Childhood & Early Life
Melissa Ellen Gilbert was born to David Darlington and Kathy Wood in Los Angeles, California, USA, on May 8, 1964. Due to financial constraints, her biological parents were not sure of being able to raise Melissa, so they decided to give her up for adoption.
New born Melissa was adopted the next day by actors Paul Gilbert and his wife Barbara Crane.
Barbara Crane was an actress and a dancer. She was daughter of comedy writer Harry Crane. Paul and Barbara divorced when Melissa was eight years old.
Barbara married Harold Abeles but this marriage, too, ended in a divorce.
Harold and Barbara have a biological daughter, Sara Rebecca Abeles, born on January 29, 1975. Sara later adopted the screen name Sara Gilbert.
Paul Gilbert died on February 13, 1976, following a stroke.
Melissa was raised in Jewish religious traditions, though she was never converted officially.
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Melissa Gilbert was a gifted actor and entertainer from an early age.
Her parents’ professional background and association with Hollywood helped Gilbert start her acting career early with commercials like ‘Alpo dog food’ with Lorne Greene.
Gilbert bagged the role of Laura Ingalls, one of the daughters of Charles Ingalls (played by Micahel Landon), in the NBC series ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ after auditioning with over 500 other children for the role.
She was in the same school as Landon's daughter, Leslie, who had informed her about getting selected as Laura.
Gilbert’s brother Jonathan was also cast in the series as Willie Oleson. The shooting took place in 1973 and the series was aired from 1974 to 1983. The period drama became extremely popular and Gilbert soon caught viewers' attention.
Gilbert continued working in feature films but she mostly worked in television. She appeared in ‘The Miracle Worker’ in 1979, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ in 1980, ‘Splendor in the Grass’ in 1981 and ‘Choices of the Heart’ in 1983, where she played the character of Jean Donovan.
With time, she gradually shifted to playing adult roles (‘Choices’ in 1986 and ‘A Family of Strangers’ in 1993).
In the 1990s, she lent her voice to 'Batgirl' in ‘Batman: The Animated Series.'
In 'Babylon 5,' Gilbert featured in three episodes as Anna Sheridan with husband, Bruce Boxleitnerin, in 1996.
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Along with success, Gilbert also faced failure with ‘Little House: A New Beginning,’ in 1982, ‘Stand By Your Man,’ in 1992 and ‘Sweet Justice,’ in 1994.
In the series ‘Nip/Tuck’, in 2006, Gilbert played the role of a patient, Shari Noble, who wanted to reconstruct her nipples.
During the period 2008-09, Gilbert was seen as Caroline "Ma" Ingalls in the musical adaptation of ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ directed by Francesca Zambello. The world premiere production took place at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. The show was on a US National tour which started in 2009 and finally came to an end at Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri, in June 2010.
In 2009, she released her autobiography, ‘A Prairie Tale: A memoir.’
In 2011, Gilbert was seen in ‘The Christmas Pageant.'
Gilbert showed off her dancing skills at the 14th season of ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ in 2012. She partnered Maksim Chmerkovskiy on the show. She put up a tough competition against television star Sherri Shepherd, tennis player Martina Navratilova, and singer Gladys Knight.
In the eighth episode of the show, on her birthday, she was eliminated from the competition.
Melissa Gilbert, on August 10, 2015, announced about her campaign in the 2016 elections to the United States House of Representatives from Michigan's 8th congressional district, but she later dropped out of the race due to health issues related to her spine injury.
She is also a producer and director. Her production house is called ‘Half-Pint Productions’.
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Awards & Achievements
For her wonderful performance as Laura Ingalls and contribution to television, Gilbert became the youngest actress to receive a star on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' at 6429 Hollywood Boulevard, California, back in 1985.
Melissa Gilbert became the elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2001, after defeating actress Valerie Harper. She was re-elected for a second term in 2003, after competing with Kent McCord.
At the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Gilbert was inducted into the 'Western Performers Hall of Fame,' in 1998.
Family & Personal Life
After dating Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe during her teenage days, Melissa Gilbert married famous actor and producer Bo Brinkman on February 22, 1988. The couple had a son, Dakota Paul Brinkman. Their marriage ended in 1992.
Gilbert married for a second time on January, 1, 1995, to actor Bruce Boxleitner. She gave birth to a son on October 6, 1995, and the couple named him Michael, in honour of late Michael Landon, who had played an important role in Gilbert’s life. Gilbert’s marriage with Boxleitner also came to an end after she filed for a divorce on August 22, 2011.
Timothy Busfield became Gilbert’s third husband on April 24, 2013. They got married in a small ceremony at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Timothy Busfield was also married twice like Gilbert and had three children.
After the death of her father, Michael Landon became her mentor and Gilbert became close to his family. When Gilbert came to know about Landon's affair with Cindy Clerico, the makeup artist at ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ she was offended and did not speak to him till the end of the series.
On May 9, 1991, Landon appeared on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ where he disclosed about his pancreatic cancer. Gilbert called him and visited him at his Malibu residence, while he was bedridden. He passed away after a week.
Gilbert has been ranked No.31 at the VH1's list of the ‘100 Greatest Kid Stars.'