A real-life incarceration of Charles Ingalls, not someone who would leave his wife for a younger woman,” Gilbert writes. “The public believed it. So did my mother. And to some extent, so did I. Then, bada bing, the picture cracked.”

“Then, the sh*t hit the fan in the tabloids and celebrity magazines,” she continues. “Mike lost lucrative commercial endorsements. He admitted he wasn’t perfect and warned people not to confuse him with the character he played on TV.”