I have immersed myself in the prairie and what an experience it’s been. First I read Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison “Nellie Oleson”Arngrim, which I LOVED and reviewed here last week. It was the perfect memoir of Little House on the Prairie and Arngrim did me the favor of writing about the things I most wanted to know about her: her time on Little House. Melissa “Half Pint” Gilbert…didn’t. That’s not to say she didn’t write about or acknowledge Little House in her memoir Prairie Tale, because she did. It’s just that she also wrote about so much else.
Melissa Gilbert came from a show biz family; her grandfather was a comedy writer and her father was a performer. She herself started performing in commercials and on tv when she was a toddler. Her brother Jonathan ended up playing Willie Oleson on Little House. Her sister Sara Gilbert was Darlene on Roseanne. So, her family has some serious acting credits. Not that Melissa talks overly much about her siblings accomplishments. She doesn’t really talk much about them at all. When she discusses her family she talks about the presence of her grandfather in her life, the absence of her father who toured most of her childhood and died when she was very young, and her deep relationship with her mother.
I was most interested in hearing about the Little House years because, well, everything else she ever did blurs in my memory into one long Lifetime Original Movie and none of it stands out. I also thought it would be really fun to hear about her on-set antics from her perspective after hearing about them from Arngrim’s point of view. Sadly, Gilbert did not call me and ask me what I wanted to read and instead of providing me with a fun counterpoint to Arngrim’s book, she wrote her own Little House story. Which centers around the role Michael Landon played as her surrogate father (to say she has daddy issues would get you a shrug and a “Well YEAH” from Freud) not on the backstory of filming certain episodes. The best dish I got from her was that she basically hated the actor who played Almonzo Wilder.
Most of this story is about Gilbert’s journey from man to man to man. Her father, her grandfather, Michael Landon, her manager, all loomed large in her life in the years she was too young for romantic entanglements. Then she met Rob Lowe and began one of the most tempestuous affairs I’ve ever read about. She was with him, off and on, for years, despite their mutual propensity for cheating and treating each other very very badly. It might be because they were essentially teen-agers with enormous bank accounts and a lot of people there to bolster them up if they did anything stupid. They finally split when Gilbert got pregnant by him and he freaked and broke off their engagement just before she miscarried.
Along the way Little Half-Pint trysted with any number of her leading men, most of whom aren’t famous but she did get set up with the likes of Dylan McDermott and she hinted at a flirtation with George Clooney that may have gone further than she admitted. She caught the eye of Warren Beatty when she was 17 and his first question to her was when she turned 18. Later she would turn to Warren for relationship advice, which seems like a bit of a strange choice but maybe he was the ideal person to consult about the drama of infidelity. Her first marriage was to a playwright who she eventually found screwing a hooker in the living room when she came downstairs for a night feeding of their infant son. Hence him being her first husband, not her forever husband. She eventually married Bruce Boxlienter after many years of dramatic courtship wth him.
In between dysfunctional relationships with men, Gilbert made a LOT of tv movies. Maybe even more than Tori Spelling. Some of them include a remake of The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke and a remake of Splendor in the Grass. She was also president of the Screen Actor’s Guild for two terms and did a lot of work on hospice care for terminally ill children. Oh, and she got sober a couple of times. That’s right. Half Pint is a big lush.
The book overall is interesting but it’s anther one of these celebrity memoirs that’s frankly exhausting to read. Melissa Gillbert has packed a lot into her life and doesn’t shy away from sharing any of it. Reading it is more voyeuristic than edifying but I found it hard to put down. But I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a rerun of Little House the same way again now that I know that half Pint was skeeved out by Almonzo.
Buy the book here!