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“Little House on the Prairie”’s Melissa Gilbert Says Michael Landon Was a ‘Father Figure’: ‘We Were Very Close’ (Exclusive)

Gilbert tells PEOPLE that when her father died when she was 11, Landon "sort of stepped in and kind of watched over me in a much more paternal way”

<p>Pascal Le Segretain/Getty; Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p>

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty; Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Melissa Gilbert is opening up about her special bond with Little House on the Prairie costar Michael Landon.

On Friday, Gilbert, 59, spoke with PEOPLE during the Little House on the Prairie 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion and Festival and revealed that the late actor — who played her father in the long-running series — also took on a similar role for the cast.

“Michael Landon was like a father figure to many of us, obviously, and a very, very important influence in my life,” Gilbert, who famously snagged the role of Laura Ingalls at 9-years-old, exclusively tells PEOPLE.

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“My own father passed away when I was 11,” she continues. “And I had been working with Michael for two years at that point, and he really sort of stepped in and kind of watched over me in a much more paternal way.”

<p>NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls.

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls.

Related: Little House on the Prairie's Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle and Alison Arngrim Reunite Ahead of 50th Anniversary

“Even though he was paternal instantly and we were very, very close,” she added, also noting that they had “vacationed together” and their families “hung out together on New Year's Eve.”

The Tenure actress shared that Landon — who played patriarch Charles Ingalls and also took on other roles on the show — also went above and beyond for the Little House on the Prairie cast and recalled a specific tradition he had to get the cast “amazing” gifts.

“Every year for NBC, he would announce the Rose Parade and instead of taking a payment for that, he would use that money to buy the cast and crew Christmas presents every year,” she recalls.

<p>NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty </p> Pictured: (top l-r) Matthew Laborteaux as Albert Quinn Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Linwood Boomer as Adam Kendall, (bottom l-r) Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls, Lindsay/Sidney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls.

Related: 'Little House on the Prairie' 's Melissa Gilbert on Aging: 'I Finally Feel Comfortable in My Own Skin' 

“So he sacrificed his New Year's Eves, basically, to be at the Rose Parade at 3:00 a.m. so that he could give us all really amazing Christmas presents,” she adds.

Little House on the Prairie was loosely based on Laura Ingall Wilder's iconic Little House book series about her childhood growing up in the Midwest in the late 1800s and aired over 200 episodes between 1974 - 1983. There were also several specials during its nine-season run.

And the actress tells PEOPLE that the show — as well as its success — wouldn’t have been possible without Landon.

<p>Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> Pictured: (clockwise from left) Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls,Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Pictured: (clockwise from left) Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls Kendall, Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls,Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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"It blows my mind that all of this is because of him. These people are here because he wrote this show and directed it and produced it, and I know that he would be incredibly proud if he could see this,” Gilbert says of Landon, who died in 1991 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“This is his legacy. A hundred percent,” she adds.

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Read the original article on People.