‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Is Related To This Actor, But They Haven’t Spoken In 30 Years

Little House on the Prairie was a beloved TV show about family, friendship, and finding love wherever it exists. The show contained iconic characters played by the likes of Melissa Sue Anderson, Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, and more.

Melissa Gilbert in 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Gilbert in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert was the star of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

The Little House on the Prairie show was based on the book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which was loosely derived from her life growing up in rural Kansas. Melissa Gilbert plays Wilder on the show, making her the show’s semi-official protagonist.

Gilbert began to grow up on-screen as Little House‘s nine seasons progressed. Her character — and by association, Gilbert herself — learned many life lessons throughout that time that were a part of the script. The show touched on themes such as alcoholism, rape, racism, and more.

Melissa Gilbert (left) and Melissa Sue Anderson in a 1975 scene from 'Little House on the Prairie'
Melissa Gilbert (left) and Melissa Sue Anderson in a 1975 scene from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

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Melissa Gilbert’s real-life mother adopted her on-screen brother

In Little House on the Prairie, viewers got to know and love all the different characters that were a part of Wilder’s childhood. But there was one big area where the real Ingalls family and the on-screen Ingalls family differed.

Gilbert was adopted just one day after she was born by actors Barbara Cowan and Paul Gilbert. She reflected on her life and her relationships with her family members — as well as with her castmates — in her 2009 book Prairie Tale: A Memoir.

In one part of the book, Gilbert discussed her brother and Little House on the Prairie castmate Jonathan Gilbert. He played Willie Oleson, one of the rambunctious who lived near the Ingalls family. Willie was the brother of the polarizing character Nellie Oleson, played by Alison Arngrim.

Willie was also one of only six characters who remained on the show throughout its nine-season run.

(L-R) Kevin Hagen as Doctor Hiram Baker, Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls, Richard Bull as Nels Oleson, Karl Swenson as Lars Hanson, Wayne Heffley as Mr. Kennedy, Jonathan Gilbert as Willie Oleson (front) | George Hurrell/NBCU Photo Bank
(L-R) Kevin Hagen as Doctor Hiram Baker, Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls, Richard Bull as Nels Oleson, Karl Swenson as Lars Hanson, Wayne Heffley as Mr. Kennedy, Jonathan Gilbert as Willie Oleson (front) | George Hurrell/NBCU Photo Bank

Jonathan Gilbert and Melissa Gilbert haven’t spoken in decades

Despite Jonathan Gilbert’s much-loved role, Gilbert himself began to grow disillusioned with acting and with Hollywood as a whole. Little House on the Prairie began winding down in 1983 and was followed by two movies, both of which Gilbert appeared in.

Still, he had decided he had enough. His sister Melissa wrote in her memoir that he left the industry in 1984 to become a stockbroker. He first worked as a stockbroker in his hometown of Los Angeles before picking up and moving to New York City in his early twenties.

Even though the past few decades have brought new technology and new ways of connecting with family and friends, Melissa Gilbert admitted that she and her brother lost touch after he moved. It’s been three decades, but she hasn’t had a relationship with him since.