The Silly Game Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert and Happy Days’ Henry Winkler Would Play When They’d Eat Lunch Together at Paramount Studios

Melissa Gilbert was cast as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie when she was 9 years old. She grew up at Paramount Studios where she met all sorts of celebrities like Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. But she became especially close with one celebrity in particular: Henry Winkler.

Melissa Gilbert and Henry Winkler
Melissa Gilbert and Henry Winkler | NBCU Photo Bank; Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert loved to explore Paramount Studios when she wasn’t filming ‘Little House on the Prairie’

In Gilbert’s memoir, Prairie Tale, she wrote about how she couldn’t imagine a better “playground” than Paramount Studios for a child. 

“We worked on stages 31 and 32, which were located at the back of the lot,” she wrote. “Behind us, there was a cemetery on the other side of a large wall. Not any old cemetery, it was the final resting spot for Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B. DeMille, and other Hollywood luminaries.”

Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank

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Gilbert tried “umpteen times” to scale the fence to sneak a peek at the cemetery that both creeped her out and fascinated her, but she “never made it.”

“I explored the lot whenever I was able to get away, which wasn’t often; I was unable to resist the lure of checking out the places where scenery was stored, the other soundstages, and the commissary, which was a hub of activity and star-gazing,” Gilbert went on. 

The celebrities Melissa Gilbert met at Paramount while filming ‘Little House on the Prairie’

The commissary is where Gilbert ran into some of her favorite celebrities. 

“Everybody on the lot working on TV shows or movies broke for lunch at approximately the same time and headed for the commissary, where my eyes darted across the large dining room,” she wrote. “Oblivious to my own profile as one of the stars on a hit show, I was always looking around. I got excited whenever I saw someone famous, like Mork & Mindy stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber or the guys from Happy Days.”

Gilbert’s favorite person to run into in the commissary was Henry Winkler.  

“I used to meet up in line with Henry Winkler, one of the loveliest people in the business,” she wrote. “As they’d say in Prairie speak, he and I took a shine to each other.”

Henry Winkler on 'Happy Days'
Henry Winkler | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Gilbert and Winkler had an odd little ritual of acting out what they had for lunch that day. 

“What are you having today?” Winkler would ask, as written by Gilbert. 

“I’m having a hamburger,” Gilbert would respond.

“Then I want to see you act a hamburger.”

“So I acted like a hamburger,” wrote Gilbert. “I have to say, the first time he suggested that game I thought he was nuts. But lunch with the Fonz got to be something I looked forward to. It wasn’t just a meal; it was a performance. He made me think as I ordered. How would I act as a salad? What would I do to portray a grilled cheese?”

Gilbert recounted the time Winkler asked her about how the French fries were on a particular day.  

“I turned toward him,” she wrote. “Zee fries, zey are v’reee French today.”