‘Splendor in the Grass’: Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly Had Intense Chemistry Upon Meeting—’I Was History’

Melissa Gilbert is best known for her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. But in 1981, she starred as Deanie Loomis in a remake of Splendor in the Grass opposite Cyril O’Reilly as Bud Stamper. The movie is about two teenagers who fall in love in pre-Depression Kansas and how they cope with parental pressure and the strict sexual mores of the day, according to IMDb.

Gilbert and O’Reilly had intense chemistry from the moment the actor auditioned for the part of Bud.

Melissa Gilbert at the "A Shayna Maidel" Off Broadway Opening Night
Melissa Gilbert | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly met at the audition for ‘Splendor in the Grass’

Gilbert had already been cast in the part of Deanie (the TV movie had been orchestrated by her team), so, for the first time in her career, the Little House actor was involved in the casting process when it came to the search for Bud. There was one person who stood out to her from the get-go.

“I chalk it up to chemistry,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “From the moment I looked into Cyril’s eyes, I was history. The wind was knocked out of the room. It was like the shot down the hallway in Poltergeist: dolly in/zoom out.”

Melissa Gilbert at the "A Shayna Maidel" Off Broadway Opening Night
Melissa Gilbert | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While Gilbert was incredibly taken with O’Reilly from the moment they met, there was also something about him that made her feel “completely safe.”

“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.”

Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly’s first kiss at ‘Splendor in the Grass’ rehearsal

When O’Reilly got the part, Gilbert was thrilled. Their first rehearsal took place in an empty office with just Gilbert, O’Reilly, and director Richard Sarafian. Before rehearsal began, O’Reilly closed his script and said, “Before we do this, can we get something out of the way?”

“I’ve got to do this one thing so it’s not hanging over us,” he continued, according to Gilbert. “Just so it’s done.”

With the go-ahead from Sarafian and Gilbert, O’Reilly leaned in and kissed his new co-star.

“I’m talking a real, mature, deep kiss,” wrote Gilbert. “Then he sat back and stared into my eyes, looking for a reaction. Cyril seemed pleased. He said, ‘There. Now we don’t have to do that for the first time again.’ Flushed and flustered, I said something like, ‘Well, then, there it is.'”

A portrait of Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert | Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Gilbert had had crushes before O’Reilly, but he inspired new feelings in her.

“My head was spinning in a pleasurable daze the likes of which I’d never experienced,” she wrote. “I felt that kiss somewhere deep in my abdomen and from there it spread warm and glowing out past the tips of my fingers and the ends of my toes and through and out each strand of my hair. It was like liquid electricity.

“That was it. Cyril had closed the sale before I even knew I was in the market for anything. All I knew was that I wanted more of whatever that was.”

Gilbert and O’Reilly went on to date in real life. He was Gilbert’s first love.