Little House on the Prairie was Melissa Gilbert’s first leading role as a Hollywood actor. Gilbert played Laura Ingalls, the second oldest daughter of Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) and Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle). Gilbert starred as Laura for nine seasons of the show.
In 1984, Little House on the Prairie aired its final episode for NBC.
How Melissa Gilbert became ‘Laura Ingalls’ on ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Gilbert started acting as a young child. After appearing in a few commercials, Gilbert landed an audition with Landon for Little House on the Prairie.
“I read for him in a room at Paramount Studios,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “I remember thinking, Oh gosh, he’s really handsome. He gave off a different kind of energy than ordinary people. It was a higher wattage.”
Following her audition for Laura Ingalls with Landon, Gilbert participated in a screen test. There, Gilbert shot scenes alongside Landon and another cast member. Gilbert’s screen test resulted in the actor booking the job on Little House on the Prairie. In her memoir, Gilbert wrote that Landon’s daughter, Leslie, was the first to tell her she booked the role.
Melissa Gilbert said this episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ always makes her ‘weep’
After its 1974 premiere, Little House on the Prairie skyrocketed shortly. Viewers followed the Ingalls family as they lived a rural life in the 1870s. Gilbert rarely missed an episode of Little House on the Prairie, as the show primarily focused on her character.
In the early 1980s, Little House on the Prairie began to shift the storylines to Laura Ingalls’ new life with her husband, Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler). After a few seasons of Little House on the Prairie: A New Beginning, the series aired its final episode in 1984. The finale was a TV movie titled Little House: The Final Farewell.
During a November 2014 interview, Gilbert spoke about filming the final episode of Little House on the Prairie with Entertainment Weekly. She said that destroying the show’s beloved town brought “closure” to the cast. However, Gilbert said the episode is always hard to watch.
“I was glad that they were doing it because it gave us closure, but it was sad,” she admitted. “Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. The cast and crew were family. I still weep whenever I watch it.”
Melissa Gilbert has fond memories of working on ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Gilbert wasn’t traumatized by her experience working on Little House on the Prairie. Although the cast worked long hours on set, Gilbert said in Prairie Tale that the show allowed her to escape her real life. Additionally, Gilbert had the opportunity to work with seasoned actors like Landon every day.
“It was a really great place to grow up as a professional child,” Gilbert told Closer Weekly. “Again, I was working with all of these very serious adult actors who considered me their peer. Not a lot of condescending, not a lot of patting on the head. I mean, when I had moments, when I was an upset little girl about something, everybody stepped in to make me feel better, but it was only always about something personal and never anything professional.”
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