‘Little House on the Prairie’: Behind the Secret On-Set Relationships

by Clayton Edwards
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One of the things that made “Little House on the Prairie” such a big hit was the on-screen relationships. The citizens of Walnut Grove gave families a taste of early American life. The rivalries, love affairs, and familial bonds made it feel all the more authentic. At the same time, these interwoven relationships kept things interesting on the show. However, things were a little different behind the scenes. Some on-screen rivals were close friends off=screen. Some siblings were rivals behind the scenes. On the other hand, some familial bonds stood strong even after the cameras stopped rolling.

The Most Well-Known “Little House on the Prairie” Relationship

Most “Little House on the Prairie” fans know that Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon were close behind the scenes. They were more than friends. Gilbert looked up to her on-screen dad as a father figure even when the cameras weren’t rolling. When they weren’t taping the show, the pair spent time together. Landon even told Gilbert that he loved her like a father loves a daughter.

Before getting the role on “Little House on the Prairie” Melissa Gilbert lost her father. He committed suicide but she was told that he died as the result of a stroke. Either way, she had a hole in her life. She needed a father figure. Michael Landon filled that role.

Their relationship hit a rough patch when Michael Landon divorced his wife. He did so to pursue a romance with one of the makeup artists on “Little House on the Prairie.” Melissa Gilbert was crushed by this. She had already lived through her real-life parents’ divorce. Landon opened old wounds when he left his wife for a co-worker. Gilbert was so hurt by this that she stopped speaking to Landon completely.

However, after Landon was diagnosed with cancer, Gilbert reached out to him and they mended fences. She even named one of her children after him.

Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim

Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim played Laura Ingalls and Nellie Olsen, respectively. Their families were often at odds. The most heated rivalry though may have been between Nellie and Laura. On-screen, they fought like cats and dogs. From watching them on “Little House on the Prairie” you would think the girls despised one another in real life.

however, nothing could be farther from the truth. Gilbert and Arngrim were incredibly close friends off-screen. They even had sleepovers together. The fact that their rivalry on the show was so believable is a testament to the talent of both young actresses.

Alison Arngrim and Steve Tracy

When the children on “Little House on the Prairie,” got older, on-screen romances naturally bloomed. Because she was so young and innocent, Melissa Gilbert had trouble portraying romantic love on-screen. In fact, her first kiss was also her character’s first kiss. Some of her young co-stars didn’t have this problem, though.

Alison Arngrim’s Nellie married Steve Tracy’s Percival. Both actors were close friends with Melissa Gilbert. As friends often do, they liked to engage in some good-natured ribbing from time to time. Tracy and Arngrim often made fun of Gilbert’s innocence. To make her uncomfortable, they really played up their romance even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

Tracy and Arngrim would engage in heated make-out sessions while hanging out with Melissa Gilbert. They only did this to get a rise out of her. There was no chance of an actual romance between the two because Steve Tracy was gay.

Real-Life Rivalries on “Little House on the Prairie”

While Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim played rivals but were actually very close many actors had trouble with one “Little House on the Prairie” co-star. Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson didn’t get along at all. Anderson played Mary Ingalls, Gilbert’s on-screen big sister. They put their differences aside for the show and appeared to be loving siblings to audiences.

In Gilbert’s book “Prairie Tale,” in which she looks back at her time on “Little House on the Prairie,” she described Anderson as cold and bratty. The dislike went both ways. While Anderson hasn’t talked about their feud, they still aren’t friends today. While the Ingalls sister’s off-screen dislike for one another was the strongest, Gilbert wasn’t the only one who felt that way about Anderson. Several cast members have said that she was cold to them.

Behind-the-Scenes Siblings

William Oleson was played by Jonathan Gilbert. He was Melissa Gilbert’s adopted brother. Not only did they star in “Little House on the Prairie,” together, but they were also very close. However, they became estranged later in life.

The actors on “Little House on the Prairie” were able to put aside rivalries and friendships alike to bring great on-screen performances to life. Looking back at these off-screen relationships really brings to light how talented the cast of the hit show really was.

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