Who Was ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert’s First Love? (Hint: It Wasn’t Rob Lowe)

Melissa Gilbert is best known for her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. She was also involved in an infamous relationship with Rob Lowe in the ’80s that fascinated the public. But Lowe wasn’t Gilbert’s first love. That was actually Cyril O’Reilly, who she met while filming the remake of Splendor in the Grass. In Gilbert’s memoir, Prairie Tale, the actor opened up about her first whirlwind romance with O’Reilly.

Melissa Gilbert poses for a portrait
Melissa Gilbert | Ann Clifford/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly had chemistry right away

The first time Gilbert met O’Reilly was when he auditioned for the part of Bud. Immediately, Gilbert was hooked.

“From the moment I looked into Cyril’s eyes, I was history,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir. “The wind was knocked out of the room.”

And their chemistry only grew from there. On the first day of rehearsal, O’Reilly asked Gilbert if they could “get something out of the way” before starting and kissed her.

“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,” she wrote. “It was like liquid electricity.”

Melissa Gilbert’s first love

Gilbert had had plenty of crushes before O’Reilly. But her Splendor in the Grass co-star was her first real love.

“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.”

Melissa Gilbert attends "Chaplin" Opening on August 12, 1983 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California
Melissa Gilbert | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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Just like their characters, Gilbert and O’Reilly were hot and heavy off camera.

“Cyril would come over to my house after work to rehearse and there was a lot of making out when my mother wasn’t checking on us, and there was much more intense kissing in the trailer once we began production,” she wrote.

The TV movie finished filming in High Falls State Park in Forsyth, Georgia, after which there was a wrap party. Between when the director yelled “Cut!” and the celebration, Gilbert and O’Reilly “[went] all the way” for the first time in Gilbert’s hotel room.

“We arrived separately at the wrap party, where we had an even more exciting time stealing glances at each other form across the room as we talked to people, knowing we had done this incredible thing and nobody knew,” wrote Gilbert.

Why Melissa Gilbert and Cyril O’Reilly broke up

On the flight back to Los Angeles, Gilbert and O’Reilly cuddled up against each other, knowing that their time together would soon come to an end.

“We had shared a great deal of intimacy but we also knew we weren’t going to stay together,” she wrote. “(Someone else knew, too. Years later, Cyril told me that my mother had made it clear to him that he was not going to get anywhere near me once the film was completed.)”

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

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When they returned back to their normal lives after filming Splendor in the Grass, Gilbert and O’Reilly drifted apart. Gilbert was getting ready for college and O’Reilly “was already a man.”

But Gilbert learned a valuable lesson from O’Reilly: “I learned love could be as painful, hard, or perplexing as it was wonderful and intoxicating.”