Melissa Gilbert Fell for Her First Love Because He Smelled Like ‘Alcohol and Cigarettes,’ Like Michael Landon

Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert’s first love was Cyril O’Reilly, her co-star in the remake of Splendor in the Grass. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert writes that she and O’Reilly had magnetic chemistry from the moment they met. But her attraction to her co-star might have been influenced by the years she spent with Michael Landon.

Melissa Gilbert in front of palm trees
Melissa Gilbert | Kevin Winter/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert says Michael Landon influenced her taste in men

When Gilbert played a young Laura Ingalls, she wasn’t aware that Landon “sipped vodka from his coffee mug every day almost as frequently as he pulled me into his sweat-soaked torso for a giant bear hug.” And yet, she was attracted to a certain type of man.

'Little House on the Prairie'—'Founder's Day'
‘Little House on the Prairie’—’Founder’s Day’ | NBCU Photo Bank

“I’m sure he’s one of the primary reasons why as a young woman, I almost always picked men who smelled like alcohol,” she wrote.

Additionally, Gilbert believes Landon was the reason for her “preference for physical men with a sense of humor.” Landon wasn’t afraid to get dirty on set, and he always had a practical joke up his sleeve.

When Melissa Gilbert fell for Cyril O’Reilly

Right off the bat, Gilbert and O’Reilly had intense chemistry. They met at the audition for Bud (Gilbert already had the part of Deanie—her production company was behind the TV movie remake).

Gilbert says there was something about O’Reilly that was familiar and “safe.” In a way, he reminded her of Landon.

“Maybe it was because he had my father’s coloring,” she wrote. “Maybe it was because he drank and smoked and the smell of alcohol and cigarettes had been programmed into my brain as good, familiar, and manly after seven years of being hugged by [Michael Landon]. One thing I do know: it didn’t hurt that he was absolutely gorgeous.”

The beginning and end of Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly

While Landon made a point to hide his drinking on the set of Little House on the Prairie, O’Reilly wasn’t so secretive when he desired a libation. O’Reilly would come visit Gilbert at her house (where she lived at home with her mother and siblings), oftentimes with a beer in hand and cigarette in mouth. Gilbert’s mother made it known that she felt her daughter’s beau’s habits were uncouth. But Gilbert didn’t mind.

Cyril O'Reilly participates in The Hollywood Show Day
Cyril O’Reilly | Albert L. Ortega/WireImage

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“Shooting the movie was an extraordinary experience for me,” she wrote. “There was the love story on-screen, and then there was the even better real-life romance that developed away from the camera. I fell in love for the first time.”

During the filming of Splendor in the Grass, Gilbert and O’Reilly shared an exceptional connection. However, when the movie ended, the actors began to drift apart. They were at different points in their lives. But that didn’t make the breakup any easier.

“I learned love could be as painful, hard, or perplexing as it was wonderful and intoxicating,” wrote Gilbert.