'Little House on the Prairie': How Michael Landon Got Melissa Gilbert To Cry in Emotional Scenes—'It Was a Bizarre Manipulation'

'Little House on the Prairie': How Michael Landon Got Melissa Gilbert To Cry in Emotional Scenes—'It Was a Bizarre Manipulation'

12/17/2020

Melissa Gilbert was only 9 years old when she was cast as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. She had a lot of lines to memorize and lots of big emotions to portray. According to Gilbert, executive producer, writer, director, and lead actor Michael Landon helped her out with her hit role. Though, looking back, Gilbert admits Landon’s technique may have been “bizarre.”

The only time Melissa Gilbert forgot her lines on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning back in July, Gilbert said she only didn’t know her lines one time.

“And it only happened once,” she said. “And I kept forgetting and I kept forgetting. And Michael finally cut and he said, ‘You don’t know your lines, do you?’ And I just started crying. So, he cleared the set. He made everybody go away.”

“Just burst into tears,” Gilbert continued, “’cause I was busted. And he said, ‘Just calm down. We’re gonna do this. You’re gonna learn your lines.’ And we did it and we did it and we did it. And I finally got it. And I was ready. And I said, ‘Thank you so much.’ And I gave him a hug. And he said, ‘You’re so welcome.’ And then he got down right in front of me and he said, ‘And that is never happening again, is it?’”

Gilbert never did forget her lines again.

Melissa Gilbert had trouble crying during the ‘The Love of Johnny Johnson’ episode

In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert describes her connection with Landon (who she refers to as “Mike” throughout the book) as a “special bond.” Landon was always there for Gilbert, helping her to get where she needed to be emotionally in scenes.

When the Little House on the Prairie cast crew filmed the episode, “The Love of Johnny Johnson,” Gilbert had a tough time feeling emotional about an unrequited crush Laura was experiencing.

“Sometimes it was hard for me to get to those emotions, and this episode was one of those times,” she wrote. “Putting myself in Laura’s shoes didn’t work. Nor did dragging up some kind of horrible memory from the Dungeon. So Mike helped me.”

How Michael Landon got Melissa Gilbert to cry on cue while filming ‘Little House on the Prairie’

When Landon realized Gilbert was having trouble getting to where she needed to be emotionally in the scene, he took her aside.

“He put his arm around me and walked us away from the set, off to the side where we could be alone,” she wrote. “And in the time it took to walk fifteen to twenty feet, he got himself crying. Then he turned to me and with tears rolling down his face, he said, ‘Do you have any idea how much I love you?’”

Landon’s technique worked. His words immediately inspired tears from Gilbert.

“Mike let me cry for a few seconds and then he said, ‘Are you ready?’ I nodded and we shot our scene,” she wrote.

That wasn’t the only time Landon used his personal relationship with Gilbert to swell emotion.  

“Mike employed that technique for many of the lovely father-daughter scenes that followed,” wrote Gilbert. “Looking back, yes, it was a bizarre manipulation, a kind of twisted way to get a kid to perform.”

But, at the same time, Gilbert views the crying as “therapeutic.”

“I was able to release some of my own emotions I kept bottled up,” she wrote.

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