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The 'Soulful' Melissa Gilbert

It has been 25 years since actress Melissa Gilbert first appeared as Laura Ingalls on the popular television program Little House on the Prairie, and she can scarcely believe it.

"It's frightening," she says. "I can't believe I remember something that happened 25 years ago clearly."

But the role made her one of America's favorite children, and the public still holds her in a special place and fans frequently approach her to tell her so.

"It's great," she says. "I have no problem with that, because the show was so beloved. The character was so beloved. I feel very safe."

In Gilbert's opinion, Little House on the Prairie's popularity can be credited mainly to the vision of the late Michael Landon, the brains and the heart behind the series.

It embodied "what Michael wantedÂ…to have, a nice, solid, happy family, to have faith and community and hope," she says.

Faith also is an element of a CBS-TV movie, The Soul Collector, in which she stars Sunday night.

The movie is "about a being whose job has been, through all eternity, to collect people's souls when they die and escort them to heaven," she says.

"He's a delinquent soul collector, so he gets punished and sent to live on Earth for 30 days," she adds. "Ends up on my cattle ranch, falls in love with me, and the hitch is that he has to take a soul back with him. I don't know he's a soul collector."

Gilbert was attracted to the script because of the sense of hope that it communicates, "a sense that there's a grander scheme and that we're not alone," explains the actress.

She also praises her fellow cast members, especially Bruce Greenwood, whom she calls "amazing."

Fans of Gilbert may recall that she and her husband, actor Bruce Boxleitner, had a son four years ago who was born 12 weeks premature.

The actress reports: "He's doing really well. He's all caught up. He has no residual effects of prematurity. He's actually big for his age."

And he's named after Michael Landon.

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