‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert Found Out She Got the Role From Michael Landon’s Daughter

Melissa Gilbert played Laura Ingalls on the TV series Little House on the Prairie. The show was based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book and starred Michael Landon, who also wrote and directed many episodes. Landon’s daughter spilled the beans in 1974 when nine-year-old Gilbert was vying for the role. 

Little House on the Prairie: Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank

Gilbert devoted an episode of her Gilbert and Busfield podcast to sharing her memories of Little House on the Prairie on April 18, 2020. She told the story of how Leslie Landon broke the news to her that she’d gotten the role. 

Melissa Gilbert went on several auditions for ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert recalled several different auditions for Little House on the Prairie. The first was a big cattle call of all the young actors in Hollywood. 

“I know I went on the first big general audition,” Gilbert said. “My mom picked me up from school, I changed in the car from my school uniform into my audition uniform which was a flannel shirt and overalls put my hair into pigtails which was my audition hair and we went to the audition, and I read. There were a bunch of other girls in the room, the usual suspects, the same people who auditioned for all the same things that I auditioned for all the time growing up.” 

The next audition involved a chemistry test with the leading man, although young Gilbert didn’t know it at the time. 

Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon | Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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“Then I had a callback to meet Michael Landon,” Gilbert said. “No idea who he was, not a clue, never seen Bonanza. What do I know? I didn’t watch westerns, I watched Batman. I showed up at the audition. There were fewer girls this time and I went in to meet him. So I did my thing, did my audition, answered my questions, hung out and he said, ‘Thank you very much.’ I said, ‘Okay, thanks’ and I left, didn’t think anything of it.”

Finally, Gilbert did a screen test with Landon, and Melissa Sue Anderson who was also still auditioning for the role of Marry. 

“I remember the scene with Michael Landon most of all,” Gilbert said. “It just fit.”

Melissa Gilbert went to school with Michael Landon’s daughter

The Hollywood kids traveled in the same circles. Michael Landon’s daughter, Leslie, went to the same school as Gilbert.

Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield
Timothy Busfield and Melissa Gilbert | Lars Niki/Getty Images for BAM

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“It was not a big deal until one day I was at school and I was in the lunch area and this girl came over to me,” Gilbert said. “She said, ‘Are you Melissa?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ She said, ‘Hi, I’m Leslie Landon and my dad is Michael Landon and he says you’re going to play Laura.’ No one knew. My agents didn’t know. My mom didn’t know. I just screamed and I ran to the office, I asked them if I could use the phone [and] I called my mom. I told her what happened. She had no idea. She called my agents. They had no idea.”

Michael Landon’s daughter didn’t escape scot-free

Leslie Landon surely learned her lesson about spilling Hollywood gossip before the trades announced it.

“Boy, did Leslie get grounded,” Gilbert said. “She was so grounded. She got in so much trouble but she and I are still friends to this day. This was the beginning. We grew up together. Our families, we’re like family. That was my introduction to that family was Leslie telling me that I had gotten the most important job of my career still to this day. One of the most life altering defining moments in my life and the message was delivered from someone I’m still friends with.”