Melissa Gilbert got her dramatic acting start on Gunsmoke before hitting the Prairie

She came out of ''retirement'' to get the role.

Ah, to retire young. That's the dream, isn't it? But has anyone ever retired at a younger age than Melissa Gilbert?

"She began her TV career at the age of 2 1/2. One of her parents' show business friends asked if they would let her appear in a commercial for a line of baby clothes," a Pittsburgh Press profile of the actress explained in 1974. "Melissa did, then promptly went into retirement."

Not even three and she had retired. Spoiler alert: She came out of retirement at the age of 7.

Before we delve into her early showbiz career, let's first recap her roots. Gilbert's father was comedian Paul Gilbert. His given name was Ed MacMahon — really. (Gilbert's minor acting career included playing the murder victim in Perry Mason's "The Case of the Blonde Bonanza.") Melissa's grandfather, Harry Crane, her mom's pop, was an acclaimed comedy writer for Dean Martin, penning jokes for Martin's classic Celebrity Roasts.

Gilbert was raised around Hollywood. In her first decade of life, she booked more than 30 television commercials. Crest and Kool-Aid featured the precocious kid in their campaigns. Most Seventies children, however, will recall her Alpo dog food ads, which paired her with Lorne Greene.

Gilbert and Greene in an Alpo ad

So, Gilbert was acting with both former Bonanza stars Lorne Greene and Michael Landon at the time.

There was another curious link between Gilbert and her Little House on the Prairie "dad" Landon. Leslie Landon, Michael's real-life daughter, attended school with Gilbert. It was actually Leslie who told Gilbert she had won the role of Laura Ingalls on Little House. She spilled the beans in school. For the Laura role, the producers interviewed 87 kids, had 27 of them read, and just eight filmed a screen test. Gilbert beat them all.

It was easy to see Gilbert in the role. She had already played a young child on the frontier. Little House creators only had to see her Gunsmoke tape.

"The Judgement," an 18th-season episode of Gunsmoke, gave Gilbert her first "real" credited acting gig in a television series. She played the daughter of Katherine Helmond (of Soap and Who's the Boss fame). You can see the two together at the top of the page. Gilbert had just a couple of other small guest sports before landing the Little House gig.

Good thing she came out of retirement.

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Tresix 33 months ago
They just reran that “Gunsmoke” episode Friday. I liked William Windom’s portrayal as the no-good husband and father.
Randall 33 months ago
I wish LHOTP would show up on METV, LHOTP is my # 1 favorite show of all time and I do watch and love the WALTONS. If Walnut Grove comes to METV I suggest a FAN MADE QUIZ WAS it LIABETH or HALF PINT .as a matter of fact I would love to introduce all the little house episodes on METV. I know everyone of them!
StuManTV Randall 33 months ago
For God's sake, NO.
It's already airing on at least half a dozen networks. Watch 'em there.
Zip 33 months ago
Melissa Gilbert was such a superb young actress(haven't seen her in much recently). Michael Landon made a perfect choice when he chose her for the role of Laura Ingalls.
Mike 33 months ago
Regarding Paul Gilbert:

Be on the lookout for a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode called "My Mother Can Beat Up My Father".
Early in the show, Rob and Laura are in a bar when a very loud drunk starts annoying Laura.
That's Paul Gilbert as the drunk; what happens to him at Laura's hands has to be seen to be believed ...
Randall Mike 33 months ago
Paul Gilbert can also be seen in a 1955 Movie Musical called so this is Paris, Starring Tony Curtis (yes, Tony Curtis in a musical) He also was in a feature I have yet to find called THREE NUTS IN SEARCH OF A BOLT.
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33 months ago
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LoveMETV22 33 months ago
Yes, good FYI, that was a good show for that. Matthew Labyorteaux (Albert Ingalls) and Patrick Labyorteaux (Andrew Garvey).
Randall 33 months ago
There is a fantastic magazine article Called MICHAEL LANDONS LITTLE KIDS, explaining some of the disabilities and hardships the young cast faced! I am in the same age group as these now adults and had a really rough childhood, that is why LHOTP will always be my favorite!
Pacificsun 33 months ago
Does this mean Little House of the Prairie is coming to MeTV?
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StuManTV Pacificsun 33 months ago
For God's sake, NO.
It's already airing on at least half a dozen networks. Watch 'em there.
Pacificsun StuTV 33 months ago
Just because I'm asking doesn't mean I want it!! I like more of the action/dramas anyway.

But MeTV changes will be coming in the Fall quarter. Just a few.
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 33 months ago
Haven't seen any MeTV announcements anywhere. Would be interesting if they do.
Tresix stephaniestavr5 33 months ago
Not exactly: “TAF” airs at 5PM on MeTV, “The Munsters” are on at 6PM on Cozi TV.
KMT6600 33 months ago
So glad she came out of retirement I just loved her on "Little house on the prairie" but now The Walton's took me over so it was a witch one to watch . Now I watch The Walton's so a win win for me!
Zip KMT6600 33 months ago
How can you choose?! They are both great shows. Watch both of them.
LoveMETV22 33 months ago
MeTV did an article 5 years ago. Interesting article with additional info on the series.:
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Pacificsun LoveMETV22 33 months ago
12 Fantastic Facts --- Nov 15, 2016, 4:51PM By MeTV Staff. Because I thought somebody was referring to a story a long time ago.

No worries. Not wanting to add to the confusion, I'll gracefully exit offering only what I found.
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 33 months ago
I knew about the origin of MeTV, but thanks for the share. What would be interesting to know is how or what they are doing with their experimental MeTV + Plus project/channel they launched not to long ago.
texasluva Pacificsun 33 months ago
On your MeTV addresses I only saw one poster that still posts-SalIanni-ELEANOR (who has not posted in a month and rarely). The 2nd one no one bothered to post. Of course there's this smart azz who posted one back in 2016 just because he could I wonder in another decade if someone else might drop in. Oh wait, LoveMETV22 AND YOU
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 33 months ago
Oh, Ok I see. I posted the additional info link for LHOTP, I read the story a while back and thought it was interesting.
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