Melissa Gilbert thought of her Little House on the Prairie co-star Michael Landon like a father in real life and trusted him implicitly. Gilbert once recalled the story of discovering that Landon had lied to her on set one day and was thankful that he told the fib because it involved dead rabbits.
Melissa Gilbert was cast as Laura Ingalls
During a 2011 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Gilbert recalled how she was cast for the iconic Little House on the Prairie role.
“I got cast in Little House on the Prairie through the regular old audition process,” she shared. “I remember there being lots of girls.”
“I went in and met Michael Landon … and I remember walking in the room, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow,’ I mean that’s what a star … he looked like a star,” Gilbert continued. “And he was so at ease — at the same time, looking back, he was very tense too and focused. But really fun and funny.”
She recalled how “he wasn’t talking to me like I was 9, he was talking to me like I was his contemporary working with him.”
Of course, Landon’s hair stood out to Gilbert, “He had really great hair. I remember he had the coolest hair. None of the grownups in my world had that kind of hair.”
Michael Landon found his ‘Half-Pint’
Gilbert shared the details of her screen test as well, in which she did two scenes. “I remember clear as anything, the two of us doing this scene and him looking at me with tears in his eyes and it instantly bringing me to tears. It was just so easy,” she explained. “That was, I didn’t know at the time, was the beginning of what we would be able to do to each other on camera for all those years. There was some sort of symbiotic connection there.”
“I found out later, many many years later, that when it came time to take the screen test to the network he only took mine because he knew. He didn’t give them any other choices. He just said, ‘That’s Laura. That’s Half-Pint.’”
Michael Landon lied to Melissa Gilbert for one scene
Gilbert also shared how Landon confessed that he had told her a lie when they filmed the pilot.
“I do have one really good story about the pilot that I did not find out until years, years, years later,” she shared.
“Michael Landon told me this story at his daughter Leslie’s wedding. It was just before he was diagnosed so it was a few months before he got sick … we were standing outside the church, getting ready for the wedding and he said, ‘I have to confess something to you.’”
“He said, ‘You remember in the pilot episode we did the one scene that’s not in where you had to walk in with the rabbits that I had shot and say, ‘Look what Pa got,’ and then set them down on the table?’”
She told him she remembered, telling him, “That was amazing! … and he said, ‘Yes, it was amazing because you were holding all of these rabbits and I told you that they were hypnotized.’”
“And I said, ‘That’s right! They were all hypnotized!,’” she continued. “And he said, ‘Yes, and then you put them on the table, you said your line and um … they all fell on the ground, you missed the table and they went thunk. And you looked up at me and you said, Boy, they sure do sleep tight, don’t they?’”
Gilbert did remember the moment and then Landon came clean. “He said, ‘Half-Pint, they were dead. They were not hypnotized, but we knew you wouldn’t carry them if we told you they were dead rabbits,’” she explained.
“And I’m so glad he waited until I was older to tell me that story,” Gilbert added. “I don’t think I could have handled it. I wouldn’t have done it.”
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