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Catch Up With ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert — Plus, How She Feels About a Reboot!

Plus, why she created the lifestyle brand Modern Prairie

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Melissa Gilbert, a name synonymous with talent, resilience, and versatility, has graced screens both big and small for decades. From her start as Laura Ingalls, aka half pint, to her time on Dancing with the Stars, Gilbert has an enduring legacy as a celebrated actress, entrepreneur, and author.

Most recently Gilbert has launched the lifestyle brand Modern Prairie, which centers around modern, mature women. The website has both a community as well as a shopping component (including home essentials, clothing and accessories).

Of her brand Gilbert says, “Growing older has given me the confidence and permission to discover my authentic self. I have become more empowered by embracing change and my reaction to it and now understand the importance of slowing down. That includes being more mindful and appreciative of the little things, along with my connections to other people.”

Here, we look at Melissa Gilbert from a child actress to successful entrepreneur.

MUST READ: The ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Cast — A Look Back At Them and Their Beloved Characters

Melissa Gilbert: Early life and beginnings

'Little House on The Prairie" cast (1970)
‘Little House on The Prairie” cast (1970) Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty

Born in Los Angeles, California, on May 8, 1964, Melissa Gilbert is the adopted daughter of actor Paul Gilbert and actress Barbara Crane. Gilbert’s two siblings are also actors. Sister Sara played Darlene in the series Roseanne and brother Jonathan played Willie Olson on Little House on the Prairie.

Gilbert’s foray into acting began at a tender age, with her first television appearance at the age of two in a commercial for Alpo dog food. However, it was her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder in the iconic television series Little House on the Prairie that catapulted her to international fame. She was only nine when she landed the career-defining role.

Gilbert’s portrayal of the spirited and determined Laura, nicknamed half pint, endeared her to audiences worldwide. Audiences tuned in each week to see what life on the homestead was like.  From 1974 to 1983, Gilbert starred with her TV family including on-screen Pa (played by Michael Landon) on one the most popular shows in TV history.

MUST READ: Michael Landon: From ‘Bonanza’ to ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Highway to Heaven’ See His Storied Career

Melissa Gilbert (1978)
Melissa Gilbert (1978) NBC Television / Handout/Getty

When reflecting on the show, Gilbert says, “I think what people don’t realize is that, I wouldn’t say I was actually a fan of Little House on the Prairie, but while people were watchingLittle House on the Prairie and learning all of these important life lessons that we were teaching and telling, I was learning them too, developing an appreciation for the sweet, simple things in life and so that ‘Prairie’ legacy is in me all the time.” At a young age she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to Little House.

Life after Little House

The actress in 1986
Melissa Gilbert (1986) MediaPunch / Contributor/Getty

After the TV series ended, Gilbert continued to cash in on the Laura Ingalls fame by starring in TV movies based on the Little House franchise, including Little House: Look Back to Yesterday and Little House: The Last Farewell. From there, she continued to make made-for-TV movies for the next 30 years. 

She also had guest appearances on several popular shows. In the 90s she had a consistent role in the TV series Sweet Justice as Kate Delacroy and in 2015 she had a reoccurring role in Secrets and Lives. 

Melissa Gilbert (1995)
Melissa Gilbert (1995) Tammie Arroyo / Contributor/Getty

MUST READ: Melissa Sue Anderson: A Look Back at Mary Ingalls From ‘Little House on the Prairie’

From 2001 to 2005, Melissa Gilbert acted as president of the Screen Actors Guild

the actress in 2002
Melissa Gilbert (2002) Vince Bucci / Stringer/Getty

In 2009 she wrote Prairie Tale: A Memoir, in which she talks about her life partying with the Brat Pack, dating heartthrobs like Rob Lowe and bad boys like Billy Idol. She also openly discusses self-destructive patterns of addiction and codependence before traveling on her successful path to sobriety. She says in the book that she eventually realized that her career on television had earned her popularity, admiration, and love from everyone but herself.

Dancing with the Stars

Melissa Gilbert (2012)
Melissa Gilbert (2012) John Lamparski / Contributor/Getty

She appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2012 and was partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. She said at the time, “Maks is helping me to tap into a part of myself that no one really knows. Not publicly, anyway. He’s bringing out in me the sexy, confident, fiery redheaded cougar. Crazy, right? Halfpint a cougar? Really?!” However, reflecting back on that time, Gilbert remembers being obsessed by the need to stay young and to measure her success by a number on the scale. One of her proudest moments on the show came when she had lost so much weight that she was able to fit into a costume worn by DWTS pro Peta Murgatroyd, who’s more than 20 years her junior, “I was so excited,” she says.

MUST READ: The ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Kids Are All Grown Up — And Have Children of Their Own!

Melissa Gilbert on aging and acceptance

the actress in 2017
Melissa Gilbert (2017) Daniel Zuchnik / Contributor/Getty

As Gilbert grew older, she developed a different outlook on life. She moved to a farm, 14 acres in New York’s Catskill Mountains, in 2018 along with her current husband, Timothy Busfield. Of farm life, Gilbert says, “I experienced the Hollywood version while working on Little House on the Prairie. What I’m most proud of is learning how to quilt! That’s how life has changed. That’s life approaching 60.

Trading the spotlight for tranquility has been a dream come true. “This is what I’ve always wanted,” she says of her quiet, mountainside life.

In 2022 she wrote a book Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Discovered.

Melissa Gilbert and her husband Timothy Busfield (2023)
Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield (2023) Pascal Le Segretain / Staff/Getty

Gilbert and Busfield together have eight grandchildren, and she loves spending time with them. Gilbert was previously married to actor and producer Bo Brinkman (with whom she has a son, Dakota) as well as actor and director Bruce Boxleitner (with whom she shares son Michael). She’s been married to Timothy Busfield since 2013.

Melissa Gilbert (2019)
Melissa Gilbert (2019) Rodin Eckenroth / Contributor/Getty

Gilbert is very open about having her breast implants removed and how she quit botox. “I finally woke up and went, ‘What am I doing? I look like a carrot top, and I’m not happy.’ My mindset was, ‘You have to stay thin. You have to be seen in the right places, wear the right shoes and drive the right car.’ That was so drilled into me by all the outside forces. But it never sat right.”

She decided to let go of that believe system and embrace her age and her authentic self. “I cut off all my hair and experienced a reawakened love for the outdoors.

Gilbert’s life now

The actress in 2023
Melissa Gilbert (2023) Pascal Le Segretain / Staff/Getty

Gilbert now focuses on her lifestyle brand Modern Prairie, which was inspired during the Covid pandemic. She said, “I not only wanted to create a retail space, but we wanted to elevate and promote female entrepreneurs, female makers and then also create an environment where women can share the things are going in their lives at this age, whether it’s transitioning into a new job, or children leaving the nest, or the hormonal changes our bodies are going through and the grief that comes with all of those things and the fear and a lot of women feel stuck. We wanted to create a place where women could talk to other women about it.”

Little House reboot?

'Little House on The Prairie" cast (1970)
‘Little House on The Prairie” cast (1970) Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty

With all the talk of popular shows having a second life, Gilbert reflects on a possible reboot. “There’s a lot of talk out there in the ether about people wanting to do ‘Little House on the Prairie’ reboots, it happens every couple of years. Someone is going to do a feature film version, or a new television series, and it ends up not happening. I think the reason why is because ‘Little House on the Prairie’ is still on every day, multiple times a day, all over the world, so it’s not like it disappeared and you’re doing it all over again. It’s right there. I do think there’s a way to tell the stories. I think there is a way to continue telling the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life as an adult. No plans to do it yet, but I would consider that for sure.”


For all things Little House On The Prairie, click here!

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