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.