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Melissa Ellen Gilbert is an American actress, writer, and producer, primarily in movies and television. The naturally red-headed Gilbert is best known as a child actress who co-starred as Charles Ingalls's (played by Michael Landon) second daughter, Laura Ingalls, on the dramatic television series Little House on the Prairie (1974–1984). As an adult, she has a very long list of acting, voicework, writing, producing, and directing credits. Melissa also served two terms as President of the Screen Actors Guild. On June 9, 2009 her autobiography Prairie Tale: A Memoir was released.
Melissa Gilbert Family and early career
Gilbert was born in Los Angeles, California, adopted the day after she was born by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert (born Ed MacMahon, he changed his name to Paul Gilbert to get a Screen Actors Guild card) and his wife, dancer and actress Barbara Crane (later Barbara Gilbert, Barbara Abeles, Barbara Gilbert Cowan). Barbara was the daughter of The Honeymooners creator Harry Crane. The couple later adopted a son, Jonathan Gilbert, who co-starred with Melissa as Willie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. When Melissa was 8, her parents divorced. Barbara then married Harold Abeles, and together they had biological daughter Sara Abeles (also known as Sara Gilbert), born January 29, 1975. On February 12, 1975, when Melissa was at her mother's home with the flu, Paul Gilbert suffered a stroke and died at the age of 56.
Barbara's marriage to Abeles also ended in divorce. Sara changed her name to Sara Gilbert and went on to play Darlene Conner on the popular television series Roseanne.
Gilbert, with Hollywood connections in her family background, and a natural ability for entertaining at a very young age, had already done dozens of commercials. One commercial was for Alpo dog food with Lorne Greene (Michael Landon's television father on Bonanza). She then tried out for the role of Michael Landon's middle daughter, Laura Ingalls for NBC's 2-hour pilot of the book Little House on the Prairie. Michael Landon instantly loved her. Gilbert went to school with his daughter, Leslie Landon (who guested on Little House as a teen, and then played school teacher Etta Plumb during the last season). It was Leslie who informed her that she had won the role of Laura, beating out over 500 child actresses for this part. The pilot was shot in 1973 and was a success after it aired. Almost a year later, Gilbert began full-time filming for the now picked-up series.
Gilbert became extremely close to the Landon family after her adoptive father died. Landon became her surrogate father both on-and-off the set. Gilbert spent weekends and vacations with the Landons. As a teen, she dated Michael Landon Jr. and they went to their proms together. A rift, however, developed between Michael Landon and Gilbert after the revelation of Landon's affair with Little House's young makeup artist, Cindy Clerico.
Gilbert had no contact with Landon after Little House ended during the 1983/1984 season. Seven years later, on May 9, 1991, when she saw a gaunt-looking Landon on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson discussing his pancreatic cancer, she was compelled to finally telephone him. She visited Landon at his Malibu home where he was, by then, bed-ridden. They spent the afternoon together. It was her opportunity to say "goodbye," something she did not get to do when Paul Gilbert died when she was 11. Exactly one week later, on July 1, 1991, Landon died. When Gilbert gave birth to her son with second husband Bruce Boxleitner on October 6, 1995, they named him Michael in honor of Landon.
Melissa Gilbert Career after Little House
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 husband Bruce Boxleitner in 1996. She is known as "The Queen of the television movies and mini-series" having starred in over 45 of them since the late 1970s. During the three months of filming for the television mini-series, Zoya, in St. Petersburg, London, Paris, Montreal, and New York, she was pregnant with her second child.
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 4 episode of Nip/Tuck.
Gilbert regularly keeps in contact with her friend Alison Arngrim, who played her nemesis Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Although their respective characters were enemies for years, in real life, they are close friends.
In 2009, Gilbert plays Caroline "Ma" Ingalls in a musical adaptation of Little House on the Prairie. This world premiere production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis was directed by Francesa Zambello and also stars Kara Lindsay as Laura. The show will run through October 19 and is rumored to go on tour and potentially Broadway. A 30-city national tour was announced for 2009–10.
For her contribution to the television industry, Gilbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6429 Hollywood Blvd in 1985. Her then fiancee, Rob Lowe, was present with her when her star was unveiled during the ceremony. She is one of the youngest actresses to have been honored with a star.
Melissa Gilbert Screen Actor's Guild Presidency
Melissa won the Screen Actors Guild presidency in 2001 after a contentious election 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%.  In July 2005, she announced that she would not seek a third term and she was succeeded by Alan Rosenberg, who assumed the Guild presidency on September 25.
While president of the SAG Gilbert removed members that could not afford to honor the strike. Small-time actors/actresses who relied on the income from small parts were ousted under Gilbert's direction.
Melissa Gilbert Personal life
At 17, she reconnected with then unknown actor Rob Lowe, also 17, and dated him on-and-off for 6 years. After Lowe's failed romance with Princess Stéphanie, he suddenly proposed to Gilbert. While making wedding plans, Gilbert found out she was pregnant. Upon being informed of the pregnancy, Lowe ended their relationship. Gilbert miscarried days later
Gilbert was then set up with actor Bo Brinkman, a cousin of actors Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid. The couple married on February 22, 1988, only seven weeks after she ended her relationship with Rob Lowe. Gilbert soon became pregnant. US Magazine featured a very pregnant Gilbert wrapped in a sheer sheet and named her one of "America's Ten Most Beautiful Women" in 1988. On May 1, 1989, she gave birth to Dakota Paul Brinkman. After Dakota's birth, the couple began to have marital problems and divorced 1992. A custody battle later ensued and Dakota ended up living much of the year with his father in Texas.
Only weeks after Gilbert's divorce filing, Bruce Boxleitner's ex-wife (Kathryn Holcomb), set Bruce up with Gilbert. Holcomb by then was married to English actor, Ian Ogilvy. The relationship was on and off again for the next year, when they finally married on January 1, 1995 in her mother's living room. Gilbert gave birth to a son, Michael Garrett Boxleitner, named in honor of Michael Landon, on October 6, 1995. His middle name is in honor of Garret Peckinpah, the son of her friend Sandy Peckinpah, who had died suddenly of meningitis at age 16.
Gilbert is also stepmother to Boxleitner's two sons a previous marriage, Sam (b. 1980), and Lee (b. 1985).
Melissa has battled alcoholism, which she wrote about in her autobiography.[