‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Melissa Gilbert Used To Think of Michael Landon as ‘Batman’

In her memoir, Priarie Tale, Melissa Gilbert describes Michael Landon as her “larger-than-life surrogate father.” He was a father to everyone on set at Little House on the Prairie, but especially to Gilbert, and even more so after her own father died when she was 11. When Gilbert first met and started working with Landon, she “could hardly take [her] eyes off him.” She was enchanted by his charm and “macho man” persona.

Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon on the set of 'Little House on the Prairie.' Gilbert is look up at Landon on the porch steps.
Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon formed a ‘special bond’ right away

Gilbert auditioned for the part of Laura Ingalls in a room at Paramount Studios, where she read for Landon. She remembers thinking: “Oh gosh, he’s really handsome.”

“He gave off a different kind of energy than ordinary people,” she wrote. “It was a higher wattage.”

After Gilbert was cast in the hit show, “the lines also blurred between Mike and [Gilbert].” Their relationship was as real offscreen as it was on. It began while filming the pilot.

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“Our special bond began on the pilot when we repeated the scene that I’d read in my audition, the one after we’ve lost the dog while crossing the river and Laura apologizes to him for thinking he didn’t care about Jack being lost,” she wrote. “It was a sweet father-daughter moment, one that was very real to me. It wasn’t a stretch at all to think of Mike as my dad. I could easily imagine having such a conversation with him.”

Melissa Gilbert thought of Michael Landon as James Bond or Batman

Especially in the beginning, Gilbert was completely swept off her feet by Landon.

“I’d never seen a man in person who was built like him,” she wrote. “He was an upside-down triangle, thick and muscular, and tough beyond my imagination.”

To her, he was the epitome of masculinity.

“He chain-smoked cigarettes,” she wrote. “On our first day of shooting, we were out in the snow and he was giving us direction when he took his cigarette and stubbed it out in the palm of his glove. I wanted to run over to my mom and say, ‘Did you see that?’ He did that all the time. Then he took out the tobacco, sprinkled it on the ground, and put the filter in his jacket pocket, where over the course of the day he’d build up a fair collection, which he threw out later. I’d never seen such a macho man.”

“He was like James Bond—or Batman,” Gilbert continued.

Their relationship through the years

Landon and Gilbert continued to be close as filming went on. Until it came out that Landon had been having an affair with a much younger stand-in on the show. Gilbert’s mother had become best friends with Landon’s wife, Lynn Noe. So when they split, Gilbert’s mother made it clear to her that they were on Team Lynn. The affair was such a scandal that Landon began to distance himself from the show altogether. He appeared in fewer scenes and directed fewer episodes. Gilbert still felt loyal to Landon, but their relationship was never the same.

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Just before Landon died of cancer, Gilbert went to visit him in his home, where he lived with Cindy Landon — the stand-in who became his wife. They held each other and said goodbye.

“He pulled me toward him and we hugged,” Gilbert wrote of her final moments with Landon. “Nothing else needed to be said. That hug was more than enough. That’s all he wanted. And that was pretty much all I was capable of.”