“Little House on the Prairie”’s Melissa Gilbert Says Michael Landon ‘Sacrificed’ His Pay to Buy Cast Presents (Exclusive)

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Gilbert said Landon would wake up at “3 a.m.” to announce the Rose Parade and would use his payment for the gig to get his costars “amazing” gifts

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Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon

Melissa Gilbert says her Little House on the Prairie costar Michael Landon put in extra effort to make the cast happy.

The actress, 59, shared one of her favorite memories of her late costar with PEOPLE at the Little House on the Prairie 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion and Festival — which she said happened during every holiday season.

“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,” she recalls of Landon, who died in 1991 at the age of 54 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

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

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

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The cast of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Gilbert told PEOPLE there’s “so much to say about the actor” — who played Charles Ingalls in the long-running series — including the fact that he “was like a father figure” to many of the cast members on the show. She noted that she especially had a deep bond with him.

“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.”

The Tenure actress noted that the show — which was loosely based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s iconic Little House book series and aired more than 200 episodes — wouldn’t have been possible without Landon.

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

“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.

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

Gilbert, who was cast in the role of Laura Ingalls at just 9 years old, opened up earlier this week on Good Morning America about how “emotional” it was for her to be back at Big Sky Ranch, where she shot nine seasons of the show for the reunion.

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“It’s overwhelming, actually,” she admitted. “I’m remembering so much of my childhood and so many wonderful experiences and emotional experiences attached to all of these people.”

She told PEOPLE at the anniversary event that she feels “blessed” to have had her Little House on the Prairie experience.

“Every once in a while, at something like this, I’m reminded of, ‘My God, I was part of something really, truly impactful to many, many people.’ And it’s an honor. I’m so blessed to have been cast,” she says.

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