A native of Los Angeles, Melissa Gilbert comes from a long line of entertainers. Her grandfather, Harry Crane, creator and writer of "The Honeymooners," was one of the best-known and most respected comedy writers in the business. Her father, Paul Gilbert, was a respected comedian, actor, musician and dancer.
At the age of two, Gilbert made her on-air debut modeling baby clothes. She then appeared in more than thirty television commercials. In the summer of 1973, the nine-year-old joined the cast of "Little House on the Prairie," continuing with the popular series for ten years alongside Michael Landon.
When Gilbert was fourteen, her personal manager formed Half-Pint Productions, which first produced the Emmy® Award-winning television movie "The Miracle Worker," starring Patty Duke. The company subsequently produced "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Splendor in the Grass," "Family Secrets" with Maureen Stapleton and "Choices of the Heart," all starring Gilbert.
A variety of rich television roles continued, including the drama "Choices" with George C. Scott and Jacqueline Bisset, the true-life drama "Without Her Consent," "Joshua’s Heart" with Tim Matheson, USA’s "The Lookalike," "Blood Vows: Story of a Mafia Wife," "Killer Instinct," "Donor" and "Forbidden Nights." In 1992 Gilbert made her comeback to series television starring in the comedy "Stand By Your Man" with Rosie O’Donnell. Gilbert also starred opposite Ronnie Cox and Cicely Tyson in the NBC series "Sweet Justice," portraying a headstrong attorney from a well-to-do Southern family.
In 1993, Gilbert starred in the highly rated "Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story," the true story of a California attorney whose recollection of early childhood abuse by her father leads her to champion other incest victims and change the state’s statute of limitations law. Her portrayal and her own fight to help abused children were honored with a 1994 Inspirational Award from Childhelp USA, with which she has been affiliated for twenty years.
Over the years, Gilbert has continued to bring powerful stories to the small screen including the Hallmark Channel Original Movies, "Sacrifices of the Heart" and "Thicker than Water," in Lifetime’s "Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story" with Marlee Matlin and the CBS drama "Cries from the Heart." In 1996, she starred opposite Tim Matheson in the feel-good holiday telefilm "Christmas in My Hometown" which was CBS’s highest rated MOW for a Tuesday night ever.
In feature film, Gilbert has starred in "Sylvester" opposite Richard Farnsworth, from which she was selected ShoWest’s Promising Star of the Year in 1985. She was also honored that year when she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, becoming the youngest recipient of such an honor. In 1987 she made her off-Broadway debut as a star of A Shayna Maidel, earning an Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Debuting Actress for her realistic portrayal of a young girl who escapes war-torn Europe. She also starred in such productions as The Miracle Worker, The Glass Menagerie, Bus Stop and most recently Love Letters at the Canon Theatre in Los Angeles.
Having fully outgrown her "Little House" youth, Gilbert has proven herself a successful adult actress and director. In 1996, she made her directorial debut with the critically acclaimed ABC after school special "Me and My Hormones," starring Marion Ross with special appearances by Bruce Boxleitner, Sara Gilbert and Chad Lowe. Gilbert and Tony Dow teamed up to produce the highly rated A&E documentary "Child Stars: Their Story," which gave an insider’s look at the privileges and pain of child stardom. Gilbert’s legacy came full circle last year when she starred as Ma in the national tour of Little House on the Prairie the Musical.
In 2009, Gilbert shared 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 in her New York Time’s bestselling memoir, Prairie Tale. In addition to her acting, directing and writing career, Gilbert served two terms as the 23rd President of Screen Actors Guild, two terms as Vice President on the AFL-CIO executive council, Vice President for the California Labor Federation, and commissioner on the California Film Commission.
During her tenure at Screen Actors Guild, Gilbert helped to create and pass anti-runaway legislation as well as laws to protect child performers. Additionally, she helped to fight movie piracy and to implement many other worker and artist protections. Gilbert also served as chair of the 2005 SAG Theatrical/Television Negotiating Committee.
An avid philanthropist, Gilbert is the President of the Board of Directors for the Children’s Hospice and palliative Care Coalition, and recently became the first-ever national spokesperson for The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Through her work with the Children’s Hospice, she has dedicated her life to ensuring that all chronically and terminally ill children get to live and die with the gentleness, dignity and grace they deserve.
Among her many honors and accolades, Gilbert has received the Media Access Office Award of Merit for her efforts in seeking casting diversity, was one of Hollywood Reporter’s "Women of the Year" for three consecutive years, and was recently honored with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award.