The young actor who played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert, had a special connection with Michael Landon, the actor who played Charles Ingalls. Gilbert cared deeply about making Landon proud, and Landon treated Gilbert like a real daughter both on and offscreen. In her memoir, Gilbert writes about the one time she made Landon speechless (a typically impossible feat).
Melissa Gilbert’s performance as Helen Keller in ‘The Miracle Worker’
After Gilbert had been on Little House on The Prairie for a few seasons, her mother wanted her to move into more dramatic roles. So The Miracle Worker came about. After a grueling rehearsal process, and a run as a play to work out the kinks, The Miracle Worker began filming.
“We used the same crew from Little House, the same exteriors in Simi Valley, and by then we’d moved to MGM from Paramount and we shot the interiors for The Miracle Worker there,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir. “I felt surrounded by family, comfortable, and safe. Mike even visited the set a couple of times.”
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When the TV movie was screened for the cast, crew, network executives, and friends and family, the audience was “destroyed,” they were so emotional by the end of the film. Gilbert’s entire family was there, and so was Landon.
Michael Landon was speechless after watching Melissa Gilbert’s performance in ‘The Miracle Worker’
The movie was well-received at the screening.
“The Miracle Worker is an emotional film, a total gut-wrencher, and as the music played over the credits everyone applauded and screamed bravo,” wrote Gilbert.
But the Helen Keller actor didn’t clap when the filmed ended. She was stunned.
“Sitting with near paralytic stillness, I was dazed as the lights came on,” she wrote. “I couldn’t comprehend that I’d turned in that performance. Rising slowly, I grabbed Anna (Patty Duke), who was reaching out to me, and the two of us held on to each other and sobbed.”
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Then Gilbert turned around and saw Landon, “who had tears pouring down his face.”
“I jumped into his arms and let him squeeze me till it seemed like I melted into his chest,” she wrote. “He said, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.’ It was hard to render him speechless, but I’d done it.”
For a while, Gilbert thought The Miracle Worker was “the apex of [her]career.”
“I thought the sky was the limit,” she said. “I didn’t think acting could get any better.”