‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert Explained When Her ‘Issues’ Caught Up to Her: ‘An Uninvited Houseguest’

by John Jamison
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“Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert didn’t have the easiest upbringing. And though her on-screen persona Laura Ingalls was the envy of struggling girls everywhere, Gilbert herself wished she could have had Laura’s life too.

Melissa Gilbert was adopted. This alone is tough enough for a child to grapple with emotionally. But Gilbert was told that her birth parents were both exceptionally talented people. Her mom was said to be a prima ballerina and her father was apparently a Rhodes Scholar. One can imagine the conflicting emotions that come with learning something like that in youth.

On top of this, Gilbert’s adopted parents had issues of their own. And the combination was a perfect storm. The “Little House on the Prairie” star grappled with all of this later in life. In her memoir Prairie Tale, published in 2009, Gilbert recalled the exact moment when these issues caught up with her.

“Like so many women I’ve met, my issues eventually caught up with me,” she wrote. “I got to a point in life, somewhere into my second marriage and during my effort to get sober, where reality tapped me on the shoulder, demanding attention, asking questions I’d never stopped to consider… Sometimes life is like an uninvited houseguest. It shows up and refuses to leave until you deal with it.”

Isn’t that the truth? If something is left unaddressed, it can manifest itself in ways that are hard to predict. Locking things away can be detrimental to everything from physical health to relationships.

The “Little House on the Prairie” Star Got Letters From Abuse Victims

Girls everywhere who suffered from abuse could look at Melissa Gilbert’s character and escape. In her book, Gilbert said that many of these girls grew into women and sent her letters wishing they had Laura Ingalls’ life.

“These women say the one escape they had growing up was Little House on the Prairie. They wished they had Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life the way I played her. What I don’t ever tell them is that I’m also among those who wish I had Laura’s life the way I played her,” Gilbert wrote in her 2009 book.

Indeed, Melissa Gilbert also used the life of Laura Ingalls as an escape. And though it was slightly more tangible than experiencing it through a screen, it was still nothing more than a fantasy.

“For me, work was a fantasy where I was a happy-go-lucky kid with a larger-than-life surrogate father in Michael Landon,” she continued. “There were people I could talk to and count on, and horses and cows and other animals I could play with in an idyllic outdoor setting.”

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