‘Little House on the Prairie’ Kept Terrifying Kidnapping Threats Secret From Melissa Gilbert

Little House on the Prairie harkened back to a simpler time. The drama on the show was not nearly as harrowing as some of the real-life drama that faced its stars. Melissa Gilbert was only nine when she began playing Laura Ingalls. She did not find out just how scary it was until she was much older. 

Little House on the Prairie: Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Gilbert shared stories about Little House on the Prairie on an April 18 episode of her Gilbert and Busfield podcast. She shared how the show was keeping her safe from kidnappers. Gilbert only later learned they kept her blissfully unaware of the danger. 

Melissa Gilbert did not know how famous she was on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert remembered looking at other celebrities and not realizing she was in their league. It’s okay, she was still just a kid. 

Little House on the Prairie
L-R: Melissa Gilbert, Melisssa Sue Anderson and Karen Grassle | NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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“I remember riding in the car with my mom in the mid to late 70s and saying, ‘What’s it like to be a star?’” Gilbert said. “She said, ‘You are.’ I said, ‘No, I mean like a star star, like Farrah Fawcett.’ She said, ‘You are.’ I said, ‘No, but like a really big star on a television.’ She said, ‘Honey, you are. You are literally the most recognizable female performer on the planet right now.’ ‘No, no, no, no, no, I mean like a celebrity.’ It was just my life.”

With ‘Little House on the Prairie’ fame came danger

Unfortunately, not all the Little House on the Prairie fans had intentions as good as the Ingalls family. Gilbert credited the production with keeping her safe.

“Everybody was watching me very closely,” Gilbert said. “I had virtually no freedom. I didn’t know this at the time but there were so many people writing kidnapping threats and stuff and so many weird, crazy stalkers that they kept from me. That’s why I was rarely alone and watched over constantly. I was nine.”

Melissa Gilbert did experience her growing fame 

There were some parts of fame that even young Gilbert could understand. For one thing, she met tons of Little House on the Prairie fans. 

“The things that got different were people asking for autographs,” Gilbert said. “The numbers of people who would ask for autographs would grow and grow and then there would be crowds, a little bit of hair pulling and scary fanatic fan behavior. Later on, when I was an adolescent, the thing that I noticed was the pressure on me to behave a certain way in public.”

Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler
Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

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It frustrated Gilbert to have to act like Laura Ingalls even when she wasn’t filming Little House on the Prairie. Now, she understands it was a fair trade-off.

“That’s when I really felt it,” Gilbert said. “People think of being famous as being fantastic, wonderful and there are a myriad of advantages to being well known and being recognizable. That is, if you are successful in this business, that is ultimately what you have to do and what you become. It does open a lot of doors but there are a lot of things that close down and get really small.”