Melissa Gilbert Credits Back Surgeon for Her 'DWTS' Try/Oscars 2012: Time for Change

By Stacy Jenel Smith

March 1, 2012 6 min read

Former child star Melissa Gilbert credits her back surgeon for the fact that she's become one of this coming season's contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" — and not just because he healed her broken back.

"It actually started with him, because my final day (of post-operative appointments) was the day that Jennifer Grey won. He's her surgeon too," recounts the amiable actress. "He started saying, 'Now you need to do it.' I said, 'I'm glad you think my back is healed enough so that I can do that. If I injure myself, though, you have to operate for free,' and he laughed."

You can count on the show highlighting her story of conquering tough physical challenges. As you may recall, Melissa toured the country through much of 2008 and 2009, playing Ma Ingalls in the popular stage musical version of "Little House on the Prairie." For months, she was in extreme discomfort, but somehow, she finished the tour. When she returned home and went to the doctor, she says, "I found I had broken my back. I knew the disc was herniated. I didn't know the back was actually broken. If I had, I'm sure the doctors would have said, 'Don't go.'

"After the surgery, it was a really long recovery, and I didn't get cleared to work really until February of 2011." Melissa, who has written about her past battles with alcoholism, enlisted the help of Dr. Drew Pinsky to guide her as she dealt with her intense post-surgery pain; she was concerned that she might become addicted to opiates. She would take her Dilaudid, Percocet and muscle relaxers, and then take two days away from the pills "and just tough it out."

By summer, Melissa was pain-free. And, she says, "There's nothing I can't do. I can do Pilates. I can run. I can jump. I can do yoga. I can do whatever I am asked to do." Including "Dancing With the Stars"!

There've been rumors — and tabloid stories — of her taking on the show before. Last year also saw the breakup of her 16-year marriage to Bruce Boxleitner, and, she says, "The National Enquirer wrote some ridiculous story about me healing my heart by doing 'Dancing With the Stars.' They had me studying tape of other stars who had done it — which was funny, because I was shooting my movie at the time," she says, referring to last December's Hallmark Channel movie, "The Christmas Pageant."

As for why she's taking on the show, Melissa tells us: "It's just because it seems like a real challenge for me. And you know me — if something scares me, I'm gonna do it, and this kind of scares me because I'm now part titanium."

IF YOU ASK US: It's been a tough year for Oscar. This year's show was book-ended by the Los Angeles Times expose that delineated the Academy membership as 94 percent white, 77 percent male and with a median age of 62 — and the New York Times piece that laid out a variety of indicators showing that the Oscar show's glory days are over. (And the ultra-hard-campaigning Harvey Weinstein's relatively little-seen films winding up at the forefront of the Oscars again and again hasn't helped ratings.)

Scathing reviews such as the Hollywood Reporter's "Oscars Become Badly Paced Bore-Fest" had to have hurt — and a little extra salt in the wound came in Forbes' report that Best Original Screenplay winner Woody Allen not only wasn't present but that he watched the NBA All-Star Game instead. Of course, with Woody, nobody was surprised.

The rest of America — businesses and individuals alike — has had to get used to once-unthinkable cutbacks, shakeups and forced reinvention to survive in these tough times. Now it's the Academy's turn. Most obviously, it's time to take the craft awards out of the primetime Oscar show — and to make a concerted effort to diversify membership. Take all the negativity surrounding the 84th Oscars and use the energy for positive, deep and meaningful change, not just a few more young faces on the show. It can work! After all, America, like Hollywood, loves a good comeback story.

HELLO AGAIN: Esteemed veteran actress Barbara Bain is enjoying her turn in Claire Chaffee's comedy, "Why We Have a Body," as directed by cast mate Tanna Frederick.

"It's an extraordinarily heightened approach, a bit like a cartoon — fanciful. It makes me think of Terry Gilliam's films," says the actress, who rose to fame as the sexy and soignee spy Cinnamon Carter in the original "Mission: Impossible." She adds, "It's hard to believe this is Tanna's first directing job. My reaction was kind of, 'Wow, look at what she's done with this material.' I was very impressed." That's saying a lot, particularly since Bain has been spending much of her time in recent years directing plays as well as acting in them.

Bain is playing the globe-trotting, not-so-wonderful mother of two grown-up daughters who are going through turbulent times in "Why We Have a Body," which is running the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, Calif., through April 8. One daughter's a career criminal; the other is married but having a lesbian affair.

Meanwhile, Bain is also in the indie film "Nothing Special" with Karen Black, about a woman trying to have a normal life while dealing with bipolar illness. The film's awaiting a distributor. And she has a series of six one-act plays at the Beverly Hills Playhouse ahead on her agenda.

To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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