Skip to main content

Melissa Gilbert was cast in Little House on the Prairie when she was 9 years old. America watched her character Laura Ingalls grow up on Little House on the Prairie. They saw her fight bullies, make friends, develop her first crush, and eventually fall in love and get married. But just because Laura was suddenly interested in romance doesn’t mean Gilbert was. Here’s why the actor “got a sick feeling in [her] stomach that didn’t go away for the next two seasons” whenever she saw “Almanzo Wilder” pop up in the script.

Melissa Gilbert And Dean Butler In 'Little House on the Prairie'
Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert | NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert was not ready to grow up when Laura Ingalls did on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert knew the trajectory of Laura’s life—she’d read the books. She knew that, someday, Laura would fall in love, get married, and have a baby. But these big changes in her character’s life came a lot sooner than she’d anticipated.

“I’d been having a difficult time with Laura’s more grown-up interests and desires,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “The new, sixth season introduced a number of new characters, including Almanzo Wilder, the young man Laura would fall in love with, marry, and start a family with.”

Gilbert writes that the first day she saw Almanzo’s name in the script she felt sick to her stomach. And she felt that way for the next two seasons.

“The nausea was all nerves,” she wrote. “I knew I was going to have to show affection, kiss, and at some point go to bed with a guy when in real life I was 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.”

Melissa Gilbert’s first impression of Dean Butler, the actor who played Almanzo Wilder on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Dean Butler was cast in the role of Almanzo Wilder. When the actors met for the first time, Gilbert felt a lot of things (none of which were positive).

“When we finally met I was hit by a perfect storm of disappointment, fear, anger, and nausea,” she wrote. “I can imagine what my face looked like. No, I don’t want to imagine. It couldn’t have been nice.”

Gilbert thought her love interest would be closer to her age—”Instead, they had cast a man!”

“Dean was a grown-up man,” wrote Gilbert. “I looked at him as if he’d risen from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. He was in his twenties. He shaved, drove a car, and lived in his own apartment.”


Melissa Gilbert Had to Take Intense Acting Classes When She ‘Wasn’t Delivering’ as Helen Keller in ‘The Miracle Worker’

And while Gilbert was disappointed in Butler, she imagines he was disappointed in her, too.

“He must have felt so bummed upon meeting this dorky, freaked-out fifteen-year-old with peach fuzz all over her legs (I hadn’t even shaved them yet), and being told I was the one he had to fall in love with and marry,” she wrote.

Gilbert and Butler might not have gotten off to the best start, but today they’re “great friends.”

“He knows he scared the crap out of me and that as a result, I made a point of doing everything I could to make him as uncomfortable as possible,” wrote Gilbert.