Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) and Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder) share an eight-year age difference in real life. While starring as love interests on Little House on the Prairie, this gap left a lot of tension between the actors. And although eight years isn’t that much of a stretch, it was by their standards, considering Gilbert was only 15-years-old at the time, while Butler was 23. This significant age difference led to a lot of awkwardness and discomfort on set that would never fly by today’s standards.
Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) recalls the first day she met Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder)
Everything was fine and dandy for Gilbert on the Little House on the Prairie set until she learned the dreadful news: Her character would be getting a love interest. While most actors would be excited with this plot development for their characters, Gilbert felt sick to her stomach. According to the actor, in her memoir titled Prairie Tale, she was extremely inexperienced with sexual/romantic matters at that point in her life.
She had only ever kissed one other boy, and that was a small peck while on the show. Yet when she found out she would be getting a full-time lover on Prairie, she was downright petrified. Imagine her horror when she learned he was in his twenties!
“Then came Dean’s first day of work,” Gilbert writes in her autobiography. “When we finally met, I was hit by a perfect storm of disappointment, fear, anger, and nausea.”
She continues, saying, “I’d expected the producers to cast a contemporary of mine, someone close to my age. Instead, they had cast a man! That’s right. Dean was a grown-up man. I looked at him as if he’d risen from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. He was in his twenties.”
Both ‘Little House on the Prairie’ actors found their love scenes as Laura and Almanzo challenging
Gilbert was horrified by the fact that she had to “show affection, kiss, and at some point go to bed with a guy.”
Meanwhile, she felt terrible for her co-star who would be forced to share romantic scenes with a “knock-kneed, flat-chested fifteen-year-old who looked thirteen, still wore rubber bands and a retainer in her mouth, and had never gone out with, kissed, or even held hands with a boy.”
“It was challenging,” Butler agreed on Entertainment Weekly. “And Melissa was being watched very closely by everybody on set—she’d grown up around these people,” he said. “She had to take on this relationship with no experience. Melissa is one of the most fearless people I’ve ever known. She has that quality today, and she had it in spades as a 15-year-old girl.”
Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler are now great friends and laugh at their days back on ‘the Prairie’
According to Gilbert’s memoir, all that awkwardness and tension is long behind them. As adults, they can look back at their days on Little House on the Prairie and laugh.
“Thankfully, today we’re great friends,” writes Gilbert. “He knows he scared the crap out of me.”