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Melissa Gilbert

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Melissa Gilbert
Gilbert in 2010
26th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
October 15, 2001 – February 22, 2005
Preceded byWilliam Daniels
Succeeded byAlan Rosenberg
Personal details
Melissa Ellen Gilbert

(1964-05-08) May 8, 1964 (age 60)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Bo Brinkman
(m. 1988; div. 1994)
(m. 1995; div. 2011)
(m. 2013)
RelativesHarry Crane (grandfather)
Jonathan Gilbert (brother)
Sara Gilbert (sister)
Known forLittle House on the Prairie
The Miracle Worker
  • Actress
  • author
Years active1967–present

Melissa Ellen Gilbert (born May 8, 1964)[1][2] is an American actress. Gilbert began her career as a child actress in the late 1960s, appearing in numerous commercials and guest starring roles on television. From 1974 to 1983, she starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder, the second oldest daughter of Charles Ingalls (played by Michael Landon) on the NBC series Little House on the Prairie. During the run of Little House, Gilbert appeared in several television films, including The Diary of Anne Frank and The Miracle Worker. As an adult, she continued her career mainly in television films. From 2009 to 2010, Gilbert appeared as Caroline "Ma" Ingalls in the touring production of Little House on the Prairie, the Musical. In 2012, she was a contestant on season fourteen of the popular reality dance competition show Dancing with the Stars on ABC.

Gilbert served as President of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) from 2001 to 2005. She briefly ran for U.S. Congress in 2016, but eventually withdrew her candidacy. She is also the author of a few memoirs, a children's book, and a cookbook.

Early life and family[edit]

Gilbert was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 8, 1964, to a newly engaged couple, Kathy Wood and David Darlington, and placed for adoption immediately after birth.[1] She was adopted one day later by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert[3] and his wife, dancer and actress Barbara Crane, the daughter of The Honeymooners creator Harry Crane. The Gilberts later adopted a son, Jonathan, who co-starred on Little House on the Prairie.

Gilbert's parents divorced when she was 6 years old. Her mother then married attorney Harold Abeles, and together they had biological daughter Sara Rebecca Abeles (the actress known professionally as Sara Gilbert) on January 29, 1975.

On February 13, 1976, Paul Gilbert died. Although 11-year-old Melissa was told that he had suffered a stroke, she found out years later that he had been a VA patient who dealt with constant pain and that he had taken his own life. The marriage of Barbara and Harold Abeles later ended in divorce.[4] According to her biography, Gilbert was raised in her adoptive mother's Jewish religion,[5] but did not have any formal religious education or conversion ceremony.[6]


Little House on the Prairie[edit]

Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, circa 1975

Gilbert's earliest television appearances were in dozens of commercials, including one for Alpo dog food with Lorne Greene (Michael Landon's television father on Bonanza). She also attended school with Landon's daughter, Leslie Landon. It was Leslie who informed her that she had won the role of Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, beating out over 500 child actresses for the part. The pilot was shot in 1973 and was a ratings success. Almost a year later, Gilbert began filming the series. Gilbert became extremely close to the Landon family after her adoptive father died. However, a rift developed between Michael Landon and Gilbert after the revelation of Landon's affair with Little House's young makeup artist, Cindy Clerico.[7]

Gilbert had limited contact with Landon after Little House ended during the 1983–84 season. Seven years later, she was contacted by Landon's family and upon news of his condition, paid him a heartfelt visit following his May 9, 1991, appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson where he discussed his pancreatic cancer. She visited Landon at his Malibu home where he was, by then, bedridden, and they spent the afternoon together. Landon died one week later. When Gilbert gave birth to her son with second husband Bruce Boxleitner on October 6, 1995, they named him Michael, in honor of Landon.[8]

Career after Little House[edit]

Gilbert at the 1991 Emmy Awards

Gilbert has continued to work regularly, mainly in television. She starred as Jean Donovan in the biopic Choices of the Heart (1983), and as Anna Sheridan in three episodes of Babylon 5 with then-husband Boxleitner in 1996. She also provided the voice of Batgirl on the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, though she would be replaced by voice actress Tara Strong for the series' follow-up The New Batman Adventures.

For her contribution to the television industry, Gilbert received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6429 Hollywood Blvd in 1985.[9] Her then-fiancé, Rob Lowe, was present with her when her star was unveiled during the ceremony.[10]

In 1998, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 2006, Gilbert appeared as Shari Noble, a patient looking to reconstruct her nipples after committing zoophilia with her dog in a season four episode of Nip/Tuck.

In 2008 and through 2009, Gilbert played Caroline "Ma" Ingalls in the musical adaptation of Little House on the Prairie. This world premiere production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis was directed by Francesca Zambello and also starred Kara Lindsay as Laura. The show ran through October 19 and was on a US National tour for 2009–10.[11][12] The tour ended in June 2010 at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.

In March and April 2018, Gilbert starred in an Off-Off-Broadway, limited-run production of Geraldine Aron's 2001 one-woman play 2001 My Brilliant Divorce.[13]

Dancing with the Stars[edit]

In March 2012, Gilbert joined the cast of celebrity contestants on season 14 of Dancing with the Stars. She was paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. During week four's show, while dancing the Paso Doble, she fell and hit her head on Maksim's leg and suffered a mild concussion and was taken to a hospital. She went home to recuperate, but returned to continue in the competition.[14] In week eight of competition, she was eliminated, finishing in fifth place.

Screen Actors Guild presidency (2001–2005)[edit]

Gilbert was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2001 after a contentious candidacy, in which she ultimately beat her opponent, Rhoda actress Valerie Harper.[15] In 2003, she was re-elected, defeating Kent McCord with 50% of the vote to his 42%.[16] In July 2005, she announced that she would not seek a third term.[17]

2016 congressional campaign[edit]

On August 10, 2015, Gilbert announced her campaign for Michigan's 8th congressional district in the 2016 elections to the United States House of Representatives.[18][19][20] Gilbert, who was the presumptive Democratic nominee in the district, dropped out of the race in May 2016, citing health issues.[21]

In 2022, Gilbert launched a lifestyle app aimed at women called Modern Prairie.[22][23]

Personal life[edit]


Gilbert was married to actor Bo Brinkman from 1988-1994,[24] and to actor Bruce Boxleitner from 1995-2011.[24]

In January 2013, Gilbert's representative confirmed her engagement to actor Timothy Busfield.[25] They married on April 24, 2013,[26] lived in Howell, Michigan, from 2013 to 2018,[27] and moved to New York City late in 2018.[28] Also in 2018, the couple purchased a cottage in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. Gilbert and Busfield have been renovating the cottage and intend to live there permanently. [29]

Tax issues[edit]

Following her announcement as a candidate for U.S. Representative from Michigan, a spokesperson for her opponent's campaign referred to Gilbert as a "tax cheat". Gilbert owed $360,000 in back federal taxes and $112,000 in California state taxes.[30] Gilbert responded by stating that this is not true, that the tax debt was an outgrowth of a stalled acting career, the economy, and divorce.[31] She also stated that she had negotiated a repayment plan with the IRS.[30]

Health issues[edit]

In her late thirties, Gilbert battled addiction to prescription medication and alcohol. [32]

While playing the role of Caroline "Ma" Ingalls in the touring musical Little House on the Prairie, a visit to the doctor revealed that Gilbert had been working with a broken back for months. On July 22, 2010, Gilbert underwent surgery to replace a disc as well as fuse a vertebra in her lower spine. The surgery was described as a complete success.[33]

In January 2015, Gilbert decided to have her breast implants removed for health reasons.[34]



Year Title Role Notes
1967 The Reluctant Astronaut Niece
1979 Nutcracker Fantasy Clara Voice
1985 Sylvester Charlie
1986 Drug Free Kids: A Parents' Guide Video
1987 Blood Vows: The Story of a Mafia Wife Marian (Wife) Film
1989 Ice House Kay Shattered Trust
2007 Safe Harbour Ophelia MacKenzie Video
2015 One Smart Fellow Ellen Short film
2019 Guest Artist Producer
When We Last Spoke Ruby


Year Title Role Notes
1968 The Dean Martin Comedy Hour Girl on Santa's Lap Episode: "1968 Christmas Show"
1972 Gunsmoke Spratt's Child Episode: "The Judgement"
Emergency! Jenny Episode: "Dinner Date"
1973 Tenafly Suzie's sister Episode: "The Cash and Carry Caper"
1974–1983 Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Main role
1977 Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A. Kelly Sullivan TV movie
1978 The Love Boat Rosemary 'Rocky' Simpson Episode: "Rocky"
The Hanna-Barbera Happy Hour Herself Episode 1.2
1979 The Miracle Worker Helen Keller TV movie
The Little House Years Laura Ingalls Wilder
1980 The Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank
1981 Splendor in the Grass Wilma Dean 'Deanie' Loomis
1983 Choices of the Heart Jean Donovan
Little House: Look Back to Yesterday Laura Ingalls Wilder
1984 Little House: The Last Farewell
Family Secrets Sara Calloway
Little House: Bless All the Dear Children Laura Ingalls Wilder
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Gerda Episode: "The Snow Queen"
1986 Choices Terry Granger TV movie
Penalty Phase Leah Furman
1987 Blood Vows: The Story of a Mafia Wife Marian
1988 Killer Instinct Dr. Lisa DaVito
1989 Ice House Kay
1990 Without Her Consent Emily Briggs
Forbidden Nights Judith Shapiro
Joshua's Heart Claudia
Donor Dr. Kristine Lipton
The Lookalike Gina / Jennifer
1991 The Hidden Room Episode: "Spirit Cabinet"
1992 Stand by Your Man Rochelle Dunphy Main role
With a Vengeance Jenna King / Valerie Tanner TV movie
1992–1994 Batman: The Animated Series Barbara Gordon / Batgirl Voice
1993 Family of Strangers Julie Lawson TV movie
With Hostile Intent Miranda Berkley
Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story Shari Karney
House of Secrets Marion Ravinel
Dying to Remember Lynn Matthews
1994 The Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story Mary Bennett
Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story Melissa Prentice
Asbestos in Obstetrics Fire Captain
Cries from the Heart Karen Barth
1994–1995 Sweet Justice Kate Delacroy Main role
1995 Zoya Zoya Ossipov TV movie
1996 Babylon 5 Anna Sheridan 3 episodes
A Holiday for Love Emma Murphy TV movie
1997 Seduction in a Small Town Sarah Jenks
Childhood Sweetheart? Karen Carlson
1998 The Outer Limits Teresa Janovitch Episode: "Relativity Theory"
Murder at 75 Birch Gwen Todson TV movie
Her Own Rules Meredith Sanders
Touched by an Angel Michelle Tanner Episode: "The Peacemaker"
1999 The Soul Collector Rebecca TV movie
Mistaken Identity Sarah Barlow
2000 A Vision of Murder: The Story of Donielle Donielle
2001 Sanctuary Jo Ellen Hathaway
2002 Providence Lorna Berlin Episode: "Smoke and Mirrors"
Presidio Med Grace Bennett Episode: "Once Upon a Family"
2003 Then Came Jones Devon Jones-Thomas TV movie
Storyline Online Herself Episode: "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother"
Hollywood Wives: The New Generation Taylor Singer TV movie
2004 Heart of the Storm Cassie Broadbeck
2005 Thicker than Water Natalie Travers
Fat Actress Herself Episode: "Charlie's Angels or Too Pooped to Pop"
7th Heaven Marie Wagner Episode: "Honor Thy Mother"
2006 Nip/Tuck Shari Noble Episode: "Shari Noble"
2007 Sacrifices of the Heart Kate Weston / Anne Weston TV movie
2011 The Christmas Pageant Vera Parks
2012 Dancing with the Stars Herself (Contestant) 14 episodes
2015 The Night Shift Lindsay Episode: "Hold On"
Secrets and Lies Lisa Daly 5 episodes
2017 Tenure Tilly Masters TV movie
2018 Hometown Christmas Mary Russell

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Title of work Result
1980 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special The Miracle Worker Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Juvenile Actress in a TV Series or Special Little House on the Prairie
1981 Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Drama
1982 Young Artist Award Best Young Actress in a Television Special Splendor in the Grass
1983 Best Young Actress in a Drama Series Little House on the Prairie Won
2000 Golden Boot Awards Golden Boot n/a
2006 TV Land Awards Most Memorable Kiss Little House on the Prairie


  • Gilbert, Melissa (2009). Prairie Tale: A Memoir (1st ed.). Gallery Books. ISBN 978-1-416-59914-2.
  • Daisy and Josephine (2014)[35]
  • My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours (2014).[36]
  • Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered. (2022)[37]


  1. ^ a b "Melissa Gilbert Interview | Archive of American Television". Emmytvlegends.org. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  2. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 228)
  3. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 14–15)
  4. ^ (Gilbert 2009, p. 114)
  5. ^ Bloom, Nate (October 26, 2010). "Interfaith Celebrities: The Talk's Hosts and David Schwimmers Bride". InterfaithFamily. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015.
  6. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 5–6)
  7. ^ E! Entertainment's "Celebrity Profile:Melissa Gilbert," 1999.
  8. ^ "Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner Split". People. March 1, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  9. ^ "Melissa Gilbert". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  10. ^ "Melissa Gilbert adds her name to the 'star'". The Desert Sun. March 15, 1985.
  11. ^ "Little House on the Prairie". Guthrie Theater. 2008. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew (September 20, 2009). "Gilbert, Blanchard, Lindsay, Massey, Loprest Explore a Musical Prairie at Paper Mill, Opening Sept. 20". playbill.com. Archived from the original on October 3, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  13. ^ Porter, Juan Michael II (March 20, 2018). "My Brilliant Divorce [review]". Time Out New York. Archived from the original on March 28, 2018. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  14. ^ Marikar, Sheila (April 11, 2012). "Melissa Gilbert Still 'In Pain' After 'Dancing' Concussion". Retrieved April 11, 2012.
  15. ^ Bates, James (November 3, 2001). "Divided SAG Elects Melissa Gilbert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 23, 2023.
  16. ^ Peter Kiefer and Jesse Hiestand (September 24, 2003). "Gilbert re-elected for two more years as SAG president". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  17. ^ Brodesser, Claude (July 21, 2005). "No SAG encore for Gilbert". Variety Magazine. Retrieved October 23, 2023.
  18. ^ Spangler, Todd (August 10, 2015). "Actress Melissa Gilbert running for Congress in Michigan". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  19. ^ Pael, Wayne (August 10, 2015). "Actress Melissa Gilbert announces run for Congress". Livingston Daily. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  20. ^ Oosting, Jonathan (August 10, 2015). "Melissa Gilbert of 'Little House' fame running for Michigan seat in U.S. House". MLive.com. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  21. ^ Spangler, Todd; Gray, Kathleen (May 24, 2016). "Actress Melissa Gilbert drops out of race for Congress". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  22. ^ "How Melissa Gilbert's Lifestyle Brand Modern Prairie Is Using the Home to Redefine Aging". Better Homes & Gardens. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  23. ^ "'Half Pint' Melissa Gilbert Has Hit Menopause—But the Little House on the Prairie Star Says It's a 'Gift' to Grow Old". Peoplemag. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  24. ^ a b Timothy Busfield on His Marriage to 'Little House on the Prairie' 's Melissa Gilbert: 'She Was the One'
  25. ^ Jordan, Julie; Shira, Dahvi (January 29, 2013). "Melissa Gilbert Engaged to Thirtysomething's Timothy Busfield". People. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  26. ^ Nudd, Tim; Jordan, Julie (April 25, 2013). "Melissa Gilbert Weds Timothy Busfield". People. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  27. ^ Moorehouse, Buddy (August 5, 2013). "Hollywood comes to Howell: Gilbert and Busfield are the biggest stars we've had, but not the first". thelivingstonpost.com. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  28. ^ "Estate sale planned as Melissa Gilbert, Timothy Busfield leave Michigan". Detroit Free Press. July 9, 2018. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  29. ^ "'Little House on the Prairie' star Melissa Gilbert on embracing a simpler life: 'I don't miss Hollywood'". Fox News. May 10, 2022.
  30. ^ a b Eggert, David (August 11, 2015). "Actress Melissa Gilbert running for Congress in Michigan". Associated Press. New York. Retrieved August 11, 2015. Bishop campaign spokesman Stu Sandler called Gilbert a "tax cheat," noting that she owes $360,000 in back taxes to the U.S. government and $112,000 to California.
  31. ^ Sheets, Andy (August 14, 2015). "OFF THE BEATEN TAX: NOT-SO-LITTLE TAX LIEN ON THE PRAIRIE". 2015 TNT 157-4. Tax Notes Today.
  32. ^ "Melissa Gilbert Opens Up About Past Addiction". Entertainment Tonight. September 21, 2012. Retrieved October 25, 2023.
  33. ^ Watson, Frances (July 14, 2010). "Melissa Gilbert to undergo surgery for broken back, performed in 'Little House' musical". ontheredcarpet.com. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  34. ^ Rothman, Michael (January 8, 2015). "Why Melissa Gilbert Had Her Breast Implants Removed". Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  35. ^ Gilbert, Melissa (January 21, 2014). Daisy and Josephine: Melissa Gilbert, Julia Kuo: 9781442445789: Amazon.com: Books. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1442445789.
  36. ^ Gilbert, Melissa (September 16, 2014). My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours: Melissa Gilbert, Dane Holweger: 9781419707780: Amazon.com: Books. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-1419707780.
  37. ^ Back to the Pairie

External links[edit]