‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Compared Her Time on the Show to the ‘Ultimate Summer Camp’ Where She Got to ‘Play Dress Up’

by Matthew Wilson
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“Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert enjoyed her time on the classic TV series. She reflected fondly on the show. Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls on the show, compared the experience to a summer camp. She enjoyed dressing up as the character.

“It was like a really great summer camp,” Gilbert told CBS Sunday Morning. “But I also got to play the ultimate game of dress-up and be in those fantastic clothes and those button-up boots. I don’t remember it ever not being fun.”

“Little House on the Prairie” was Gilbert’s first real brush with fame. And would also be her career-defining role. Beforehand, Gilbert got her start in guest roles on both “The Dean Martin Comedy Hour” and on the western “Gunsmoke.”

Melissa Gilbert on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert would come into her own on the TV show. The actor appeared in the premiere of the show when she was only 10 years old. She first learned that she got the part from Landon’s daughter Leslie. The two actually went to the same school together. Gilbert beat out around 500 girls for the role on the show.

“I went to school with the Landon kids,” Gilbert said, “I didn’t know that. . . and I was standing by my locker one day and this really tall girl came up to me and she said, ‘You’re Melissa, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘I’m Leslie and my dad says you’re going to be Half-Pint.’”

Besides Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls, Gilbert became the face of the show and its star. “Little House on the Prairie” catapulted Gilbert to fame at an early age. She soon had to deal with a legion of fans and viewers, who watched the show on a daily basis. But the show’s cast also became like a family to her.

For much of the younger cast, Landon acted as both a mentor and father figure. Gilbert formed a familial relationship with the actor and his kids that lasted the rest of her life. She visited Landon when he was in the hospital, dying of pancreatic cancer. Additionally, Gilbert found a best friend and fellow troublemaker in Alison Arngrim. The two would often perform pranks on other cast members.

It’s hard to say where Gilbert’s life and career might have gone without the show. It played an important role during her formative years.

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