This ‘Gunsmoke’ Child Actor Went on to Star on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’

by Emily Morgan
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Classic TV shows such as “Gunsmoke” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” may seem like they’re worlds apart; however, there’s one child actor who has a connection between the two. 

In the “Gunsmoke” episode titled “Jenny,” Lisa Gerritsen proved she had the acting talent to hold her own. At just 10-years-old, Gerritsen began her acting career with an earlier appearance on a 1968 episode. 

On December 28, 1970, Gerritsen returned to “Gunsmoke” when she played a 10-year-old who decided to leave St. Louis. Her recent mother’s death prompted her to find her outlaw father, Lucas Pritchard, played by Steve Ihnat.

Earlier in 1970, Gerritsen appeared as Hannah Carson on fellow TV western “The Men From Shiloh” in the episode titled “Hannah.” However, her career wouldn’t fully take off until showrunners cast her in a role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” 

Gerritsen played teen daughter to Cloris Leachman, known as Bess Lindstrom. At just 13-years old, she was running lines with two of the funniest sitcom stars. Sadly, Gerritsen stopped acting in 1978 at just 21-years-old. 

After decades out of the spotlight, Gerritsen returned in 2000 for Mary and Rhoda, a made-for-television comedy-drama film starring Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper. At the time of the announcement, a Chicago Tribune TV writer decided he would get to the bottom of why the once-promising actress left the industry. 

Former ‘Gunsmoke’ Child Star Makes a Mysterious Exit

In preparation for his interview, he connected with someone who claimed to have worked with Gerritsen at a software company. After some digging, he found the former child star’s phone number. Yet, he decided to forgo calling. He concluded that she probably didn’t want to be bothered if she made it so hard to be found. 

Gerritsen first became an actor thanks to her grandfather, True Eames Boardman, who worked as a TV writer. Coincidentally, Boardman himself was once a child actor. She was also the great-granddaughter of True Boardman and Virginia True Boardman, both silent film actors in the early days of film. 

Her grandfather noted her acting potential after seeing her horseback riding skills. As a result, he wrote a “Bonanza” episode for her that highlighted her acting and horseback riding talent. 

Once, there was an incident while she was starring in the 1969 sitcom “My World and Welcome to It.” She broke her arm after she fell off her horse, resulting in scriptwriters rushing to write a reason for her character to wear a cast for the next six weeks of filming as her arm healed. 

Although we may not know why Gerritsen stopped acting at just 21, it makes us think she might’ve just decided to go back to her horses and say goodbye to TV forever. 

Outsider.com