‘Little House on the Prairie’: What Michael Landon Called Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson to Solve the ‘Two-Melissas Issue’

Melissa Gilbert played Laura Ingalls Wilder on Little House on the Prairie, and Melissa Sue Anderson played her older sister, Mary. Laura and Mary were typical sisters of the time — though they loved each other, a certain sisterly rivalry also sometimes came out. According to Gilbert, the scenes that featured the tenser side of Laura and Mary’s relationship were closer to the actors’ real-life connection.

Right off the bat, the fact that the young actors shared the same name presented a problem. So Charles Ingalls actor, executive producer, writer, and director Michael Landon set out to remedy the issue.

Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson on set at 'Little House on the Prairie.' The TV sisters are dressed in white dresses sitting in a carriage.
Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson’s relationship while filming ‘Little House on the Prairie’

The Little House sisters met at Gilbert’s audition for Laura (Mary had already been cast). But they really got to know each other while filming the pilot. They never really clicked.

“We played sisters and were only a couple years apart in age, but from the start, for whatever reason, we never had a real sisterly kinship,” wrote Gilbert in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “She was a strikingly pretty girl, and I wasn’t, at least I didn’t think so. As we got older, she was the girl everyone wanted to marry, and I was the plucky one they wanted to go fishing with.”

Anderson came out with her own memoir, The Way I See It, where she hardly mentioned her co-star. In an interview with AJC’s Radio & TV Talk blog on May 5, 2010, she said she didn’t write about Gilbert because they weren’t friends.

“I honestly do not have a lot of memories of the two of us,” she said. “We were very, very different.”

Melissa Gilbert said Melissa Sue Anderson had a ‘coldness’ to her, and it showed up in their scenes together 

Gilbert wrote that she and Anderson never became friends despite working together for years.

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“There was a distance to her, a coldness, though sometimes I wonder if it was just that I never knew how to get her to let me in,” she wrote. “She wasn’t easy to get along with. I think her reserve came across on-screen and was certainly apparent offscreen, whereas I wore my emotions as if they were a neon green T-shirt that glowed in the dark.”

Gilbert feels the “on-screen rivalry” between Laura and Mary was perfectly displayed in the “The Love of Johnny Johnson” episode.  

“When we snapped at each other, it was fairly real,” wrote Gilbert of the episode.

How Michael Landon solved the ‘two-Melissas issue’

The fact that the two actors shared the same name became a nuisance as soon as filming began.

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“Right away we faced the dilemma of having two Melissas on the same set,” wrote Gilbert. “Her nickname was Missy, and though my dad called me Missy-do or Wissy-do, almost no one else ever did because I made it clear I thought it was the stupidest nickname ever invented.”

Landon was the person who confronted “the two-Melissas issue.”

“She’s going to be Missy,” he said, looking at Anderson, according to Gilbert. Then, looking at her, “And we’ll just call you Half Pint.”