‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert’s Grandfather Helped Create This Television Comedy Classic

Melissa Gilbert, the actor who played little Laura Ingalls on the beloved NBC historical series, Little House on the Prairie, stole hearts during the drama’s run in the 1970s and 1980s.

What’s little-known about the former child actor is that her grandfather, Harry Crane, has deep roots in the entertainment industry. Specifically, he played a major role in creating one of the most lasting, classic comedy series of all time.

Melissa Gilbert (left) and Melissa Sue Anderson in a 1975 scene from 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Gilbert (left) and Melissa Sue Anderson in a 1975 scene from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert on her connection with Michael Landon – ‘He just said, ‘That’s Half Pint”

From the start of her 11 years on Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert told Television Academy Foundation in a 2011 conversation that the presence of the show’s star, Michael Landon, was prevalent in every aspect.

As a ten-year old when she began working on the series, Landon, to Gilbert, connected quickly to the actor and director.

A photo from 'Little House on the Prairie'
A photo from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

“I went in and I remember doing the screen test … I did a scene with Michael [Landon] about him not being sorry that Jack drowned, and looking up at the stars,” she recalled. “And I remember, clear as anything, the two of us doing the scene and him looking at me with tears in his eyes. And, I choke up just talking about it, instantly bringing me to tears…”

“I found out later, many, many years later, that when it came time to take the screen test to the network, he only took mine,” she said. “‘Cause he knew. He didn’t give them any other choices. He just said, ‘That’s Laura. That’s Half Pint.'” 

Melissa Gilbert’s grandfather helped create ‘The Honeymooners’

The actor with her trademark fiery red hair was born in Los Angeles in 1964 and her biological parents, at her birth, decided to give her up for adoption. Gilbert was adopted a day after her birth by an actor, Paul Gilbert, and his wife, fellow actor, Barbara Crane, the daughter of Harry Crane.

In her interview, Gilbert opened up about a very important person in her life: her mother’s father, television writer Harry Crane. She revealed that it was normal at her home to have the biggest names in comedy come to visit.

A scene from 'The Honeymooners' television comedy
A scene from ‘The Honeymooners’ television comedy | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

“Harry Crane was a comedy writer for many, many, many years,” she shared. “He wrote all of the Dean Martin roasts. He created The Honeymooners.”

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“It’s hard to sum up my grandfather in less than a week, let alone a two-minute answer,” she said. “My grandfather was an extraordinarily funny, dry man who knew everybody. I grew up with all of my grandfather’s friends, with uncle Dean [Martin], and uncle Sid [Caesar], and uncle Danny [Thomas]. I didn’t know that any of them were famous.”

Harry Crane also wrote jokes for other big names

A lobbycard for Abbott & Costello's 1944 film, 'Lost In A Harem' co-written by Harry Crane
A lobbycard for Abbott & Costello’s 1944 film, ‘Lost In A Harem’ co-written by Harry Crane | LMPC via Getty Images

Gilbert went on to explain that her grandfather didn’t write jokes because “jokes aren’t funny,” but that he wrote comedy material for The Honeymooners and other big names.

“My grandfather wrote for John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra. I remember realizing who my grandfather was, when I first went to the Smithsonian Museum, I was about 19 or 20, in the movie and television section. There’s a poster for an Abbott and Costello movie called Lost In A Harem, which I loved as a child. I saw the poster for the movie – it was written by my grandfather.”

“So his name is in the Smithsonian,” she said proudly. “That’s very fitting for my grandfather.”