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Hollywood comes to Howell: Gilbert and Busfield are the biggest stars we’ve had, but not the first

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Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield are Howell’s newest (and, currently, most-famous) residents. (Photo from Gilbert’s Instagram site.)

Every “Little House on the Prairie” fan I know – which is pretty much every woman I know – was thrilled to learn that actress Melissa Gilbert had moved to Howell. And by “thrilled,” I mean the kind of thrilled that I might experience if the Michigan football team were to beat Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, all in the same day. We’re talking thrilled.

In any case, yes, it’s true. Melissa Gilbert and her new husband, Michigan-born-and-bred actor Timothy Busfield, are now Howell residents. They packed up their belongings in L.A. a couple weeks ago and moved it all to the city of melons, McDonald’s and teeny-tiny roundabouts.

Why, you’re wondering? Why would a famous TV star like Melissa Gilbert – someone who has spent her entire life living in the shadow of Hollywood – why would someone like that decide to pack up and move to little old Howell, Mich., of all places?

Well, according to her blog, the first reason is that her husband loves it here. “Not only is he from Michigan but he loves Michigan and I am really starting to as well,” she wrote.

But the main reason Melissa Gilbert moved here is that she was looking for a change in her life, and when you’re talking about change, you can’t have a much bigger one than moving from Hollywood to Howell.

“I need a place where I can be at peace and create,” she wrote. “Whether that is writing or doing theater or cooking, needle pointing or gardening. I’m ready to live somewhere that I can have neighbors with casseroles, drive-in movies and Dairy Queen.”

Yep, aside from the drive-in movies (sorry, Melissa, we don’t have one), she pretty much nailed it. She even referred to Howell as “my very own version of Bedford Falls.”

And while all the women I know might be thrilled that Melissa Gilbert is living here (because of the “Little House on the Prairie” thing), I’m just as excited that Timothy Busfield is living here. After all, aside from his memorable turn in “thirtysomething,” he was in two of my favorite movies of all time: “Stripes” (he played the soldier who was forced to fire the mortar in the wrong direction) and “Revenge of the Nerds” (where he starred as Poindexter, of course).

The fact that we have a guy who was in “Stripes” and “Nerds” living in our county is beyond cool to me.

In any case, I’ve already heard of a few folks who have run into Gilbert and Busfield around town, and they said they couldn’t be nicer. I’m sure they’re going to love it here. Bedford Falls, indeed.

And I’m also happy that we have a couple new famous people living in Howell – especially famous people who are apparently very nice. Because until now, the most famous person from Howell was a guy who’s been dead for 21 years – and wasn’t even from Howell.

That would be former Klansman Bob Miles, who hosted cross-burnings and racist rallies on his farm in Cohoctah Township before dying in 1992. Plenty of out-of-towners still think he’s roaming the streets in front of the Livingston County Courthouse today. Miles’ legacy has been a stain on this community for years, so it’ll be nice to be famous for someone else for a change.

And if you’re wondering whether these are the first real, live, honest-to-goodness Hollywood stars we’ve ever had in Howell, well, the answer is no. We’ve had a few brushes with Tinseltown before:

• Lee Meriwether has a strong Howell connection. The former Miss America – who went on to star as Catwoman in the “Batman” movie and had a long run on “Barnaby Jones” – is married to Howell native Marshall Borden. Meriwether rode in the Howell Melon Festival parade many years back, and has made numerous trips to town. Marshall himself also has some TV credits to his name (mostly soap operas).

• Andrea Moen, the daughter of longtime Howell Mayor Geri Moen, was a regular on “The Love Boat” back in the mid-1980s. Moen was an excellent dancer who was one of the “Love Boat Mermaids,” a dance troupe that only lasted one season on the show. (Fun fact: One of the other Mermaids was a future Desperate Housewife named Teri Hatcher.)

• And, of course, we have comedian Heywood Banks, who has appeared on numerous national TV shows, and is still the funniest person I know.

In terms of a big-time Hollywood connection, though, nothing can top Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield living in town. I hope they’re settling in nicely.

And if you see them at the Dairy Queen, tell them I said hi.

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