Michael Landon, appearing on three separate TV series from 1959 to 1989, an incredible feat of thirty straight years, was a TV icon of mammoth proportions. Getting to star in one hit TV show is a miracle, it really is. Most actors dream their whole lives to have one series that “makes it”, let alone three consecutive shows with longer than average runs.
Born in Queens, NY, Landon got his first big break on the Western TV show Bonanza, playing as one of the Cartwright brothers, in his case Joe Cartwright. It is strange to see early episodes of Bonanza because Landon is so young. Over the course of fourteen seasons he grows closer to the man we see in The Little House of the Prairie, where he plays Pa (Charles) Ingalls, patriarch of the Ingalls family.
Bonanza was a fun show, one of the first ever to appear in full color. This Western series focused on the Cartwright family and their adventures on their Nevada ranch. Landon proved to be the most popular actor on the show, receiving more fan mail then anyone else. Later on, he began to take a more active role on the production, even writing and directing some episodes. This is where Landon learned the ins and outs of TV work and with Little House, he came into his own, becoming executive producer.
He was no longer just some actor. Landon had more control and his high standards of quality made Little House better. Several actors, including Melissa Gilbert who played Laura Ingalls, have stated he was strict about how people worked on the show, that he demanded only the best from everyone involved.
For me, Landon will always be the ultimate TV dad. He was warm and caring but strict and firm. He demands respect and would do anything for his family. I’m sure Landon was very similar in his personal life; he seemed like such a sweet guy and I was saddened to hear of his death in 1991 at the young age of 54.
Before his death he had another successful series called Highway to Heaven. This was a very personal project to him, as he was very serious about his Christian beliefs and as such he played an Angel sent down to earth to help people in need. Little House regular Victor French was his co-star, playing an ex cop named Mark Gordon. Its five year run accounted for 111 episodes and cemented Landon as a TV icon for all time.
He died too young and there is no telling if he would have gone on to helm another successful TV series, but at least we have these hundreds of episodes to enjoy for as long as we wish.