A native of Los Angeles, Melissa Gilbert comes from a long line of entertainers. Her grandfather, Harry Crane, creator and writer of The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason, was one of the best-known comedy writers in the business. Her late father, Paul Gilbert, was a respected comedian. At age two, Gilbert made her on-air debut in TV commercials modeling baby clothes.
She "retired" until the ripe old age of seven, when she plunged back in, acting in more than thirty television commercials including national spots for Crest, McDonald's and GAF toys with the late Henry Fonda. At age nine, in the summer of 1973, she joined the cast of Little House on the Prairie, continuing with the popular series for ten years.
Her personal manager formed Half-Pint Productions (her character's nickname on Little House on the Prairie) five years later, which first resulted in the production of the 1979 Emmy Award-winning movie-of-the-week, The Miracle Worker, starring Patty Duke as Annie Sullivan and Melissa in Duke's original role of Helen Keller. Six years later, Patty Duke herself would become the second female president of the Screen Actors Guild).
Melissa Gilbert was elected to the Screen Actors Guild Board of Directors in November 2000 and, the following November, she became the third woman elected to the Guild's presidency. In December, 2001, she was elected a Vice-President of the AFL-CIO, and has since participated in events and given interviews on behalf of labor issues both relating to the Guild, and outside of it. In March 2002, in an historic National Officer re-run election, she was elected once more as the Guild's 23rd President, over three other candidates: a record return of ballots (41.4%) found her winning 21,351 votes out of 37, 742 cast.
During her presidency, Gilbert has met with numerous officials including California Governor Gray Davis, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, senators and other political leaders to champion performers' rights, and improve working conditions. In September 2002, she was invited to a White House event supporting First Lady Laura Bush's American Authors literacy promotion program, and also met with White House staff to discuss the issue of copyright and of Runaway Production.
Gilbert is currently Chair of the Screen Actors Guild's President's Task Force on Affirmative Action; Expanded National Executive Committee; and the National Joint AFTRA/SAG Young Performers Steering Committee.more » « less