‘Little House on the Prairie’: When Melissa Gilbert Realized Michael Landon Was Having an Affair With a Stand-in

The actor who played Laura Ingalls Wilder on Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert, looked up to Michael Landon as if he was her own father. So when she realized he may be having an affair, she thought she was “crazy.”

Michael Landon and girlfriend Cindy Clerico on November 21, 1982 pose for photographs outside the Sherry Netherlands Hotel in New York City
Michael Landon and Cindy Clerico in 1982 | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert was close with Michael Landon, his ex-wife Lynn Noe, and their children

After Gilbert was cast as Laura, she became fast friends with Landon’s children, Leslie and Michael Jr. (she even dated Mike Jr. for a time).

“I slept at their house and they at mine, often enough that they felt like my weekend family, and I thought Mike and Lynn were the most glamorous, loving couple,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.

When Gilbert first met Noe, she thought she “was one of the most glamorous women I’d ever seen.”

Marjorie Lynn Noe Landon, Michael Landon Appearing On 'The Barbara Walters Special'
Marjorie Lynn Noe Landon and Michael Landon | American Broadcasting Companies via Getty Images

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“On location, she wore fur coats and wonderful boots,” Gilbert described Noe’s style, noting that she always looked like a “movie star.”

In fact, Noe inspired Gilbert’s love of jewelry at a young age.

“Lynn had a collection of jewelry that was unlike anything my little girl’s eyes had seen,” she wrote. “At some point each day I would stare at Auntie Lynn’s fingers, wrists, and ears, hoping to see some new and remarkable piece, and usually I did. Michael showered her with every gemstone imaginable. It wasn’t long before one of my favorite things to do when I visited New York City was to walk down Fifth Avenue and gape at the pieces in the windows of Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, and every other major jewelry store there.”

When Melissa Gilbert first noticed Michael Landon was interested in Cindy Clerico

At a certain point in Gilbert’s career, her mother wanted her to start being considered for more dramatic roles. So her part as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker came about. It was on the set of the TV movie that Gilbert realized Landon and Cindy Clerico had some sort of relationship.

“Mike had become very friendly with a new stand-in on the show, a pretty young blond named Cindy Clerico,” wrote Gilbert. “I first noticed her during production of The Miracle Worker when Mike visited the set one day and said hello to her before he did to me.”

When Gilbert asked someone who she was, they said, “Oh, she’s a stand-in. I guess they know each other.”

“Though it didn’t register with me then, I’m pretty sure that was the start of their romance,” Gilbert continued.

Melissa Gilbert couldn’t (and didn’t) believe what she was seeing

As time went on, Landon and Clerico spent more and more time together.

“It was nothing untoward; they weren’t ever in a closed-off room, not that I saw,” she wrote. “But Mike would walk around holding her puppy, and she was a pretty young thing who wore stylish tight jeans, leotards, and high-heel boots.”

Premiere of "Sam's Son"
Cindy Clerico and Michael Landon | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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While Gilbert didn’t know exactly what was going on between Landon and Clerico, she knew “that it might be wrong.” When she spoke to her mother about it, she said: “Oh, you’re crazy.” And Gilbert believed her.

After all, “Mike still bought Auntie Lynn gifts, thanked her when he picked up awards, told everyone how much he loved her, and fawned all over her when we went to Hawaii.”

But that was the beginning of the end for Landon and Noe. The Little House director went on to marry Clerico in 1983 and they stayed married until he died in 1991.