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Little Spouse on the Prairie

updated 01/16/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1995 01:00AM

HER MOTHER'S HOUSE OVERFLOWED with fresh flowers, and candles seemed to flicker anxiously in every room. Then, just after the sun set over L.A., the bride, wearing an off-the-shoulder English cream-satin gown with a full-length veil, made her entrance. "The first time I got married, I eloped," Melissa Gilbert, 30, would say later, explaining the elegance of her New Year's Day marriage to actor Bruce Boxleitner, 44. "This time I wanted to have a real wedding."

Mission accomplished. The actress, who played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie from 1974 to 1983, was preceded down the aisle by a 5-year-old flower girl in a classic green-velvet dress. The bride's maid of honor was her sister Sara, 19, a regular on Roseanne. And in a twist on tradition, Gilbert, whose father, comedian Paul Gilbert, died when she was 11, was given away by her mother, Barbara Yudko, a talent manager, and grandfather screenwriter Harry Crane. By the end of the 25-minute Jewish ceremony, attended by 40 guests including Gilbert's son Dakota, 5, and Boxleitner's boys Sam, 14, and Lee, 9, the newlyweds were nearly overcome with emotion. "They just kept staring at each other," says a friend of the couple's. "She'd start tearing up, then he'd tear up. It was very romantic."

Not to mention very surprising. The two met in late 1992, five years after Boxleitner, best known for starring in Scarecrow and Mrs. King, was divorced from actress Kathryn Holcomb Ogilvy, and four months after Gilbert separated from actor-writer Bo Brinkman. But the relationship seemed rocky, especially after their second broken engagement last October. Once, they argued "over nothing," Gilbert has said, and the other time "he got scared." What most people didn't know, she says, is that "we never stopped seeing each other. We reached the point where we had to date others or stay together forever."

In a few months, says Gilbert, she and her husband may honeymoon in Bora Bora. For now, though, it's work, work—she on NBC's Sweet Justice and he on the syndicated series Babylon 5. Still, her long days seem easier since she and Boxleitner made things official. "I feel so safe and secure when he's around," says Gilbert. "Now I can finally relax."

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