Melissa Gilbert - Wikipedia

Melissa Gilbert
Gilbert in December 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 59)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic Party
Bo Brinkman
(m. 1988; div. 1992)

(m. 1995; div. 2011)

(m. 2013)
RelativesJonathan Gilbert (brother)
Sara Gilbert (adoptive sister)
Known forLittle House on the Prairie
The Miracle Worker
  • Actress
  • director
  • producer
  • politician
  • author
Years active1967–present

Melissa Ellen Gilbert (born May 8, 1964)[1][2] is an American actress, television director, producer, politician, and former president of the Screen Actors Guild.

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. Gilbert has also continued with guest starring roles on television and has done voice work for animation such as Batman: The Animated Series as Barbara Gordon / Batgirl. 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.[3] In 2009, her autobiography Prairie Tale: A Memoir, was released. In 2014, she wrote a short story for children, called Daisy and Josephine[4] as well as My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours.[5]

In 2016, Gilbert ran for U.S. Congress as a Democrat in Michigan's 8th congressional district and she won the Democratic primary. She later dropped out because of health issues stemming from a 2012 accident.[6]

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[7] and his wife, dancer and actress Barbara Crane, the daughter of The Honeymooners creator Harry Crane. They later adopted a son, Jonathan, who co-starred on Little House on the Prairie.

Gilbert's parents divorced when she was 8 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.[8] According to her biography, Gilbert was raised in her adoptive mother's Jewish religion,[9] but did not have any formal religious education or conversion ceremony.[10]


Early years[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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] Her then-fiancé, Rob Lowe, was present with her when her star was unveiled during the ceremony.[14]

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.[15][16] 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.[17]

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

Screen Actors Guild presidency[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, 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%.[19] 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.

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.[20][21][22] Gilbert, who was the presumptive Democratic nominee in the district, dropped out of the race in May 2016, citing health issues.[6]

Personal life[edit]


After her relationship with Rob Lowe ended, 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, seven weeks after her split from Lowe. Their son was born on May 1, 1989. The couple divorced in 1992.[citation needed]

Weeks after Gilbert's divorce filing, actor Bruce Boxleitner's former wife set him up with Gilbert. Gilbert had met Boxleitner as a teenager when they both were on Battle of the Network Stars; he was her teenage crush. After reconnecting, they dated on and off for over a year. They were engaged twice and both engagements were ended by Boxleitner. After reuniting for a third time, they married on January 1, 1995, in her mother's living room.[23] Gilbert gave birth to their son on October 6, 1995. Gilbert was stepmother to Boxleitner's two sons. On March 1, 2011, Gilbert announced that she and Boxleitner had separated.[12] On August 22, 2011, Gilbert filed for divorce from Boxleitner.[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 has stated the tax debt is an outgrowth of a stalled acting career, the economy, and divorce.[31] She has negotiated a repayment plan with the IRS.[30]

Health issues[edit]

Gilbert has battled alcoholism and drug abuse, which she wrote about in her 2009 autobiography.[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 Parent's 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
2019 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"
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 Main role (191 episodes)
1977 Christmas Miracle in Caufield, U.S.A. Kelly Sullivan Television film
1978 The Love Boat Rosemary 'Rocky' Simpson Episode: "Rocky"
1978 The Hanna-Barbera Happy Hour Herself (Guest Star) Episode 1.2
1979 The Miracle Worker Helen Keller Television film
1979 The Little House Years Laura Ingalls Television film
1980 The Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank Television film
1981 Splendor in the Grass Wilma Dean 'Deanie' Loomis Television film
1983 Choices of the Heart Jean Donovan Television film
1983 Little House: Look Back to Yesterday Laura Ingalls Wilder Television film
1984 Little House: The Last Farewell Laura Ingalls Wilder Television film
1984 Family Secrets Sara Calloway Television film
1984 Little House: Bless All the Dear Children Laura Ingalls Wilder Television film
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Gerda Episode: "The Snow Queen"
1986 Choices Terry Granger Television film
1986 Penalty Phase Leah Furman Television film
1987 Blood Vows: The Story of a Mafia Wife Marian Television film
1988 Killer Instinct Dr. Lisa DaVito Television film
1989 Ice House Kay Television film
1989 Chameleons Television film
1990 Without Her Consent Emily Briggs Television film
1990 Forbidden Nights Judith Shapiro Television film
1990 Joshua's Heart Claudia Television film
1990 Donor Dr. Kristine Lipton Television film
1990 The Lookalike Gina / Jennifer Television film
1991 The Hidden Room Episode: "Spirit Cabinet"
1992 Stand by Your Man Rochelle Dunphy Main role (8 episodes)
1992 With a Vengeance Jenna King / Valerie Tanner Television film
1992–94 Batman: The Animated Series Barbara Gordon / Batgirl Voice, 6 episodes
1993 Family of Strangers Julie Lawson Television film
1993 With Hostile Intent Miranda Berkley Television film
1993 Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story Shari Karney Television film
1993 House of Secrets Marion Ravinel Television film
1993 Dying to Remember Lynn Matthews Television film
1994 The Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story Mary Bennett Television film
1994 Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story Melissa Prentice Television film
1994 Asbestos in Obstetrics Fire Captain Television film
1994 Cries from the Heart Karen Barth Television film
1994–95 Sweet Justice Kate Delacroy Main role (22 episodes)
1995 Zoya Zoya Ossipov Television film
1996 Babylon 5 Anna Sheridan 3 episodes
1996 A Holiday for Love Emma Murphy Television film
1997 Seduction in a Small Town Sarah Jenks Television film
1997 Childhood Sweetheart? Karen Carlson Television film
1998 The Outer Limits Teresa Janovitch Episode: "Relativity Theory"
1998 Murder at 75 Birch Gwen Todson Television film
1998 Her Own Rules Meredith Sanders Television film
1998 Touched by an Angel Michelle Tanner Episode: "The Peacemaker"
1999 The Soul Collector Rebecca Television film
1999 Mistaken Identity Sarah Barlow Television film
2000 A Vision of Murder: The Story of Donielle Donielle Television film
2001 Sanctuary Jo Ellen Hathaway Television film
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 Television film
2003 Storyline Online Herself Episode: "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother"
2003 Hollywood Wives: The New Generation Taylor Singer Television film
2004 Heart of the Storm Cassie Broadbeck Television film
2005 Thicker than Water Natalie Travers Television film
2005 Fat Actress Herself Episode: "Charlie's Angels or Too Pooped to Pop"
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 Television film
2011 The Christmas Pageant Vera Parks Television film
2012 Dancing with the Stars Herself (Contestant) 14 episodes
2015 The Night Shift Lindsay Episode: "Hold On"
2015 Secrets and Lies Lisa Daly 5 episodes
2017 Tenure Tilly Masters Television film
2018 Hometown Christmas Mary Russell Television film

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
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
2006 TV Land Awards Most Memorable Kiss Little House on the Prairie Won


  1. ^ a b "Melissa Gilbert Interview | Archive of American Television". Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  2. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 228)
  3. ^ "Melissa Gilbert 2001-2005". SAG-AFTRA. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  4. ^ Gilbert, Melissa (January 21, 2014). Daisy and Josephine: Melissa Gilbert, Julia Kuo: 9781442445789: Books. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1442445789.
  5. ^ Gilbert, Melissa (September 16, 2014). My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours: Melissa Gilbert, Dane Holweger: 9781419707780: Books. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-1419707780.
  6. ^ a b Spangler, Todd; Gray, Kathleen (May 24, 2016). "Actress Melissa Gilbert drops out of race for Congress". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  7. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 14–15)
  8. ^ (Gilbert 2009, p. 114)
  9. ^ Bloom, Nate (October 26, 2010). "Interfaith Celebrities: The Talk's Hosts and David Schwimmers Bride". InterfaithFamily. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015.
  10. ^ (Gilbert 2009, pp. 5–6)
  11. ^ E! Entertainment's "Celebrity Profile:Melissa Gilbert," 1999.
  12. ^ a b "Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner Split". People. March 1, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  13. ^ "Melissa Gilbert". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  14. ^ "Melissa Gilbert adds her name to the 'star'". The Desert Sun. March 15, 1985.
  15. ^ "Little House on the Prairie". Guthrie Theater. 2008. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew (September 20, 2009). "Gilbert, Blanchard, Lindsay, Massey, Loprest Explore a Musical Prairie at Paper Mill, Opening Sept. 20". Archived from the original on October 3, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Marikar, Sheila (April 11, 2012). "Melissa Gilbert Still 'In Pain' After 'Dancing' Concussion". Retrieved April 11, 2012.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Spangler, Todd (August 10, 2015). "Actress Melissa Gilbert running for Congress in Michigan". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  21. ^ Pael, Wayne (August 10, 2015). "Actress Melissa Gilbert announces run for Congress". Livingston Daily. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  22. ^ Oosting, Jonathan (August 10, 2015). "Melissa Gilbert of 'Little House' fame running for Michigan seat in U.S. House". Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  23. ^ "Change of Heart". The Record. January 9, 1995.
  24. ^ "Melissa Gilbert files for divorce from Bruce Boxleitner". Los Angeles Times. August 26, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  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". 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. ^ "I Drank Three Bottles of Wine a Night". June 22, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  33. ^ Watson, Frances (July 14, 2010). "Melissa Gilbert to undergo surgery for broken back, performed in 'Little House' musical". 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.


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