‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert Only Got the Part After Losing Her Dream Role

Little House on the Prairie may forever be Melissa Gilbert’s definitive role. She’s still talking about it today. Gilbert was nine when she landed the role of Laura Ingalls. She had already been acting as a toddler and had some episodes of Gunsmoke and Emergency! under her belt. However, Gilbert suffered a major disappointment before landing the role of a lifetime.

Little House on the Prairie: Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert with baby Lucy Lee Flippin | NBCU Photo Bank

Gilbert devoted an episode of her Gilbert and Busfield podcast to Little House on the Prairie on April 18, 2020. She discussed the audition for the show, and how she came to it after a major career disappointment. 

Melissa Gilbert really wanted to be in this movie before ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert was up for a role in a 1973 CBS television remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The 1947 original movie features a girl who helps prove a department store Santa Claus is the real thing. Suzanne Davidson ultimately played the little girl to Sebastian Cabot’s Kris Kringle. There would be a theatrical remake again in 1994.

Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert | Bobby Bank/Getty Images

“They were doing a remake of Miracle on 34th Street and I loved that movie and I really, really wanted to be cast,” Gilbert sadi. “And I auditioned and it didn’t go well and I didn’t get the part and I was so bummed about it.” 

Melissa Gilbert’s father had good career advice

Gilbert came from an acting family. Her father was Paul Gilbert, who knew a thing or two about rejection in this business. Before she landed Little House on the Prairie, he consoled her over missing out on Miracle on 34th Street.

So I was in the garage with my dad who was building something in his workshop in his garage. He knew I was really disappointed and I told him how bummed I was. He said, ‘Listen to me. This is a very important thing I’m going to tell you, a big lesson. It’s okay. It just means something better’s going to come along.’ At the time I thought, ‘How is there going to be anything better than Miracle on 34th Street. I don’t understand.’ I wanted to be in that movie and I didn’t get it until a couple weeks later. Well, it was a process.

Melissa Gilbert, Gilbert and Busfield podcast, 4/18/2020

‘Little House on the Prairie’ more than made up for it 

Miracle on 34th Street would have been a one and done TV movie. Little House on the Prairie ran for nine seasons, and spawned subsequent movies. 

“It took me a while to realize it but  a couple weeks later I got another audition,” Gilbert said. “It was for a two hour movie backdoor pilot of Little House on the Prairie which I had read Little House in the Big Woods in fourth grade. I was in fourth grade at the time I think. So I was really excited about it but then I thought maybe I won’t get this one too so that just means something better’s going to come along.”

Little House on the Prairie
L-R: Melissa Gilbert, Victor French and Sydney Greenbush | NBCU Photo Bank

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In time, Gilbert realized Little House on the Prairie was her destiny.

“Long story short with my dad’s thing, it took me a while to realize but I was on location in season 2 or 3 of Little House on the Prairie going, ‘Oh wait, this was the something better,’” Gilbert said. “Boy, was this something better. This wasn’t just a movie and that Miracle on 34th Street, nobody really saw it. It didn’t do what Little House on the Prairie did certainly. Very few shows do, very few movies do. What a blessing.”