The disappearance of Lisa Gerritsen remains a mystery to TV fans

The child star went from TV Westerns to sharing scenes with Mary Tyler Moore.

It’s rare for a Gunsmoke episode to center on a child actor, but in "Jenny," 10-year-old Lisa Gerritsen proved she had the dramatic chops to carry the story.

Gerritsen actually started her acting career with an earlier appearance on Gunsmoke in 1968, and "Jenny" would become her fourth and final guest spot on the hit TV Western. This final episode was an impressible vehicle to show off her remarkable acting talents.

Quickly after gaining attention on Gunsmoke and The Doris Day Show, Gerritsen joined the cast of the 1969 sitcom My World and Welcome to It.

After that, her TV career took off when she got cast in a prominent role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970.

As Bess Lindstrom, Gerritsen played teen daughter to Cloris Leachman, sharing scenes with two of the funniest sitcom actors in the business by the time she was 13 years old.

Gerritsen returned to the role of Bess in the Phyllis spin-off, but then abruptly stopped acting in 1978 at the age of 21.

Because Gerritsen showed such promise and many younger TV fans grew up identifying with her onscreen, her disappearance became one of the biggest mysteries of all the child stars that stepped out of the spotlight.

Where the heck did she go, they wondered.

For years, fans in web forums pondered what happened to Gerritsen, but she seemed determined to stay out of the public eye.

Then in 2000, when a reunion for Mary and Rhoda was announced, a TV writer for the Chicago Tribune decided he was going to be the one to finally track down Gerritsen and get some answers about why she quit her promising career.

Declaring Gerritsen his "first love," the writer shared that his crush began because Gerritsen played "a romantically inexperienced somewhat awkward 7th grader on The Mary Tyler Moore Show" at a time when the writer himself was "a romantically inexperienced somewhat awkward 7th grader."

Seeking a way to connect with Gerritsen for an interview, the writer claimed to have "Followed every lead and tried every resource suggested by several writers who specialize in those TV Mailbag trivia columns and sent email to half a dozen people who maintain unofficial fan sites devoted to Mary Tyler Moore."

At last, he connected with another fan who claimed to have worked with Gerritsen at a software company, and eventually, he even found her phone number. 

However, he said he decided not to reach out to Gerritsen in the end, because he ultimately decided that if she was this hard to track down, she likely wanted to keep her distance from fans.

The reason why Gerritsen became an actor at such a young age was mainly because her grandfather was a TV writer.

True Boardman saw star potential in his granddaughter and even once wrote a Bonanza episode for her, just so he could show the world her excellent horse-riding skills.

As passionate about horseback riding as she was about acting, there was once an incident while she was starring on My World and Welcome to It. She was riding one weekend and fell off her horse, breaking her arm.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported in 1969 that scriptwriters had to scramble to write in a reason for her character to wear a cast for the next six weeks of filming.

Perhaps by the time Gerritsen reached 21, she realized that all she wanted in life was to go horseback riding out of the spotlight for good.

"What the heck happened to that girl who played Phyllis’ daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the Chicago Tribune writer who grew up identifying with Bess asked into the void, declaring her whereabouts today as "a particular mystery" he decided not to solve.

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JuliaWilliams 3 days ago
Miss Gerritsen is, for all intent and purposes, the SOLE surviving cast member of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'.

May God go with you.
John Amos had a recurring role as the weatherman. So we still have him too.
tvnutt 4 days ago
Actually she is working in an IT type of capacity in Northern California. She is married and has a daughter. She even changed the spelling of her first name to Lissa. I know because I contacted her about the William WIndom documentary I'm doing. She also lives close to Windom's second daughter.
RichLorn 4 days ago
You know what? That youngster had a lot of spunk. I HATE spunk.
joeyjoejoe 4 days ago
I don’t know why anyone who was popular would disappear. I think the time to start worrying is when you have no fans .Anyone fortunate enough to be in a tv show should count their blessings and be happy people appreciate the work they’ve done .I sure wish people wanted MY autograph
Catman joeyjoejoe 1 day ago
I'd love your autograph ... just put it on the bottom of a blank check ...
rwhyde 5 days ago
She played bit roles in over 20 different series during a 10 year period beginning in 1968. She played one of Burt Lancaster’s daughters in the movie “Airport” in 1970.
Lantern 5 days ago
In 1971 Lisa (along with MTM) appeared on the cover of TV Guide, which contained a feature article about her. I remember the article had a photo of her with her horse.
MuzzikLvr 5 days ago
Good for Lisa for living her life as she pleases, out of the spotlight. She must be doing well financially, or we'd be seeing her at the autograph shows.
Whatsa 5 days ago
According to, Lisa married John Rustan in 2001. They have a son and live in Petaluma, CA
AmyShives 5 days ago
Lisa attended Western Washington University in Bellingham Washington in the mid seventy’s.
KevinButler 6 days ago
Ms.Gerritsen was interviewed by radio and tv host:Art Linkletter on his 1970's NBC TV series:"Life With Linkletter"..she appeared on the show..wearing a cape to cover her arm..which was broken in a horseback riding accident. (Sadly that interview that Mr.Linletter did with longer exist).
Rita6868 7 days ago
I love Lisa and think of her often.I was turning 8 years old when The MTM Show debuted. I loved the wig and makeup episode when she was down at Mary's apartment.Phyllis explained to Mary when Bess is angry she would wear makeup and mom's wig.Haaa!!! I thought her acting was great! I thought she was very natural and such a cute kid.It must of been hard to be around all of those adults at such a young age.I hope she is doing well! I still watch The MTM Show every single day.My all time favorite comedy show.I have seen recent photos of Lisa and a couple of articles that said after acting she just led a normal life.I would love to see her interviewed by someone or make an appearance with Joyce( Murray's wife) to see how they are doing but if they are not interested I get it.I hope Joyce is doing well to.Joyce used to be on t.v. alot back in the day.Always loved her bubbley personality and smile. Love You Lisa (Bess) and Joyce(Marie).Thanks for all of the laughs and great memories!
ttenchantr 7 days ago
I know there is only a single season of it, but "My World and Welcome to It" would be a great show for MeTV to run!
PernellDH ttenchantr 7 days ago
I agree! Haven't seen the show in decades. Would be nice to have the series available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital media too!
Michael ttenchantr 6 days ago
One reason I watch Murder She Wrote reruns is William Windom, at least in Cabot Cove, and that's directly because of My World.
Barry22 ttenchantr 6 days ago
I agree, it was different. I was in 7th grade when it was on, and our English teacher would discuss it with us on Tuesday morning. (but yet, did not want to talk about Laugh-In).
retro6 ttenchantr 6 days ago
That is my first recollection of Lisa watching My World and Welcome to It. I was around 5 or 6 at the time.
Pacificsun Michael 6 days ago
Someone who once commented on here (meaning the website in general) said he was writing a book about William Windom. I always thought he was a unique actor. And in spite of his very specific personality (some actors can't avoid it) he somehow distinguished most every role he played. I am surprised that he's never been profiled here (to my knowledge).
Michael Barry22 6 days ago
But you talked about Laugh In in the schoolyard.

We did a school play, I think in 1970, where we did Laugh In, sort. I recall no props, and maybe it was just one skit. Wait, there was a tricycle. But the show permeated.
LoveMETV22 ttenchantr 5 days ago
There are several episodes on youtube, not all 26, but a few.
ncadams27 7 days ago
I’m not sure why people think it’s odd that a child star “disappears” when they get older (i.e., have an adult life as a non-celebrity). Considering the many stories about child stars who struggle in Hollywood when they try to become adult stars, I think this is a good path to take.
Michael ncadams27 7 days ago
At least she didn't die, that we know of. Anissa Jones, Buffy, couodn't get roles after Family Affair, and spiraled down, dying in 1976. I knew someone who went to school with her
LoveMETV22 Michael 7 days ago
The Anissa Jones story is very sad. Fortunately that isn't the norm with child actors,
Mirramanee LoveMETV22 5 days ago
Another child star whose life took a tragic turn when he became an adult was Rusty Hamer. Rusty played the son of Danny Thomas on Make Room for Daddy. When he became an adult, he tried to continue his career, particularly aiming to work in more dramatic roles. He even took acting classes for it. However, roles just did not come through for him and he eventually left Hollywood to move to Louisiana where he had family. He slowly spiraled into depression and took his own life in the late '70's (I believe). Very sad...
AgingDisgracefully 7 days ago
If only Mike Wallace were alive to chase her down the street with his camera crew DEMANDING to know why she disappeared into the fog.
He would then pause, see his reflection in a storefront window and get a thunderbolt of clarity.
Or not.
Sorry, Disgracefully, you have obviously confused the late, great Mike Wallace with former Bill O'Reilly (aka Bill-o The Clown) sidekick and current Fox "News" propagandist Jesse Watters, who thought he had perfected the art of "ambush" interviews until another great journalist, Bill Moyers, who smacked him right back and sent him scurrying away with his tail tucked between his legs.
Mike made it a thing.
Thems what followed only made it creepier.
MySami 8 days ago
Sadly, many of these child actors of her time got "type-casted" and couldn't find any more work in Hollywood of anything worth taking better than the role they left, so these actors sort of fade away before we know it, out of the spotlight. This even happened to many adult sitcom actors whose once the show ends their tv careers end as well. For many or most, it's hard for them to go into a normal life or job in the civilian world. Many get married and just disappear into a wife and mother life living off of their prior career earnings and royalties coming in, some others turn to alcohol and drugs to try to cope with the isolation and rejection, some end of overdosing on substance abuse. It's very sad to see this happen because these are talented people that we all loved on tv but the reality is that nothing is forever.
PPDrippins 8 days ago
I actually still watch MTM for some nostalgia, and I love watching the Bess character because she’s so embarrassingly bad. She has two expressions; confused and goofy laughing. She vacillates between the two of those and it’s disturbing. LOVE IT!
PPDrippins 8 days ago
OMG, she was such a bad actress. She always looked constipated on MTM. Her facial expressions were painful to watch. She made the right decision to quit acting.
TeresaDraper 8 days ago
I remember Lisa from "My World and Welcome To It" as well as MTMS and Phyllis
Andybandit 8 days ago
I remember her as Bess on the MTMS. But that is the only thing I remember her in.
Pacificsun 8 days ago
When I come up with a comment, it's usually my first reaction. I could think it through, and make it more acceptable, but then why.

Stories like the one above, make me wince. There are so many child actors with questionable starts, ending up disillusioned and sometimes worse. Here is a beautiful one-time child actor, who filled her niche well enough, entertaining viewers who remember her. But who can't seem to close a door.

The argument is why bother with a profession that demands publicity. The counterpoint is, they do (or have done) their jobs well, and have the right to privacy as much as anyone. Probably posting this particular article isn't doing the matter any good, there's quite a wide audience out there. So maybe it will retire to the back pages, sooner rather than later.
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