Melissa Gilbert’s Complicated ‘Prairie’ Life
The actress opens about her difficult childhood, addictions and more.
Actress Melissa Gilbert of “Little House on the Prairie” was America’s sweetheart and many presumed she enjoyed a blessed childhood. But in reality, the talented star’s home life was a far cry from the idyllic life she portrayed in the popular TV show. In her new memoir, “Prairie Tale,” Melissa Gilbert shares her story of growing up in front of the cameras, dealing with a complicated family, overcoming addictions, and how she finally learned to move on. An excerpt:
My mother was nearly a month past her husband’s funeral when she turned her attention back to my desire to write a memoir. It wasn’t just a desire; there was an actual book deal, and she was against it. If the book were on any topic other than myself, she would’ve already been circulating word that “Melissa is writing the best book ever.” But this was different. It was about me. Which meant it was also about her. And she was against telling that story if she wasn’t the one doing the telling.
She had tried numerous times to talk me out of it, but her efforts were interrupted by the death of my stepfather, Hollywood publicist Warren Cowan. Now she was back on point. She showed up at my house one afternoon carrying a large box packed with news clippings, ads, letters, and diaries of mine. She set it down on the kitchen table with a thud and announced with a smile as deadly as a pearl-handled Derringer that the contents would be helpful.
“For your book,” she said, pronouncing the word ‘book’ as if were a Petrie dish containing the Ebola virus that I was going to let out in the world.
I marveled at her gamesmanship — and at her. She looked a decade younger than her age, which, if revealed, would be taken as a bigger crime than revealing Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. Her hair was blonde and coiffed. It’s sufficient and necessary to say she was strikingly attractive. She looked great whether going to her weekly appointment at the hair salon or movie night at the Playboy mansion, which she and my step-father had attended for years.
I also cringed at the layers at play here in my kitchen. I thought, thank goodness I have four sons. The mother-daughter relationship is one of mankind’s great mysteries, and for womankind it can be hellaciously complicated. My mother and I are quintessential examples of the rewards and frustrations and the joys and infuriations it can yield. By and large, we are close. At times, though, she had rendered me speechless with her craftiness. Now was one of those times.