Born on May 8, 1964, in Los Angeles, California, Melissa Gilbert first found acting success playing Laura Ingalls on the dramatic series Little House on the Prairie from 1974 to 1982. She went on to act in several more TV roles as a child and teen and has continued to act into adulthood. In 2001, Gilbert was voted in as president of the Screen Actors Guild and won a second two-year term in 2003.
Born in Los Angeles, California, on May 8, 1964, Melissa Gilbert grew up in the entertainment business. She is the adopted daughter of actor Paul Gilbert and actress/dancer Barbara Crane (now Barbara Gilbert Cowan); her biological parents each had three children from previous marriages and, fearing they wouldn't be able to provide for Gilbert financially, put her up for adoption the day she was born. Gilbert's two siblings are also actors; Sara played Darlene in the series Roseanne and Jonathan played Willie Olson on Little House on the Prairie.
'Little House on the Prairie'
The sensitive, delicately pretty actor came to fame as a girl, playing Laura Ingalls on the NBC period drama series Little House on the Prairie, which ran from 1974 to 1983. (Gilbert was reportedly one of nearly 500 girls to audition for the part.) It was for her earnest, memorable portrayal of Laura that the actress became the youngest person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (in 1985, at 6429 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California). The series also starred Gilbert's brother, Jonathan Gilbert (as Willie Oleson), who was also adopted; Michael Landon (as Charlie Ingalls); Karen Grassle (as Caroline Ingalls); and Melissa Sue Anderson (as Mary Ingalls).
After Gilbert's father, Paul Gilbert, passed away in February 1975, Michael Landon became an important mentor and friend to the actress. She and Landon soon had a falling out, however, and the reportedly stars didn't speak to each other from the time that Little House on the Prairie ended until 1991.
While Melissa Gilbert has made several feature film appearances, the majority of her work over the years has been in television. She most often opted for roles as suffering, historically significant teenagers, such as in The Miracle Worker in 1979, The Diary of Anne Frank in 1980 and Splendor in the Grass in 1981. She remained prolific and eventually graduated to adult roles, including Choices in 1986 and A Family of Strangers in 1993.
Additionally, there were a few failed series attempts, including Little House: A New Beginning in 1982, Stand By Your Man in 1992 and Sweet Justice in 1994. In 2001, Gilbert was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. She won a second two-year term in 2003.
Gilbert later returned to the project that made her famous: She starred in the role originally played by Karen Grassle on television, as "Ma" in the touring production of Little House on the Prairie: The Musical. She also shared her details of her life in A Prairie Tale, a memoir published in 2009.
Returning to television, Gilbert had a role in the 2011 movie The Christmas Pageant. She then branched out in a new direction, signing on to compete on Dancing with the Stars in 2012. Partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Gilbert went up against television personality Sherri Shepherd, singer Gladys Knight and tennis great Martina Navratilova for the top prize.
During her teen years, Gilbert dated actors Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe. In 1988, she married actor and producer Bo Brinkman. They had one son, Dakota Paul (Cody), and later divorced. In 1995, she married actor Bruce Boxleitner. They had one son together, Michael Garrett, who was born in 1995 and named after the late actor Michael Landon. Gilbert filed for divorce from Boxleitner in 2011.
On April 24, 2013, Gilbert married 55-year-old actor Timothy Busfield, known for his role as Eliot Weston on TV's Thirtysomething. The couple reportedly wed in a private ceremony at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Busfield, who was married twice previously, has three children from past relationships.
Although a California native, Gilbert moved to Michigan with her current husband in 2013. In August 2015 Gilbert announced her Congressional run in Michigan's 8th district. Running as a Democrat on a pro-working class family platform, the actress set out to unseat Republican representative Mike Bishop.
“I’m running for Congress to make life a little easier for all the families who feel they have fallen through the cracks in today’s economy," Gilbert stated on her campaign website. "I believe building a new economy is a team effort, and we need to bring fresh voices to the table to get the job done.”
In May 2015, Gilbert withdrew from the race to avoid aggravating a spinal injury. “My doctors said there’s no way for me to continue to deal with the incredibly rigorous demands of a congressional campaign without continuing to do harm to my body,” Gilbert said in an interview with People magazine.
Gilbert told People that she had a "long history" of neck and spine issues which began in 2003 when she had surgery to fuse a herniated disc. In 2012, she suffered more head and neck injuries including whiplash and a concussion when she fell during her appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Months later, a balcony in a house she was renting collapsed on her, resulting in another concussion and two herniated discs.
Gilbert said she was devastated to leave the congressional race, but vowed to continue to pursue public service. “I will continue on this road of being of service,” she told People. “I won't know where that will take me, but I’m not going to rule anything out.”
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