Growing up is already hard enough without having to deal with being known by the world as a celebrity. Melissa Gilbert is a child actor who had to learn how to handle her newfound stardom through Little House on the Prairie the hard way.
Gilbert, who became a household name for playing Laura Ingalls on the hit show, recalled when that realization came.
Melissa Gilbert: A Little Girl in “Little House on the Praire”
Gilbert took on the role as one of the main stars of the show when she was just nine-years-old.
She says she once asked her mother about fame, to which she responded by telling Melissa that she was just like Jane Fonda. The comment flew over the young girl’s head, as she believed it couldn’t be true. Gilbert didn’t see herself in that way.
As more people began recognizing and coming up to her while she was out in public, Melissa came to the realization that perhaps what her mother had told her was true.
Seeing the Set As a Playground
Due to seeing the world with childlike innocence, Gilbert saw the Paramount set where the filming of Little House on the Prairie was taking place as a type of playground.
“I explored the lot whenever I was able to get away, which wasn’t often; I was unable to resist the lure of checking out the places where the scenery was stored, the other sound stages, and the commissary, which was a hub of activity and star-gazing,” Gilbert said in her book, Prairie Tale.
Many of the stars took their lunch around the same time as filming would break. Gilbert stood wide-eyed and enthralled by seeing all of the big-named actors surrounding her while in the dining room.
“Oblivious to my own profile as one of the stars on a hit show, I was always looking around,” she writes. “I got excited whenever I saw someone famous, like Mork & Mindy stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber or the guys from Happy Days.”
Gilbert Experiences a Harsh Reality Check With Fame
While at the airport with her mother and sister, she received a blunt reality check about her stardom and the public’s viewpoint of her.
While standing with her family, she began wondering what it was actually like to receive recognition as a well-known celebrity. Those thoughts quickly go away as Gilbert must babysit her younger sister. The toddler was being loud and acting out.
“I wasn’t big; Sara was already half my size,” she writes in the memoir. “As I tried to hold her in my arms, with our backs arching and my head dodging her flailing hands, a woman came up to me and asked if I was Melissa Gilbert.”
Once Gilbert confirms who she is to the woman, the stranger says, “Oh gosh, my daughter loves you. Can I get your autograph?”
Although she did want to give the woman an autograph, she couldn’t at that moment since she was trying to control her infant sister who wasn’t behaving very well.
“I struggled to hold my sister, who was trying to wiggle out of my grasp,” she writes.
The woman looks at her with obvious displeasure. She walked away from the Little House on the Prairie star with an unhappy look on her face.
“Oh, what a little brat you are,” the woman responds before turning to leave.
Gilbert claims her thoughts regarding the interaction with the woman in the airport continued to stay with her for weeks.
“She walked away, leaving me shattered by this, my first unprotected brush with my own celebrity,” writes Melissa.
Learning the Lessons of Living As A Child Star
That was the child star’s first, but definitely not last, interaction with someone who saw her as a popular actor.
“Later, I realized while everyone else in the airport had been able to behave in whatever way they felt like at the moment, including that woman who was insensitive, or just oblivious, and downright mean, I had to be perfect, smiley, kind, and polite, or else I was a little brat,” Gilbert says in her autobiography.