‘Little House on the Prairie’: When Melissa Gilbert Was on the Receiving End of Michael Landon’s ‘Terrifying’ Anger

It’s no secret that Michael Landon could be a tough director on the set of Little House on the Prairie. He expected perfection and pushed his actors to deliver. It’s also no secret that when his expectations weren’t met, he could get angry. Melissa Gilbert, the actor who played Laura Ingalls, recalls one specific time she made Landon angry.

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls
Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank

The first time Melissa Gilbert caught a glimpse of Michael Landon’s temper on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Right off the back, Gilbert took a liking to Landon. At her very first audition for the role of Laura, she was captivated by the actor’s charismatic persona and good looks. But when she was cast as Laura, she caught a glimpse of another side of Landon while shooting the pilot.

“When one of the other executive producers wanted us kids to play the opening scenes without shoes, Michael lit into him with both a bark and a bite that make me pause and say to myself, Whoa, I pray to God I’m never on the receiving end of that temper,” she wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.

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The cast and crew were unexpectedly hit with a snowstorm while filming the pilot, so Landon didn’t want the young actors’ feet getting cold.

Despite the outburst, Gilbert wrote that Landon “couldn’t have been warmer or more nurturing” to her. Plus, she “could hardly take [her] eyes off him,” she was so taken by his rugged handsomeness.

“I’d never seen such a macho man,” she wrote. “He was like James Bond—or Batman.”

When Michael Landon got angry at Melissa Gilbert while filming an episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

“One day, as we shot an emotional scene for the episode titled ‘The Gift,’ I sensed his famous temper was about to blow,” wrote Gilbert, adding that it was her “fault” because she couldn’t remember her lines.

Gilbert had grown to view Landon as a father figure and “there was nothing [she] feared more than disappointing him.”

“I felt a connection to him that transcended our TV relationship and made me want to please him,” she wrote.

That, and “his anger was terrifying.”

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Michael Landon Got Melissa Gilbert To Cry in Emotional Scenes—’It Was a Bizarre Manipulation’

But after the third time Landon called cut, he faced Gilbert and gave her “a look that sent a shiver up [her] spine.” When he asked the young actor if she knew her lines she “lost it.”

“Tears gushed,” she wrote. “I stammered while searching for an explanation, but all the words jammed on my tongue. Nothing came out but an apologetic wail.”

Michael Landon helped Melissa Gilbert learn her lines 

“Give me a script and then everybody go for a walk,” Gilbert recalled Landon telling the crew.

Together, they went over the screen and the young actor learned her lines.

“Feeling like the storm cloud had passed, I got up and began to walk away,” wrote Gilbert. “Suddenly Mike grabbed my arm, spun me around, and stared daggers straight into my eyes.” 

“That’s never happening again, is it?” he asked her.

And it never did.

Still, today, Gilbert makes sure she’s always prepared whenever she’s on set.

“Now, nearly three and a half decades later, I can say that I’ve never gone into a scene on any project unprepared,” she wrote. “Mike would’ve expected as much from me. He taught me not to settle for anything less than my best, especially if I demanded it of others.”