“Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert was the adopted child of actors Paul Gilbert and Barbara Crane. But at birth, she says her name was Baby Girl Darlington.
Gilbert’s biological parents were David Darlington and Kathy Wood. However, according to Biography.com, they both had three children from earlier marriages. And they worried they wouldn’t be able to take care of Gilbert. So they put her up for adoption as a newborn.
Luckily for Gilbert, she was born in Los Angeles, and she was a cute kid. Her show business adoptive family quickly got her into commercials, and then, eventually, onto the cast of “Little House on the Prairie.”
Melissa Gilbert’s Adoptive Grandfather Was in Showbiz
In a Television Academy Foundation interview conducted in April of 2011 in Tarzana, California, Gilbert shared that her grandfather, Harry Crane, was a comedy writer who helped create “The Honeymooners” and wrote many of the Dean Martin roasts.
“My grandfather was an extraordinarily funny, very dry man who knew everybody,” Gilbert told the Television Academy Foundation. “My grandfather wrote for John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra… [But] to me he was just Papa Harry.”
However, fortunately for Gilbert, Papa Harry had connections. And when it came time for her to audition for “Little House on the Prairie,” he pulled a few strings.
“I didn’t know how really influential he was, I mean really, deeply influential, until his memorial service,” Gilbert explained.
Papa Harry Helped Gilbert Land ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Role
She said her grandfather reached out to Michael Landon, who was highly involved in the creative development of “Little House on the Prairie,” including the casting process. And he put in a good word for Gilbert.
“I think he had a hand, not necessarily in getting me cast in ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ but I know that he made a couple of phone calls, because it was an NBC show,” Gilbert said. “I know he called Michael Landon – who, at the time, I had no idea who he was – but I know that my grandfather called Michael Landon and said, ‘So the kid’s coming in. And you gotta take care of the kid.’”
More than that, Gilbert said her grandfather apparently somehow knew the scene numbers for the audition in advance.
“I have framed the pilot episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” she explained. “And the scene numbers for the audition are typed on a slip of paper from my grandfather’s typewriter. So somehow he knew what the scene numbers were. I can tell, I know his typewriter. And that’s clipped on the outside of the script.”
Unfortunately, Gilbert’s adoptive father Paul died in February of 1975, leaving her without a father figure. Michael Landon filled that role until the two had some sort of falling out, per Biography.com. But until his death, Papa Harry was always there for Gilbert.