‘Little House on the Prairie’: The ‘Basic Lesson’ Melissa Gilbert Learned About Being Famous

Melissa Gilbert was 10 when Little House on the Prairie premiered on NBC. Soon after the series came out, the actor became famous for her role as Laura Ingalls. Years after the show ended, she learned a valuable lesson about the stardom that comes with a hit TV program. 

Melissa Gilbert wearing a black dress talking to 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno.
Melissa Gilbert and Jay Leno|Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal

Melissa Gilbert vacationed with ‘Little House on the Prairie’ co-star, Michael Landon’s children

Gilbert first met Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon during her audition for Laura. She met with the Bonanza alum at Paramount Studios, where she read for the part in front of him.

“I remember thinking, Oh gosh, he’s really handsome,” Gilbert wrote of their meeting in her book, Prairie Tale. “He gave off a different kind of energy than ordinary people. It was a higher wattage.”

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Although she only previously acted in several commercials and had an appearance on Gunsmoke, she impressed Landon. He picked her to star as Little House on the Prairie’s central character. Throughout their time together, the TV father and daughter became close. Soon, Gilbert also formed a bond with his children- Leslie Landon, Michael Landon, Jr., Cheryl Landon, Christopher Landon, and Shawna Landon. In her memoir, the Miracle Worker actor said she and Leslie drank too much alcohol during a family vacation in Hawaii. While their parents went to dinner during the trip, the girls and their friend, Helen Reddy’s daughter, Tracy Wald, raided the room’s minibar. 

“We had vodka, rum, wine, champagne, Crown Royal, and Baileys Irish Cream, which I liked,” she said of the experience.

The ‘basic lesson’ Gilbert learned after the trip

After a night of getting “rip-roaring drunk,” Gilbert and Leslie kept a low profile the next day. However, the teenagers couldn’t hide their intoxication from Landon. He confronted them after they looked “slumped” at the beach. Then, the Highway to Heaven star brought Gilbert and Leslie “two glasses of what appeared to be tomato juice” to cure their hangovers. 

“I think both of us were crying from the pain we felt and the relief we hoped he could provide, rather than from fear or shame,” she said of the concoction. “Mike handed each of us a glass. They were Bloody Marys.” 

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Besides providing Gilbert and Leslie with more alcohol to make them feel better, the Diary of Anne Frank star said Landon didn’t further reprimand them. Additionally, she said that her mother, Barbara Crane, never confronted her about the act. Looking back, Gilbert, who has a reported net worth of $500,000, said the moment made her notice her privileges as a celebrity. 

“Back then, I was relieved. Now I’m not so sure I shouldn’t have been given a talking-to,” she said of the trip. 

“It would’ve been good for me to hear that my actions, like anyone else’s, had consequences for both me and those around me,” she continued. “Such a lesson can’t be underestimated; none of us live in a bubble, even those among Hollywood’s most privileged. I would have to learn this basic lesson myself, as did so many others around me, old and young.”