Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert
Melissa Gilbert at the 1991 Emmy Awards cropped.jpg
Gilbert at the 1991 Emmy Awards
President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
Preceded by William Daniels
Succeeded by Alan Rosenberg
Personal details
Born Melissa Ellen Gilbert
(1964-05-08) May 8, 1964 (age 50)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Children 2
Parents Paul Gilbert
Barbara Crane
Occupation Actress, director, producer

Melissa Ellen Gilbert[1] (born May 8, 1964) is an American actress and television director.

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 1984, she starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder on the NBC series Little House on the Prairie. During the run of Little House, Gilbert appeared in several popular television films, including The Diary of Anne Frank and The Miracle Worker.

As an adult, she continued her career mainly in television films. Gilbert has also continued with guest starring roles on television and has done voice work for animation such as Batman: The Animated Series. 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 the President of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, her autobiography Prairie Tale: A Memoir, was released. In 2014 she wrote a short story for children, called Daisy and Josephine [2] as well as My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours.[3]

Early life and family

Gilbert was born in Los Angeles, California to a newly engaged couple, David Darlington and Kathy Wood, and was put up for adoption immediately after birth.[4] She was adopted one day later by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert (born Ed MacMahon, he changed his name to Paul Gilbert to get a Screen Actors Guild card)[5] and his wife, dancer and actress Barbara Crane, the daughter of The Honeymooners creator Harry Crane. The couple later adopted a son, Jonathan, who co-starred on Little House on the Prairie. Gilbert's adoptive parents divorced when she was 8 years old. Her mother, Barbara, then married Harold Abeles, and together they had biological daughter Sara Rebecca Abeles (the actress known professionally as Sara Gilbert), born on January 29, 1975. On February 13, 1976, Paul Gilbert passed away. Although 11-year-old Melissa was told that he had suffered a sudden stroke, she found out years later that the 57-year-old Paul 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' marriage later ended in divorce.[6] Gilbert was raised in her adoptive mother's Jewish religion, but did not have any formal religious education or conversion ceremony.[7]


Early years


Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, circa 1975

Gilbert had already done dozens of commercials, including one for Alpo dog food with Lorne Greene (Michael Landon's television father on Bonanza) and 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. But a rift developed between Michael Landon and Gilbert after the revelation of Landon's affair with Little House '​s young makeup artist, Cindy Clerico.[8]

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, she 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.[9]

Career after Little House

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 Bruce 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. Her then-fiance, Rob Lowe, was present with her when her star was unveiled during the ceremony.

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.[10][11] The tour ended in June 2010 at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dancing with the Stars

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.[12] In week eight of competition, she was eliminated, finishing in fifth place.

Screen Actors Guild presidency

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, 21,351 votes to 12,613 votes after a second vote was taken. In 2003, she was re-elected, defeating Kent McCord with 50% of the vote to his 42%.[13] In July 2005, she announced that she would not seek a third term. She was succeeded by Alan Rosenberg, who assumed the guild presidency on September 25.

Personal life

After her break up with Lowe, Gilbert left for New York City to star in the play A Shayna Maidel. Gilbert was set up with actor Bo Brinkman, a cousin of actors Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid. The couple married on February 22, 1988, only seven weeks after she ended her relationship with Rob Lowe. Gilbert became pregnant months later. On May 1, 1989, she gave birth to son Dakota Paul Brinkman. They divorced in 1992.

Only weeks after Gilbert's divorce filing, Bruce Boxleitner's ex-wife, Kathryn Holcomb, set Boxleitner up with Gilbert. Holcomb by then was married to actor Ian Ogilvy. Gilbert had met Boxleitner as a teenager when they both were on Battle of the Network Stars when Gilbert introduced herself, and she had a pin-up of him in her locker. But Boxleitner ignored her, because she was a teen and he was many years older than she was. After reconnecting, the couple started dating on and off for over a year. They were engaged twice and Boxleitner broke up with her each time. After reuniting for a third time, they finally married on January 1, 1995, in her mother's living room. Gilbert quickly became pregnant, but went into premature labor more than two months before her due date. She gave birth to a son, Michael Garrett Boxleitner, named in honor of Michael Landon, on October 6, 1995. His middle name is in honor of Garrett Peckinpah, her friend Sandy Peckinpah's son, who had died suddenly of meningitis at age 16. Gilbert is also stepmother to Boxleitner's two sons with Holcomb, Sam (born 1980) and Lee (born 1985). On March 1, 2011, Gilbert announced that she and Boxleitner had separated.[9] On August 22, 2011, Gilbert filed for divorce from Boxleitner.[14]

On January 29, 2013, Gilbert's representative confirmed the actress' engagement to fellow actor Timothy Busfield.[15] The couple married on April 24, 2013.[16] Since July 2013, Gilbert and Busfield have resided in Howell, Michigan.[17]

Health issues

Gilbert has battled alcoholism and drug abuse, which she wrote about in her 2009 autobiography.[18]

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.[19]

In January 2015 Gilbert decided to have her breast implants surgically removed for health reasons.[20]



Year Title Role Notes
1967 Reluctant Astronaut, TheThe Reluctant Astronaut Niece  
1979 Nutcracker Fantasy Clara (voice)  
1985 Sylvester Charlie  
1986 Drug Free Kids: A Parent's Guide   Video
1989 Ice House Kay  
2005 "Thicker than Water" Natalie Travers  
2007 Safe Harbour Ophelia MacKenzie Video


Year Title Role Notes
1968 Dean Martin Comedy Hour, TheThe Dean Martin Comedy Hour Girl on Santa's Lap Episode: "1968 Christmas Show"
1972 Gunsmoke Spratt's Child Episode: "The Judgement"
1972 Emergency! Jenny Episode: "Dinner Date"
1973 Tenafly Suzie's sister Episode: "The Cash and Carry Caper"
1974–83 Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Lead role (206 episodes)
1977 Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A. Kelly Sullivan Movie
1978 Love Boat, TheThe Love Boat Rosemary 'Rocky' Simpson Episode: "Rocky"
1979 Miracle Worker, TheThe Miracle Worker Helen Keller Movie
1979 Little House Years Laura Ingalls Movie
1980 Diary of Anne Frank, TheThe Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank Movie
1981 Splendor in the Grass Wilma Dean 'Deanie' Loomis Movie
1983 Choices of the Heart Jean Donovan Movie
1983 Little House: Look Back to Yesterday Laura Ingalls Wilder Movie
1984 Little House: Bless the Dear Children Laura Ingalls Wilder Movie
1984 Little House: The Last Farewell Laura Ingalls Wilder Movie
1984 Family Secrets Sara Calloway Movie
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Gerda Episode: "The Snow Queen"
1986 Choices Terry Granger Movie
1986 Penalty Phase, TheThe Penalty Phase Leah Furman Movie
1987 Blood Vows: The Story of a Mafia Wife Marian Movie
1988 Killer Instinct Dr. Lisa DaVito Movie
1989 Chameleons   Movie
1990 Without Her Consent Emily Briggs Movie
1990 Forbidden Nights Judith Shapiro TV film
1990 Joshua's Heart Claudia TV film
1990 Donor Dr. Kristine Lipton TV film
1990 Lookalike, TheThe Lookalike Gina / Jennifer TV film
1991 Hidden Room, TheThe Hidden Room   Episode: "Spirit Cabinet"
1992 Stand by Your Man Rochelle Dunphy Main role (8 episodes)
1992 With a Vengeance Jenna King / Valerie Tanner Movie
1992–94 Batman: The Animated Series Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (voice) Recurring role (6 episodes)
1993 Family of Strangers Julie Movie
1993 With Hostile Intent Miranda Berkley Movie
1993 Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story Shari Karney Movie
1993 House of Secrets Marion Ravinel Movie
1993 Dying to Remember Lynn Matthews Movie
1994 Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story, TheThe Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story Mary Bennett Movie
1994 Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story Melissa Prentice Movie
1994 Cries from the Heart Karen Movie
1994–95 Sweet Justice Kate Delacroy Main role (22 episodes)
1995 Zoya Zoya Ossipov Movie
1996 Babylon 5 Anna Sheridan Episodes: "War Without End: Part 2", "Shadow Dancing", "Z'ha'dum"
1996 Holiday for Love, AA Holiday for Love Emma Murphy Movie
1997 Seduction in a Small Town Sarah Jenks Movie
1997 Childhood Sweetheart? Karen Carlson Movie
1998 Outer Limits, TheThe Outer Limits Teresa Janovitch Episode: "Relativity Theory"
1998 Murder at 75 Birch Gwen Todson Movie
1998 Her Own Rules Meredith Sanders Movie
1998 Touched by an Angel Michelle Tanner Episode: "The Peacemaker"
1999 Soul Collector, TheThe Soul Collector Rebecca Movie
1999 Switched at Birth Sarah Barlow Movie
2000 Vision of Murder: The Story of Donielle, AA Vision of Murder: The Story of Donielle Donielle Movie
2001 Sanctuary Jo Ellen Hathaway Movie
2002 Providence Lorna Berlin Episode: "Smoke and Mirrors"
2002 Presidio Med Grace Bennett Episode: "Once Upon a Family"
2003 Then Came Jones Devon Jones-Thomas Movie
2003 Storyline Online   Episode: "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother"
2003 Hollywood Wives: The New Generation Taylor Singer Movie
2004 Heart of the Storm Cassie Broadbeck Movie
2005 Thicker than Water Natalie Travers Movie
2005 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 Movie
2011 Christmas Pageant, TheThe Christmas Pageant Vera Parks Movie
2012 Dancing with the Stars Herself, contestant Dance competition

Awards and nominations

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
1980 Young Artist Award Best Juvenile Actress in a TV Series or Special Little House on the Prairie Nominated
1981 Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Drama Little House on the Prairie Nominated
1982 Young Artist Award Best Young Actress in a Television Special Splendor in the Grass Nominated
1983 Young Artist Award Best Young Actress in a Drama Series Little House on the Prairie Won
1984 Young Artist Award Best Young Actress in a Drama Series Little House on the Prairie Won
2000 Golden Boot Awards Golden Boot Won
2006 TV Land Awards Most Memorable Kiss Little House on the Prairie Won


  1. Jump up ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 228)
  2. Jump up ^
  3. Jump up ^
  4. Jump up ^ "Melissa Gilbert Interview | Archive of American Television". Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  5. Jump up ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 14–15)
  6. Jump up ^ (Gilbert 2009, p. 114)
  7. Jump up ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 5–6)
  8. Jump up ^ E! Entertainment's "Celebrity Profile:Melissa Gilbert," 1999.
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b "Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner Split". People. March 1, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  10. Jump up ^ "Little House on the Prairie". Guthrie Theater. 2008. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  11. Jump up ^ Gans, Andrew (September 20, 2009). "Gilbert, Blanchard, Lindsay, Massey, Loprest Explore a Musical Prairie at Paper Mill, Opening Sept. 20". Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  12. Jump up ^ Marikar, Sheila (April 11, 2012). "Melissa Gilbert Still ‘In Pain’ After ‘Dancing’ Concussion". Retrieved April 11, 2012. 
  13. Jump up ^ 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. 
  14. Jump up ^ "Melissa Gilbert files for divorce from Bruce Boxleitner". Los Angeles Times. August 26, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2011. 
  15. Jump up ^ Jordan, Julie; Shira, Dahvi (January 29, 2013). "Melissa Gilbert Engaged to Thirtysomething's Timothy Busfield". People. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  16. Jump up ^ Nudd, Tim; Jordan, Julie (April 25, 2013). "Melissa Gilbert Weds Timothy Busfield". People. Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  17. Jump up ^ "Hollywood comes to Howell: Gilbert and Busfield are the biggest stars we’ve had, but not the first". The Livingston Post. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  18. Jump up ^ "I Drank Three Bottles of Wine a Night". June 22, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  19. Jump up ^ Watson, Frances (July 14, 2010). "Melissa Gilbert to undergo surgery for broken back, performed in 'Little House' musical". Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  20. Jump up ^ Rothman, Michael (January 8, 2015). "Why Melissa Gilbert Had Her Breast Implants Removed". Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 


  • Gilbert, Melissa (2009). Prairie Tale: A Memoir (1st ed.). Gallery Books. ISBN 1-416-59914-2

External links