Little House on the Prairie debuted in 1974.
The American Western historical drama was based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best selling Little House books with the show featuring Michael Langdon, Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, and Melissa Sue Anderson as a family living on a farm in Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
It is set in the 1870s, 1880s, and the 1890s. The books explored many different themes like adoption, faith, social issues, etc. The show was predominantly a drama but had its fair share of comedy and lighthearted moments. Then child star, Melissa Gilbert, looks back on her time with the show fondly.
Melissa now lives on her own farm in Sullivan County, New York. She’s all about that farm life. Blisters on her hands from shoveling and dirt from all the farm work are pretty much normal for her now. It’s her own “Little House on the Catskills” as she says.
“It was like a really great summer camp but I also got to play the ultimate game of dress up and be in those fantastic clothes and button up boots and I don’t remember it ever not being fun.”
And it shows on her face whether on screen or off.
The popular show is still on reruns.
It’s seeing a spike in popularity too. Melissa says that may be down to everything that’s going on in the world now. Little House serves as a reminder of when times were much simpler. In the seventies, the country had to deal with an oil crisis, a recession, and the Watergate scandal.
Eerily similar to what’s going on nowadays. And according to the former star, if it’s happened before and people made it, then it can be done once more. The keys are compassion, community, faith, and love. She says them with a smile too!
If you go back and watch some of the episodes, they seemed to foreshadow the year 2020. A plague?
How about one with a quarantine? You bet!
There is even one about race. A child of former slaves comes through Walnut Grove and is taken in by the Ingalls family. The acting and the dialogue are on point too. There are many moments on the show that challenges the viewer to pause and reflect.
Melissa was only 9-years-old when she was cast.
Her co-star and lead was Michael Landon, by then already a famous actor. He was Charles Ingalls, Melissa’s on screen father but according to reports, he was also the show’s “Pa”. He was writing and directing episodes as well as executive producing the series. The man had talent.
The real challenge for Melissa was that at nine years old, she had a lot of lines on the show. She also did a lot of running on the show to go along with her words. She says she doesn’t remember walking at all.
She only missed her lines once!
Melissa says she kept forgetting her lines until Michael called her aside and confronted her about it. The little girl of nine burst into tears and you can imagine how embarrassing it must have been with all those people watching.
Michael Landon told everyone to leave the set, asked her to calm down, and went through the lines with her. When she finally nailed it, she hugged Landon while thanking him for his help. The man knelt down and told her never to let it happen again.
It never did.
Her life off camera was more complicated.
Melissa tells people that she doesn’t have a family tree. It’s a family shrub. She was adopted a day after her birth by Barbara Crane and Paul Gilbert. When she turned 11, she was told her father passed of a stroke.
But it was only at 45 when Melissa found out that her father took his own life. It was a deeply hidden secret but it seems like Melissa understands the reasons behind it.
She is a mother and a grandmother. Melissa confesses that the person she is today is all because of her life in Walnut Grove. She says she absorbed so much from the show. The themes and story lines wove their way into her life without her realizing it at first.
It was Michael Landon’s values that reflected on the show.
He was that kind of man, always believing in the goodness of people, and that everyone is always redeemable. Michael Landon was only 54 when he passed in 1991. The show has never been off the air.
Melissa says Landon would have been “proud and thrilled” and that he would have sat down for the interview instead of her. To which, she adds, she would gladly yield the chair. Melissa and Little House are reminders of what this world needs today.