Sunday, June 30, 2024

Teen Melissa Gilbert (15) and Dean Butler (23): An Age-Gap Romance on the Prairie

In the post, Nicki Gostin reported that 15-year-old Melissa Gilbert, whom played Laura “Half-Pint” Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, had her first age-gap kiss with 23-year-old actor Dean Butler whom played Almanzo Wilder. 

"Sweet Sixteen" (s06e22)
Melissa Gilbert (15) and Dean Butler (23)

This kiss happened on episode “Sweet Sixteen” (s06e22) where, after Butler said lovingly, “Sweet Sixteen”, Gilbert leaned in for the kiss. 

"He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" (s06e23)
Melissa Gilbert (15) and Dean Butler (23)

And on the very next episode, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” (s06e23), after Butler informed Gilbert’s character, “I want you to be my wife,” and Gilbert replied, “I’d love to,” they kissed again. (Note: There’s no word on how many takes the scenes took.)

Consequently, per Butler’s book, Prairie Man: My Little House Life & Beyond, Barbara Abeles, Gilbert’s mother, “loudly wept” and “[...] Michael Landon, the show’s star as well as its writer and director, had to yell ‘cut.’”

Gostin related that, unsurprisingly, Gilbert’s Jewish mother didn’t approve of Butler’s casting, because Gilbert: “[...] had just turned 15.” And Butler wrote that Abeles’: “[...] unhappiness culminated, perhaps, in not being able to bear seeing me kiss her daughter. It was a protective displeasure.” 

Dean Butler (23) and Melissa Gilbert (15)

Of their on-screen age-gap relationship, which eventually became an on-screen age-gap marriage, Butler shared that Gilbert said, “You were a man, a grown-up man with a car and an apartment. I was a really young teenager [...] I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs and I’d never even been on a date.” [Emphasis added]

Gilbert wrote about the age-gap affair in Prairie Tale, her memoir, where she titled the chapter “Oh Shit, They Got a Real Man!”. Of season 6, Gilbert wrote that even though she was a  “flat-chested fifteen-year-old who looked thirteen”, she knew that she was: “[...] going to have to show affection, kiss, and at some point go to bed with a guy [...]”

“I knew I was going to have to show affection, kiss, and at some point go to bed with a guy when in real life I was a knock-kneed, flat-chested fifteen-year-old who looked thirteen, still wore rubber bands and a retainer in her mouth, and had never gone out with, kissed, or even held hands with a boy.” [Emphasis added]

Gilbert wrote that she was “excited about the idea” and that she was “definitely excited to see who the producers chose for this all-important role [...]”, and when she found out that Dean Butler had been cast, she was: “[...] freaked out a little from nerves, but in a good way.”

In addition, Gilbert reiterated that Butler was a “grown-up man” whom “[...] shaved, drove a car, and lived in his own apartment.” Interestingly, Gilbert naively opined that she feared that Butler would be “bummed”, inconvenienced, and disappointed by the prospect of having an (on-screen) affair with a 15-year-old nymphet.

“That’s right, Dean [Butler] was a grown-up man. I looked at him as if he’d risen from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. He was in his twenties. He shaved, drove a car, and lived in his own apartment. He must have felt so bummed upon meeting this dorky, freaked-out fifteen-year-old with peach fuzz all over her legs (I hadn’t even shaved them yet), and being told I was the one he had to fall in love with and marry. How inconvenient and disappointing for him.”

Interestingly, Gilbert wrote: “I didn’t want to kiss a man. I didn’t want to kiss anyone with stubble!” And she added: “When the time came to kiss Dean, I shut my eyes (inside, they were blank screens) and gently puckered up, letting him find the target.” 

However, a viewing of the scene revealed that Gilbert initiated the kiss. In the scene, Gilbert kept her eyes open as she stared lovingly into Butler's eyes, she leaned in as her eyes darted from Butler’s lips to his eyes, and then she closed her eyes, as most humans do - regardless of age, as they kissed. 

Of the on-screen age-gap romance, Gilbert wrote: “This was the real beginning of Laura and Almanzo’s romance, which was one of the great romances of all time.”

In response to the age-gap kiss, recall that Butler wrote that Gilbert’s mother “loudly wept”, which caused the director to yell ‘cut’, but Gilbert wrote in her memoir that after the kiss, she turned and saw her mother: “[...] standing just off camera, smiling with tears in her eyes.” In other words, crying all the way to the bank.

Lastly, recall that Gilbert related that prior to kissing Butler, she confessed that she had “never even been on a date” and that she had “never gone out with, kissed, or even held hands with a boy.” However, in a seeming contradiction, which is typical of (age-gap) memoirs, Gilbert shared that she had a “budding romance” with Micheal Landon Jr., which: “[...] hadn’t been contrived for PR purposes like so many teen romances in Hollywood.” And in fact, Gilbert’s kiss with Butler was not her first on-screen kiss. She related that she had been “[...] kissed years earlier in another episode, but it had been an innocent little peck. This was Laura’s first real kiss, one she desired [...]” [Emphasis added]

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