Michael Landon (born Eugene Maurice Orowitz; October 31, 1936 – July
1, 1991) was an American actor, writer, director, and producer. He is
known for his roles as
Little Joe Cartwright
Little Joe Cartwright in
Charles Ingalls in
Little House on the Prairie (1974–83), and
Jonathan Smith in
Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven (1984–89). Landon appeared on
the cover of
TV Guide 22 times, second only to Lucille Ball.
1 Early life
2.1 Early work
2.2 45 rpm record singles
Little House on the Prairie
2.5 Highway to Heaven
2.6 Other projects
3 Personal life
4 Illness and death
6 Awards and honors
8 External links
Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936, in Forest
Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York. His parents were
Peggy (née O'Neill; a dancer and comedian) and Eli Maurice Orowitz.
Eugene was the Orowitz family's second child; their daughter, Evelyn,
was born three years earlier. In 1941, when Landon was four years old,
he and his family moved to the
Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood,
New Jersey. He attended and celebrated his
Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth
Shalom. His family recalls that Landon "went through a lot of hassle
studying for the big event, which included bicycling to a nearby town
every day to learn how to read Hebrew and do the praying." He
attended Collingswood High School.
During his childhood, Landon was constantly worrying about his mother
attempting suicide. Once, the family vacationed at a beach. His mother
tried to drown herself, but Michael rescued her. Shortly after the
attempt, his mother acted as if nothing had happened. A few minutes
later, Michael vomited. He said that it was the worst experience of
Stress overload from the suicide attempts of his mother caused Landon
to battle the childhood problem of bedwetting, which was documented in
the unauthorized biography, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy.
His mother put his wet sheets on display outside his window for all to
see. He ran home every day and tried to remove them before his
classmates could see. These events later inspired Landon to write and
direct the 1976 made-for-television movie The Loneliest Runner.
In high school, Landon was an excellent javelin thrower, his 193′
4″ toss in 1954 being the longest throw by a high schooler in the
United States that year. This earned him an athletic scholarship to
the University of Southern California, but he subsequently tore his
shoulder ligaments, ending his javelin throwing career and his
participation on the USC track team.
Landon decided on his surname by choosing it from a phone book. His
first starring appearance was on the television series Telephone Time,
in the episode "The Mystery of Casper Hauser" (1956) as the title
character. Other parts came: movie roles in I Was a Teenage Werewolf
(1957), Maracaibo (1958), High School Confidential (1958), the
notorious God's Little Acre (1958), and The Legend of Tom Dooley
(1959), as well as many roles on television, such as Crossroads (three
The Restless Gun
The Restless Gun (pilot episode aired on Schlitz Playhouse
Sheriff of Cochise
Sheriff of Cochise (in "Human Bomb"), U.S. Marshal (as Don
Sayers in "The Champ"), Crusader, Frontier Doctor,
The Rifleman (in
"End of a Young Gun", 1958),The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Johnny
Staccato, Wire Service, General Electric Theater, The Court of Last
Resort, State Trooper (two episodes), Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan
(in the 1958 episode "The Hemp Tree"), The Tall Man, Tombstone
Territory (in the episode "Rose of the Rio Bravo", with Kathleen
Nolan), Trackdown (two 1958 episodes), and Wanted: Dead or Alive,
Steve McQueen (in episodes "The Martin Poster", 1958, and
"The Legend", 1959). Landon also appeared in at least 2 episodes of
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater including "Gift from a Gunman" in 1957
and "Living is a Lonely Thing" in 1959..
Landon can be seen in an uncredited speaking role as a cavalry trooper
in a 1956 episode of the ABC/
Warner Bros. television series Cheyenne,
an episode titled "Decision." Two years later, Landon returned to that
same series in "The White Warrior". He was then cast as White Hawk
a.k.a. Alan Horn, a young white man who, like Cheyenne Bodie, was
raised by Indians after the slaughter of his parents. White Hawk rises
to the occasion to help Cheyenne as he heads a wagon train to
California amid the threat of the Apaches.
45 rpm record singles
In 1957, Candlelight Records released a
Michael Landon single, "Gimme
a Little Kiss (Will "Ya" Huh)"/ "Be Patient With Me" during the height
of his notoriety for his role in the film, I Was a Teenage Werewolf.
Some copies show the artist credited as the "Teenage Werewolf" rather
than as Michael Landon. In 1962, both the A- and
B-side of the record were re-released on the Fono-Graf label that
included a picture sleeve of Landon's then-current work on
Little Joe Cartwright. In 1964,
RCA Victor Records
RCA Victor Records released another
Landon single, "Linda Is Lonesome"/"Without You". All of Landon's
singles have since been issued on compact disc by Bear Family Records
as part of a
Bonanza various artists compilation.
In 1959, at the age of 22, Landon began his first starring TV role as
Little Joe Cartwright
Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, one of the first TV series to be
broadcast in color. Also starring on the show were Lorne Greene,
Pernell Roberts, and Dan Blocker. During Bonanza's sixth season
(1964–1965), the show topped the
Nielsen ratings and remained number
one for three years.
Receiving more fan mail than any other cast member, Landon
negotiated with executive producer David Dortort and
NBC to write and
direct some episodes. In 1962, Landon wrote his first script. In 1968,
Landon directed his first episode. In 1993,
TV Guide listed Little
Joe's September 1972 two-hour wedding episode ("Forever"), as one of
TV's most memorable specials. Landon's script recalled Little Joe's
brother, Hoss, who was initially the story's groom, before Dan
Blocker's death. During the final season, the ratings declined, and
Bonanza in November 1972. The last episode aired on
January 16, 1973.
Lorne Greene and Victor Sen Yung, Landon appeared in all 14
seasons of the series. Landon was loyal to many of his Bonanza
associates including producer Kent McCray, director William F.
Claxton, and composer David Rose, who remained with him throughout
Bonanza as well as
Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.
Little House on the Prairie
Landon as Charles Ingalls, 1974
The year after
Bonanza was canceled, Landon went on to star as Charles
Ingalls in the pilot of what became another very successful television
Little House on the Prairie, again for NBC. The show was taken
from a 1935 book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose character in
the show was played by nine-year-old actress Melissa Gilbert. In
addition to Gilbert, two other unknown actresses also starred on the
show: Melissa Sue Anderson, who appeared as Mary Ingalls, the oldest
daughter in the Ingalls family, and
Karen Grassle as Charles' wife,
Caroline. Landon served as executive producer, writer, and director of
Little House. The show, a success in its first season, emphasized
family values and relationships.
Little House became Landon's
second-longest running series.
The show was nominated for several Emmy and Golden Globe awards. After
Little House was retooled by
NBC in 1982 as Little
House: A New Beginning, which focused on the Wilder family and the
Walnut Grove community. Though Landon remained the show's executive
producer, director and writer, A New Beginning did not feature Charles
and Caroline Ingalls. A New Beginning was actually the final chapter
of Little House, as the series ended in 1983. The following year,
three made-for-television movies aired.
Melissa Gilbert said of her on- and off-screen chemistry with Landon,
"He was very much like a 'second father' to me. My own father passed
away when I was 11, so, without really officially announcing it,
Michael really stepped in." When not working on the
Little House set,
Gilbert spent most of the weekends visiting Landon's real-life family.
She once said, "The house was huge. We ran like banshees through that
house, and Mike would hide behind doorways and jump out and scare
us." In a 2015 interview, Gilbert said of Landon, "He
gave me so much advice...the overall idea that he pounded into me,
from a little girl, into my brain was that nothing's more important
than 'Home & Family'; no success, no career, no achievements, no
accomplishments, nothing's more important than loving the people you
love and contributing to a community. Though we were working, really,
really hard, we were 'Not Saving The World', one episode of television
at a time, we're just entertaining people and there are more important
things to do.... and have fun; no matter what."
Highway to Heaven
After producing both "Little House" and later the
Father Murphy TV
series, Landon starred in another successful program. In Highway to
Heaven, he played a probationary angel (who named himself Jonathan
Smith) whose job was to help people in order to earn his wings. His
co-star on the show was
Victor French (who had previously co-starred
Little House on the Prairie) as ex-cop Mark Gordon. On
Highway, Landon served as executive producer, writer, and director.
Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven was the only show throughout his long career in
television that he owned outright.
By 1985, prior to hiring his son, Michael Landon, Jr., as a member of
his camera crew, he also brought real-life cancer patients and
disabled people to the set. His decision to work with disabled people
led him to hire a couple of adults with disabilities to write episodes
for Highway to Heaven. By season four, Highway dropped out of the
Nielsen top 30, and in June 1988,
NBC announced that the series would
return for an abbreviated fifth season, which would be its last. Its
final episodes were filmed in the fall of 1988. One aired in
September, two in December, one in March 1989, and the remainder aired
on Fridays from June to August. Co-star French would not live to see
Highway's series finale make it to air; he died of advanced lung
cancer on June 15, 1989, the disease which was only diagnosed two
months before. Landon invited his youngest daughter, Jennifer Landon,
to take part in the final episode.
Landon at the 42nd Emmy Awards Governor's Ball, September 1990
In 1973, Landon was an episode director and writer for the short-lived
NBC romantic anthology series Love Story. In 1982, he co-produced an
NBC "true story" television movie, Love is Forever, starring
Laura Gemser (who was credited as Moira Chen), about
Australian photojournalist John Everingham's successful attempt to
scuba dive under the
Mekong to rescue his lover from communist-ruled
Laos in 1977. The real Everingham was cast as an extra in the film.
Sam's Son was a 1984 coming-of-age feature film written and directed
by Landon and loosely based on his early life. The film stars Timothy
Patrick Murphy, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Hallie Todd, and James
Karen. Karen previously worked for Landon in the made-for-television
film Little House: The Last Farewell.
After the cancellation of
Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven and before his move to
CBS, Landon wrote and directed the teleplay Where Pigeons Go to Die.
Based on a novel of the same name, the film starred
Art Carney and was
nominated for two Emmy awards.
Up through the run of Highway to Heaven, all of Landon's television
programs were broadcast on NBC, a relationship of which lasted thirty
consecutive years with the network. After the cancellation of Highway
and due to a fallout with those within NBC's upper management, he
CBS and in 1991 starred in a two-hour pilot called Us. Us was
meant to be another series for Landon but, with his diagnosis on April
5 of pancreatic cancer, the show never aired beyond the pilot.
Landon also appeared as a celebrity panelist on the premiere week of
Match Game on CBS.
Landon was married three times, and father to nine children.
Dodie Levy-Fraser (married 1956; divorced 1962)
Mark Fraser Landon, born 1948 (adopted; Dodie's biological son), died
Josh Fraser Landon, born 1960 (adopted as infant)
Marjorie Lynn Noe (married 1963; divorced 1982)
Cheryl Lynn Landon (born Cheryl Ann Pontrelli in 1953), Lynn's
daughter from her first marriage and was nine when her mother and
Leslie Ann Landon, born 1962.
Michael Landon, Jr., born 1964.
Shawna Leigh Landon, born 1971.
Christopher Beau Landon, born 1975.
Cindy Clerico (married 1983), a makeup artist on
Little House on the
Jennifer Rachel Landon, born 1983.
Sean Matthew Landon, born 1986.
In February 1959, Landon's father succumbed to a heart attack. In
1973, while a student at the University of Arizona, his eldest
daughter Cheryl was involved in a serious car collision just outside
Tucson, Arizona. The sole survivor out of four involved in the
collision, Cheryl Landon was hospitalized with serious injuries and
remained in a coma for days. In March 1981, Landon's mother, Peggy,
Landon was by his own admission a chain smoker and a heavy
Illness and death
Michael Landon at Hillside Memorial Park
In February 1991, Landon began to suffer severe abdominal pain while
on a skiing vacation in Utah. On April 5, 1991, he was diagnosed
with pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized to his liver and lymph
nodes. The cancer was inoperable and terminal. On May 9, 1991, he
appeared on The Tonight Show to speak about the cancer and to condemn
the tabloid press for their sensational headlines and inaccurate
stories, including the claim that he and his wife were trying to have
another child. During his appearance, Landon pledged to fight the
disease and asked fans to pray for him. On May 21, 1991, he underwent
successful surgery for a near-fatal blood clot in his left leg. In
June 1991, he appeared on the cover of Life Magazine after granting
the periodical an exclusive private interview about his life, his
family, and his struggle to live. On July 1, 1991, at age 54, Landon
died in Malibu, California.
Landon was interred in a private family mausoleum at Hillside Memorial
Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California. Michael's headstone reads,
"He seized life with joy. He gave to life generously. He leaves a
legacy of love and laughter." His son Mark's remains were also
interred there upon his death in May 2009.
Landon's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
A community building at Malibu's Bluffs Park was named "The Michael
Landon Center" following the actor's death.
Landon's son, Michael Jr., produced a memorial special, Michael
Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love, featuring the actor's family,
friends and co-stars:
David Canary said that one word
that described Landon was "fearless" in his dealings with network
brass. Melissa Gilbert, who played his daughter on
Little House said
that the actor made her feel "incredibly safe" and that he was
"paternal". Often cited on the special was Landon's bizarre sense of
humor, which included having toads leap from his mouth and dressing as
a superhero to visit a pizza parlor.
In 1991, during Landon's final Tonight Show appearance, Johnny Carson
related how the actor took him back to a restaurant the two had dined
at previously. Carson had been led to believe he accidentally ran over
the owner's cat in the parking lot during their first visit. When
sitting down to eat the second time, Carson discovered that Landon had
helped create a fake menu of dinner items featuring cat metaphors.
A made-for-TV movie, Michael Landon, the Father I Knew, co-written and
directed by his son Michael, Jr., aired on
CBS in May 1999. John
Schneider starred in the title role as Michael Landon, with Cheryl
Ladd as Lynn Noe, and
Joel Berti as
Michael Landon, Jr.
Michael Landon, Jr. The biopic
detailed, from Landon, Jr's point of view, the personal emotional
trauma he endured during his parents' divorce, and his father's
premature death. The movie spanned a timeline from the 1960s through
the early 1990s.
A plaque and small playground referred to as the "Little Treehouse on
the Prairie" was erected in Knights Park, a central park in Landon's
hometown of Collingswood. In 2011, the plaque was removed from the
park by the borough and was later given to a local newspaper by an
unnamed person. According to the Collingswood, NJ website, the plaque
was removed during a fall cleanup with plans to return it to a safer
location. The plaque was reinstated next to a bench in a safer
location the following summer.
Awards and honors
Award / Organization
Category / Honor
TV Series International
(shared with Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Pernell Roberts)
Bronze Wrangler Award
Fictional Television Drama
Bonanza episode: "The Wish"
(shared with director, producer and cast)
Golden Globe Award
Best TV Actor – Drama
Little House on the Prairie
Best TV Script
Little House on the Prairie episode:
"May We Make Them Proud"
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Television Star at 1500 N. Vine Street
Golden Boot Award
Significant Contribution to the Western Genre
Youth in Film Award
Michael Landon Award
Outstanding Contribution to Youth Through Entertainment
Television Hall of Fame
Significant Contribution to the Field of Television
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Western Performers Hall of Fame
TV Land Award
Most Memorable Mane
Little House on the Prairie
50 Sexiest Stars of All Time
^ TV Guide, "Michael Landon's Final Days" (July 20, 1991, p. 3)
^ a b c d Weil, Martin (July 2, 1991). "TV Actor
Michael Landon Dies;
Star of 'Bonanza,' 'Little House'". Washington Post.
^ a b Flint, Peter B. (July 2, 1991). "Michael Landon, 54, Little Joe
On 'Bonanza' for 14 Years, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved
^ Landon Wilson, Cheryl (1992). I Promised My Dad: An Intimate
Michael Landon by His Eldest Daughter. New York: Simon
& Schuster. p. 28.
^ His Early Days Were Fun,
Philadelphia Daily News, July 2, 1991. "In
a 1985 interview, Landon claimed he ate lunch alone at Collingswood
High School, that he never had a date as a teen-ager because no
Christian father in the town would allow his daughter to go out with a
^ secragt (December 20, 1976). "
The Loneliest Runner
The Loneliest Runner (TV Movie 1976)".
IMDb. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
^ Track and Field News (December 1953)
Bonanza single CD on Bear Family Records". Bear-family.de.
^ "Bonanza" liner notes, Bear Family CD Collection
Melissa Gilbert and Actor/Director Timothy Busfield (NBC's
Night Shift)". BlogTalkRadio.com. April 24, 2015. Retrieved March 7,
^ Love Is Forever on IMDb
^ Fallen Angel: Landon's Tiff With NBC : Television: The veteran
actor, producer and director has taken his new series to
CBS after a
run-in with NBC's business affairs department., November 15, 1990, By
DIANE HAITHMAN, latimes
^ "Report on death of Mark Landon". Latimesblogs.latimes.com. May 11,
2009. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
^ "Goodbye, Little Joe". People.com. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
^ "Michael Landon, American Actor,
Bonanza – When Westerns Ruled".
Trivia.ellenthorp.com. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
Bonanza Cast Biographies: Michael Landon".
Ponderosascenery.homestead.com. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
^ Allan R. Ellenberger (May 1, 2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles
Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 108.
ISBN 0786409835. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
^ Kevin Riordan (January 4, 2012). "Kevin Riordan: Landon plaque
sidelined; accounts vary". Philly.com. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
Michael Landon plaque and commemorative playground pickets
reinstalled at Knight Park Collingswood, New Jersey".
Collingswood.com. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
Spur Award History: 1980 at the
Wayback Machine (archived March
^ "13th Annual Youth in Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived
from the original on March 4, 2011. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List".
TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 202.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Michael Landon.
New York portal
New Jersey portal
Michael Landon on IMDb
Michael Landon at Find a Grave
Michael Landon Remembrance Project site archived at the Wayback
Television Hall of Fame Class of 1995
Richard Levinson and William Link
Dick Van Dyke
International Emmy Founders Award
Jim Henson (1980)
Shaun Sutton /
Roone Arledge (1981)
Michael Landon (1982)
Herbert Brodkin (1983)
David L. Wolper (1984)
David Attenborough (1985)
Donald L. Taffner (1986)
Jacques Cousteau (1987)
Goar Mestre (1988)
Paul Fox (1989)
Joan Ganz Cooney
Joan Ganz Cooney (1990)
Adrian Cowell (1991)
Bill Cosby (1992)
Richard Dunn (1993)
Film on Four (1994)
Don Hewitt (1995)
Reg Grundy (1996)
Jac Venza (1997)
Robert Halmi Sr. (1998)
Hisashi Hieda (1999)
John Hendricks (2000)
Pierre Lescure (2001)
Howard Stringer (2002)
MTV International (2004)
Oprah Winfrey (2005)
Steven Spielberg (2006)
Al Gore (2007)
Dick Wolf (2008)
David Frost (2009)
Simon Cowell (2010)
Nigel Lythgoe (2011)
Ryan Murphy /
Norman Lear /
Alan Alda (2012)
J. J. Abrams
J. J. Abrams (2013)
Matthew Weiner (2014)
Julian Fellowes (2015)
Shonda Rhimes (2016)
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