Actress Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie, reflects on her time on the hit show “Little House on the Prairie.” She revealed one actor didn’t want to be there.
Airing from 1974 to 1983, the show followed the Ingalls family living in 19th Century America. But one actor happened upon the show by chance. The actor who portrayed Arngrim’s on-screen little brother Willie Oleson didn’t want to be on the show. Jonathan Gilbert is real-life siblings with star Melissa Gilbert. He had accompanied his sister to her audition for the show when he was cast himself.
“He really didn’t want to be in the show, it’s true,” Arngrim told the podcast “From the Desk.” “He’s our Where’s Waldo? has fallen off the face of the earth. He’s doing his own thing.”
Both Jonathan and Melissa had been little kids at the time. The only reason Jonathan got cast was because his parents couldn’t leave him in the car. Producers thought he looked adorable and would be perfect for the part of Willie. Quickly, both of the Gilberts landed roles in the show.
“Melissa gets the part of Laura, and he’s with them at the audition, like they weren’t going to leave him in the car,” Angrim said. “And then they were like, ‘Well, who are you? Oh my God, he’s adorable. Wait, he could be Willie.’ He’ll be hanging around anyways — too young to go to school. … So he was just hired.”
Jonathan Gilbert Never Liked His ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Fame
Unlike his co-stars, Gilbert never liked the fame that the show brought him. He refused to go to parties with other castmates and avoided publicity when he could.
“We would go to parties, and Melissa and I would be off to some red carpet thing, NBC affiliate this, and blah blah blah that. He’d be back at the house playing pinball,” Arngrim said. “We’d be all dressed up, we’d be picking her up, going somewhere together. We’d be like, ‘Aren’t you coming?’ He’d be like, ‘No.’ He did no publicity — he completely didn’t care. And as soon as he was done, he packed his things and went, ‘See ya,’ and moved out of her house.”
His role as Willie was one of the only roles Gilbert ever starred in. Despite his aversion to fame, he did return to the role for two specials to close out the series. Reportedly, Gilbert became a stockbroker after finishing his acting career.
“He was never into the idea of showbiz, publicity, interviews, anything,” Arngrim said. “So, when people go, ‘Is he coming to reunions?’ Like, he didn’t go to personal appearances and events when he was on the show!”