Born Melissa Ellen Gilbert on 8 May 1964 in Los Angeles, California, she is an American actress, television director, producer, politician and former president of the Screen Actors Guild. She began her career as a child actress in the late 1960s, appearing in numerous commercials and guest roles on television. From 1974 to 1983, she starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder, the second oldest daughter of Charles Ingalls on the NBC series “Little House on the Prairie”.
You could say Melissa Gilbert started acting right from the womb, and you won’t be far from the truth. The Los Angeles born actress started her career at age three as a child actor. And unlike many such cases where child actors tend to fall off along the line and go on to have underwhelming careers that are the complete opposite of the prospect they had at the onset, Melissa’s story is one of triumph and notable achievements.
A career of over five decades is not a joke, and one can expect it to be as eventful as imaginable. Fifty years is plenty of time to see, do, experience, evolve, and accomplish so much, and this has been the case for this renowned thespian. Her career, which spans a period just three years short of her actual age, is filled with notable feats and a legacy that will outlive her. Keep reading to find out more about the life, illustrious career, and other endeavours of Melissa Gilbert. First, here are ten interesting facts about her.
10 facts about Melissa Gilbert
- Melissa got cast in the NBC series “Little House on the Prairie” at the age of 9 as Laura Ingalls, besting over 500 other child actors to secure the role.
- While she was a good actor, the workload on the show was not easy, and she once got yelled at by co-star Michael Landon for forgetting her lines.
- Melissa enjoyed and cherished her child acting days. In an interview with Today, she said: “By child-actor standards, mine was probably the best experience that you could have.”
- Understandably, Melissa rebelled a lot in her later teenage years as having had such an early start to life and stardom she wanted to “test the waters”, which led her down the path of drugs, alcohol and sex.
- Melissa was adopted a day after her birth by actors Barbara Crane and Paul Gilbert, and she never knew her biological father.
- In 2012, she competed on the “Dancing With The Stars” show, where she and her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, finished in fifth place.
- She once had back surgery following an injury she sustained while on a promotional tour for the “Little House on the Prairie” musical.
- Child actor Jonathan Gilbert is her adopted brother.
- Melissa met her first husband, Bo Brinkman, on a blind date and married him within two months.
- In 2001, she became the third woman to serve as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and she was in office till 2005.
How old is Melissa Gilbert
As you probably have figured by now, Melissa Gilbert clocked 57 on her birthday in 2021. The question about her age comes up quite often, likely because people are curious to know how old the adorable child actor they once knew now is.
Early life and education
Melissa Ellen Gilbert was born to newly engaged couple David Darlington and Kathy Wood in Los Angeles, California, USA, on May 8, 1964. Due to financial constraints, her biological parents were not sure they would be able to care for Melissa, so they decided to give her up for adoption. She was adopted the next day by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert and his wife, Barbara Crane. Barbara Crane was an actress and a dancer, and she was the daughter of comedy writer Harry Crane, who wrote for the 1950s sitcom “Honeymooners”.
Paul and Barbara divorced when Melissa was eight years old. Barbara went on to marry Harold Abeles, but they eventually got divorced too. Melissa had two siblings; Jonathan Gilbert, who was also adopted like herself, and Sara Gilbert, who Barbara had with Harold Abeles. Strangely enough, not much is known about her education, probably because she started acting so early, and it overshadowed every other detail about her life. However, she was a schoolmate of Michael Landon’s daughter, Leslie Landon.
As earlier mentioned, Melissa’s career is as old as she is. Having been adopted by a celebrity couple, she started her career early with commercials like “Alpo dog food” with Lorne Greene being her introduction. She also appeared in dozens of other commercials before securing her first acting role at 9.
Little House on The Prairie
In 1973, Melissa got the role of Laura Ingalls, one of the daughters of Charles Ingalls (played by Michael Landon) in the NBC series “Little House on the Prairie”, after auditioning with over 500 other children for the role. The series was aired from 1974 to 1983, and was a hit. Melissa soon caught viewers’ attention, and that practically kickstarted her growth in the industry.
“Little House on the Prairie” is an American Western historical drama television series about a family living on a farm in Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. The show is an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling series of “Little House” books. Melissa Gilbert made the most appearances on the television series, appearing in a total of 190 of the 204 episodes.
She continued working in feature films, but she mostly favoured television projects. She appeared in biographical films “The Miracle Worker” (1979 ), “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1980), and films like “Splendor in the Grass” (1981) and as Jean Donovan in “Choices of the Heart” (1983).
As time passed, Melissa gradually shifted to playing adult roles. In the 1990s, she voiced Batgirl in “Batman: The Animated Series”. She also starred In “Babylon 5” as Anna Sheridan alongside her husband, Bruce Boxleitner, in 1996.
In the series “Nip/Tuck”, Gilbert played the role of a patient, Shari Noble, in the show’s fourth season, who wanted to reconstruct her n_pples.
From 2008 to 2010, Gilbert featured 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.
Gilbert donned her dancing hat at the 14th season of “Dancing with the Stars” in 2012. She partnered Maksim Chmerkovskiy on the show, and together they put up a tough competition against television star Sherri Shepherd, tennis player Martina Navratilova, and singer Gladys Knight. Melissa got eliminated in the eighth episode of the show, which coincided with her birthday.
In 2016, Gilbert ran for US Congress as a Democrat in Michigan’s 8th congressional district, and she won the Democratic primary. She later dropped out because of head and neck injuries sustained in a 2012 accident.
Personal life and relationships
As a teenager, Melissa dated fellow actors Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe. Nothing major became of these relationships.
Following her relationship with Rob Lowe, Melissa left for New York City to star in the play “A Shayna Maidel”. She featured alongside actor Bo Brinkman, a cousin of actors Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid. They soon started dating and got married in February 1988, seven weeks after her split from Rob Lowe.
They had a son, Dakota Paul Brinkman, the following year, on 1 May 1989. Their union was short-lived, and they divorced in 1992, four years after tying the knot.
Melissa was set up with Bruce by his ex-wife not too long after her split from Brinkman. She already had a brief history with Bruce from their teenage years. After having reconnected, they dated on and off for a while and even got engaged twice. Eventually, Melissa and actor Bruce Boxleitner got married on 1 January 1995.
She gave birth to a son on 6 October 1995, and the couple named him Michael in honour of the late Michael Landon, who had played an important role in Gilbert’s life. Melissa also became stepmother to Bruce’s two children from his previous marriage. Six years after getting married, the union came to an end as Melissa filed for divorce on 22 August 2011.
She had, what she described as, an “emotional affair” with a co-star while married to Bruce. In her 2019 autobiography “A Prairie Tale: A Memoir”, she talked about the relationship.
“We were together constantly on set and off, barbecuing, singing, and drinking… a lot,” Gilbert wrote. “I became especially close to my leading man. Inappropriately so. I’d always developed crushes on my leading men, but this was different and it was fueled by alcohol, which allowed me to pour my heart out. The problem was, I was pouring my heart out to the wrong person. I should’ve been sharing all of this with my husband, but I was too afraid.”
Melissa Gilbert husband
Timothy Busfield became Melissa Gilbert husband in April 2013, her third. They got married in a small ceremony at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Busfield had also been married twice like Gilbert and had three children. The couple lived in Howell, Michigan, from 2013 to 2018 and moved to New York City late in 2018.
Dakota Brinkman (son)
Dakota is Melissa’s eldest son and just like his mother, he made his acting debut at a young age appearing briefly in the 1997 film “Laws of Deception” at 8. He was also in the 2007 film “Safe Harbour” and the 2016 film “Shay”. In March 2018, Dakota got married to his longtime lover, Marissa.
Net worth and tax issues
As of July 2021, Melissa net worth is estimated to be $800,000. Her main source of income has been her acting job. In June 2015, there were reports that she owed $360,000 in federal income taxes, and she has since reportedly worked out a payment plan with the IRS. It was not the first time the accusation surfaced, as in 2013, Melissa reportedly owed taxes of about $112,000.
In an official statement, she said, “Like so many people across the nation, the recession hit me hard. That, plus a divorce and a death of acting opportunities the last few years, created a perfect storm of financial difficulty for me.”
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Awards and achievements
- For her incredible performance as Laura Ingalls and contribution to television, Melissa became the youngest actress to receive a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ at 6429 Hollywood Boulevard, California, in 1985. She was 21 at the time.
- She got elected as 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.
- She won the TV Land Awards in 2006 for the “Most Memorable Kiss”, for her role in “Little House on the Prairie”.
- Melissa won the Young Artist Award back-to-back in 1983 and 1984 for the Best Young Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Little House on the Prairie.
Without a doubt, Melissa Gilbert has had an eventful life, both on and off the screen. She has achieved, she has lost, and has gotten back on track, just like anyone else in life’s journey. One thing that won’t change, however, is her acting legacy. What’s more, she still has time to make more beautiful stories and memories.
Her tax debts and lack of acting opportunities are troubling, and we can only hope that the iconic actress gets back on her feet soon. You may also like to read our latest article, Juanita Vanoy, Michael Jordan first wife: Everything you need to know.