Melissa Gilbert was America’s favorite precocious child of the Old West on “Little House on the Prairie.” And for his part, Dean Martin was the king of lounge act cool in the 1950s and ’60s. You wouldn’t normally make a connection between the two, but that’s the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood.
Gilbert, born in 1964, grew up on television and movie sets thanks to her family. Her adoptive father was jack-of-all-trades Paul Gilbert, an actor, dancer, singer, writer and standup comic. He even had his own NBC series in the 1950s. Plus, her adoptive grandfather was a writer and wrote all of Andy Williams’ television specials and Dean Martin’s roasts.
“I grew up visiting my grandpa and Uncle Dean,” Gilbert told Parade.com in 2017. “Although, I didn’t know who Uncle Dean was other than he was a guy with a giant dish of candy in his dressing room.”
Sometimes having the right parents pays off. Gilbert made her television debut in 1968 on Dean Martin’s annual Christmas special.
The Importance of ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Six years after her introduction to American audiences, Gilbert landed her role as Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie.” Only ten years old when the show began, the experience had a profound effect on her.
“The most formative years of my life — from the time I was nine until I was 19 — were spent on that set,” Gilbert said. “I tell people sometimes that I didn’t grow up in the 1970s. I grew up in the 1870s. It’s who I am. “
Looking back, Gilbert views the show’s lasting impact as more than just good family entertainment.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge our history. Our cultural history is as much a part of our history as our political history or any other sort of history that we have.”
Girl, You’re a Woman Now
Gilbert is proof there is life for child actors after their breakthrough shows end. She grew up in a family of activists, which led her to serve two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Of course, she remained a presence on television. This includes periodic voice work and even an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars,” where she finished fifth.
These days, Gilbert’s married to actor Timothy Busfield. The two live in New York as she continues to recover from multiple neck surgeries. All her fans wish her the best and look forward to the projects she chooses to do next.