Before she was winning us over on “Little House on the Prairie,” Melissa Gilbert got her start on another beloved series of the 1970s: “Gunsmoke.”
Gilbert starred as Laura Ingalls in the beloved family show from 1974 until 1984. Before booking “Little House,” the former child star appeared in the 1972 episode of “Gunsmoke” titled “The Judgement.” In the episode, she appeared opposite James Arness and Amanda Blake in a minor role. Even though her appearance was brief, it helped kickstart her career in the industry. Little did she know that she would soon have one of the most successful acting careers in television history.
Before booking “Gunsmoke,” Melissa Gilbert’s appeared in dozens of commercials, starting at the early age of 3. She also appeared in a commercial for Alpo dog food alongside “Bonanza” star Lorne Greene. Greene also portrayed Michael Landon’s father’s in the western before Landon took on the role of Ingall’s family patriarch in “Little House.”
Before booking “Little House,” Gilbert even went to school with Landon’s daughter, Leslie. In fact, Leslie was the one who spilled the beans that Gilbert had landed the part on “Little House,” beating out over 500 girls who auditioned for the role.
After shooting the pilot for “Little House,” in 1973, the show was met with overwhelming success. Gilbert began shooting alongside her cast members a year later in 1974.
Melissa Gilbert on Michael Landon: ‘He Was Like a Second Father to Me’
Melissa Gilbert became extremely close to the Landon family after her adoptive father died. “He was very much like a ‘second father’ to me, she said of her relationship with Landon. “My own father passed away when I was 11, so, without really officially announcing it, Michael really stepped in.” When not working on the “Little House” set, Melissa Gilbert spent most of the weekends visiting Landon’s real-life family. She once said, “The house was huge. We ran like banshees through that house, and Mike would hide behind doorways and jump out and scare us.”
Sadly, Landon and Gilbert had a falling out after the news came out that Landon was having an affair with the show’s makeup artist, Cindy Clerico. Years after she ended her time on”Little House,” Melissa Gilbert mended her relationship with Landon. Landon’s family contacted her after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Right away, Gilbert paid him a heartfelt visit at his Malibu home in 1991. Tragically, Landon died one week later at 55. Years later, when Gilbert gave birth to her son on October 6, 1995, she and her husband named him Michael, in honor of her pseudo father, Michael Landon.