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Melissa Gilbert on 'Little House on the Prairie' fame, living in Catskills

Thank you, Times Union, for permission to reprint Jack Rightmyer interview.

Gilbert will be our guest, in conversation with WAMC Roundtable host Joe Donahue, on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

7 p.m. Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Campus Center West Auditorium, University at Albany 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany NY 12222

Free and open to the public. Event info

Melissa Gilbert on 'Little House on the Prairie' fame, living in Catskills

By Jack Rightmyer, Albany Times Union, first published Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022

After her second marriage came to an end, Melissa Gilbert, best known for her role as Laura Ingalls on the classic television show “Little House on the Prairie,” raced immediately into a new relationship and tried to recapture the freedom she once had as a young woman.

“I had Botox, recolored my hair, bought a Mustang convertible at the urging of my much younger French boyfriend, and joined the cast of ‘Dancing With the Stars’,” she said, “and I was very unhappy. My life was spiraling out of control.”

She refers to this as a time when she had to step back a bit before moving forward. “I guess I had to get some of that behavior out of my system, but I’ve learned from that experience.”

At this point in her life, 10 years after appearing on “Stars,” she no longer feels frustrated, upset and disappointed. “I’ve worked very hard to find this peaceful place in my heart. I’m grateful to have that and to be married to a man who is also calm and peaceful.”

One of the events that brought about this change was meeting actor Timothy Busfield, best known as the co-star in the iconic TV show “Thirtysomething” and the film “Field of Dreams.” “When we met, Tim was not looking for anyone and neither was I. We were both content to be on our own. The universe threw him into my path, and I into his, and here we are 10 years later happily married.”

Because of their work they decided, shortly after getting married, to move to New York City. They would occasionally go on drives in the Hudson Valley or check out real estate sites looking for a small cottage to buy, a place to escape when the pressures and stresses of the city might overwhelm them.

In January 2019, they found a rustic cottage on 14 acres in the Catskills that needed a lot of work. The two of them did much of the work themselves, and that experience has inspired Gilbert to write her latest memoir Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered. On Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. she will participate in a discussion on the book and her life with WAMC’s Joe Donahue as part of the New York State Writers Institute’s programming.

“I love the clean air of the Hudson Valley, the smell of the lakes, the colors of the trees, the beautiful change of seasons and just watching things come to life in the spring and bloom in the summer. The woods and wildlife are constantly trying to take back our property. That’s what nature does. We watch and care for the animals, the deer, the bears. We respect them. We love where we live. We love our neighbors, and I’m much happier here than I ever was in Hollywood.”

The personal values of the show “Little House on the Prairie” have always been important to Gilbert.

“My parents were both in show business and they instilled in me a groundedness to not get caught up with being a celebrity, and that show enhanced the simple qualities of taking care of your family and appreciating what you have. Here I am today in my 50s and I have chickens, and I’m happiest in my upstate home sitting in my recliner knitting. There’s a wonderful contentedness to my life today.”

When “Little House on the Prairie” began filming in 1973, Gilbert remembered it as a very tumultuous time in America. “We were still deep in the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War was winding down, there was a massive oil crisis, and Michael Landon, our show’s star, wanted those stories in the show. We had episodes on drug addiction, racism, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, nativism and anti-Native American sentiment. I think that’s why the show had such a comeback when we were locked down with COVID. People my age began to watch it once again as a type of comfort and came away impressed with how woke it was for its time.”

Landon was enormously influential in Gilbert’s life. “He guided me both professionally and personally. Our families were also very close. We even used to vacation together. I was always impressed with how he wanted the ‘Little House’ stories to open the viewers' eyes to problems going on around us, and to hopefully change some of them.”

Timothy Busfield and Melissa Gilbert. Busfield wrote the foreword for her book. Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic
Timothy Busfield and Melissa Gilbert. Busfield wrote the foreword for her book. Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

She said the cast and crew from that show, which ran from 1974 to 1983, were like a family. “We cared about each other including all our families. We traveled like a pack on location, a very tight-knit group. We still stay in touch today and support each other in the good and the bad times.”

In her book, Gilbert writes about the amazing calm and peace she is experiencing today. “I no longer feel the pressure to fit into the mold of what people expect me to be. This is who I am and this is how I’m living my life today, and I hope you’re OK with it, but what other people think of me is none of my business.”

She said for much of her life she took for granted all the simple pleasures of her life, but no longer. “I’m most grateful today for all the beauty around me. It’s funny when Tim and I bought this house we thought we’d only come up here occasionally, but now we spend as much time as possible here and only go to New York (City) for fun, sushi and work.”

Thank you to the Times Union for permission to reprint this article. Please consider a subscription to support local journalism.


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