Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert began searching for her biological parents when she was in her 20s. After years of unsuccessful attempts, she finally sought out a business that specialized in helping adoptees reunite with their birth parents. They were able to proved her with her birth father’s phone number. After their initial meet-up, Gilbert told him what would happen if he sold their story to the tabloids.
The day Melissa Gilbert met her birth father
When Gilbert gave her birth father, David Darlington, a call, he was surprised to hear from her. He was even more surprised to learn who she was. After answering a few questions about being on TV and the other celebrities she knew, Gilbert asked Darlington if he’d like to meet up. He said yes. So the Little House actor flew to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he lived as a sign painter, to meet him.
“It was an incredible moment, though it was also one of the strangest I had ever experienced,” she wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.
Gilbert went to Darlington’s house for dinner, where she learned more about her family history, “which included an unsettling amount of alcoholism and cancer.”
“Sadly, it was not the warm, loving,we’ve-been-waiting-for-you-to-show-up fantasy I had entertained ever since initiating the search for my birth parents,” she wrote. “There wasn’t any meaningful discussion about my origins, my first twenty-four hours in this world, or whether, despite giving me up for adoption, either one of my parents had ever wanted me.”
Melissa Gilbert didn’t want her family history in the tabloids
In meeting Darlington and his family (the woman who gave birth to Gilbert died in 1980 following complications from a motorcycle accident she was in with Darlington), Gilbert felt she “had created a mess that needed management.”
“I didn’t want it to become a story in the National Enquirer,” she wrote. “I arranged to see them for brunch the next day before we left and I laid the cards on the table. I said the information we had shared belonged to them as much as it did to me. They could talk about it with whomever they liked, including tabloids, who would probably pay for their story.”
The ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star warned the Darlingtons what would happen if they went public with their connection
Gilbert also warned them about what would happen if they became known as her birth family.
“I cautioned that those same tabloids and papers had reported on my life for almost twenty years and already knew everything about me,” she wrote. “If they came forward, they would be opening their lives to the same scrutiny.”
“They will dig into your pasts,” she said.
So Gilbert suggested they not got public with their connection if there were “things in their pasts they didn’t want out.”
They must have heeded Gilbert’s advice, because “nothing ever made it into the press.”