Melissa Gilbert rose to fame as a girl, playing Laura Ingalls on the beloved family series “Little House on the Prairie,” which became a stand-alone show in the ’70s and ’80s. After she auditioned against 500 other girls, 9-year-old Gilbert began appearing in the role that would change her life forever. Soon after her debut, fans fell in love with her earnest, adorable portrayal of Laura.
During an exclusive interview with “CBS Sunday Morning,” Melissa Gilbert spoke about the impact “Little House on the Prairie” had on her upbringing. According to Gilbert, she’s the woman she is today because of the town of Walnut Grove.
“I absorbed so much without even realizing what I was learning,” she told CBS Sunday Morning correspondent, Mo Rocca. “I was learning really important life lessons about family, community, tolerance because I was saying all these things, and so they became a part of what I learned as well.”
For Gilbert, her life behind the scenes wasn’t as idyllic as it was portrayed on the show. In fact, her childhood was marred by tragedy. One day after she was born she was adopted by Barbara Crane and her then-husband, Paul Gilbert. Gilbert was six-years-old when her parents divorced. Five years later, she was told her father, Paul Gilbert, died from a stroke in his sleep. When she was 44-years-old, she learned that her father had actually committed suicide.
The Values Michael Landon Instilled in Melissa Gilbert
As a child, her on-set family became her actual family. She credits the late Michael Landon as the person she looked up to most on the show. Not only was he her on-screen father, but he also took on that role even when the cameras stopped filming. For Gilbert, he instilled in her certain values she now carries with her in her adult life.
“The show’s values were absolutely a reflection of our leader, Michael Landon. He was that man. He believed that people are always really good at heart and that anyone is redeemable and that the only way to change things is to do it from a place of love and fairness, and understanding.”
Now 56 and a grandmother, Gilbert still attributes “Little House” as what made her the person she is today. She also believes that the show’s recent rise in popularity could be that it represents a message of hope— something we all needed a lot of in 2020.
“Little House on the Prairie” provided people with a reminder that what we went through when we started this country and how difficult that was. And I think we’re at that place again. If we could have done what we did in the 1800s and the 1970s, we can do this.”