Hold on to your sunbonnets if your image of Melissa Gilbert remains frozen as the young Laura Ingalls Wilder she played in Little House on the Prairie in the '70s and early '80s. Half-Pint's autobiography, Prairie Tale, is no clean-cut family drama: It's chockablock with juicy tidbits from her point of view. She numbers among her boyfriends Michael Landon Jr. (son of the actor who brought Little House to TV) and Rob Lowe (with whom she became pregnant but suffered a miscarriage). She claims that Shannen Doherty, who appeared in a Little House episode when she was 12, had a one-night stand with her first husband. (He was separated from Gilbert at the time.) She says that Johnny Depp once asked to feel her at-the-time lactating breasts at a party, and that she replied, ''Yeah, do whatever you want.''
Gilbert, now 45, looks back with nostalgia, ruefulness and some anger. She says Cicely Tyson, with whom she costarred in the short-lived TV series Sweet Justice, had a ''diva-like temperament'' and on one occasion ''slapped a director across the face.'' Gilbert's irritation with her first husband, Bo Brinkman, is certainly understandable; after all, as the actress tells it, she once came down to the kitchen of their home in the middle of the night, only to find him having sex with a prostitute. Even in Hollywood, this is considered bad form.
Prairie Tale is written in the sort of unadorned prose that convinces you Gilbert wrote this herself. The book is less of a “tell-all” than a “tell-some”: When she admits she had “an emotional affair” (as opposed to a sexual one) with her leading man in the TV movie Seduction in a Small Town but then doesn’t name the fellow, the reader almost resents having to race to IMDb to find the name of the man she refers to only as “Calgary guy.” (For those who want to know, Brian McNamara played her husband.)
On the other hand, Gilbert has had her share of personal bests. Who else could claim that, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, she used her influence to help a grateful Marlon Brando collect residual checks for The Godfather? B–