Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Michael Landon who played Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie and Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza

Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz October 31, 1936 in Queens, New York. He chose his stage name randomly out of a telephone directory.  He is known for his long time role as 'Little Joe' Cartwright on the TV show Bonanza.  However, Michael is probably best known for his role as Charles Ingalls on the TV show Little House on the Prairie.  Landon also played the popular role of Jonathan Smith on the series Highway to Heaven. Landon holds a record for the most time starring in full one hour TV shows, more than any other actor or actress.  The three main shows he starred in were tremendously successful which helped him earn this title.  He tended play family oriented roles and stick to family oriented shows.

Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls on the TV show Little House on the Prairie
Michael Landon as 'Little Joe' Cartwright on the TV show Bonanza


Landon made his first film appearance in These Wilder Years in 1956.  He co-starred with James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Pidgeon, Dorothy Adams, and Dean Jones.  That same year he made his first TV series appearance on the show Sheriff of Cochise starring John Bromfield, Stan Jones and Roy Engel.

Michael would go on to appear in Studio 57 starring Marguerite Chapman, Robert Armstrong, Jean Byron, Paul Bryar, and Don Haggerty; The Adventures of Jim Bowie starring Scott Forbes, Minerva Urecal and William Schallert; Crusader starring Brian Keith, Edwin Reimers and Wilfred Knapp; Wire Service starring Dane Clark, Mercedes McCambridge and George Brent; and Landon would star in two appearances in Crossroads starring Jeff Morrow, Robert Carson and Frank J. Scannell.


Michael appeared in Dr. Christian starring Macdonald Carey, Jan Shepard and Jack Hogan; Fight for the Title starring George Brenlin, Don Haggerty, William Newell, Bill Erwin, and Arlene McQuade (1957); The 20th Century-Fox Hour: End of a Gun starring Jimmy Baird, John Drew Barrymore, Lyle Bettger, Richard Crane, and Jamie Farr; Cavalcade of America: The Man from St. Paul co-starring Bud Alberts, Stacy Keach, Claire Carleton and Bonnie Franklin; Telephone Time starring John Nesbitt, Frank Baxter and Maurice Marsac; State Trooper starring Rod Cameron, Robert Armstrong and Don Haggerty;

Landon landed his first starring role in a film in 1957 playing the role of Tony Rivers in I Was a Teenage Werewolf co-starring Yvonne Fedderson, Whit Bissell, Barney Phillips, and Malcolm Atterbur.

Michael Landon and Whit Bissell in the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf 1957
Michael Landon as Tony Rivers in  I Was a Teenage Werewolf 1957

He would go on to appear in The Court of Last Resort starring Robert H. Harris, Carleton Young and S. John Launer; Suspicion  starring Dennis O'Keefe, Holly Bane, Clark Howat, Marian Seldes, and Jack Klugman; and 3 episodes of Tales of Wells Fargo starring Dale Robertson, William Demarest and Kit Carson.


Landon would appear in U.S. Marshal starring John Bromfield, James Griffith and Buck Young; Cheyenne starring Clint Walker, Clyde Howdy and Fred Carson; Maracaibo co-starring Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Francis Lederer, and Abbe Lane; High School Confidential! co-starring Russ Tamblyn, Jan Sterling, Mamie Van Doren, Diane Jergens, John Drew Barrymore, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charles Chaplin Jr.; several episodes of Schlitz Playhouse with John Forsythe, Abby Dalton, Claude Akins, Staats Cotsworth, Jean Allison, DeForest Kelley, Robert Crosson, Joyce Cunning, and Andrew Duggan; Alcoa Theatre: Johnny Risk co-starring Lew Ayres, Bonnie Bolding, Robert Griffin, DeForest Kelley, and Alan Hale Jr.; God's Little Acre co-starring Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Buddy Hackett, Aldo Ray, Jack Lord, and Vic Morrow; The Texan starring Rory Calhoun, Regis Parton and Duncan Lamont; and Trackdown starring Robert Culp, Norman Leavitt and Ellen Corby.

Michael Landon in his younger years


Landon landed his first regular role on a TV series as 'Little Joe' Cartwright on the TV show Bonanza in 1959.  He co-starred with Lorne Greene (Ben Cartwright), Dan Blocker ('Hoss' Cartwright), and Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright).  Landon would play the role of Little Joe until the show ended in 1973.  He starred in an incredible 429 episodes over 14 seasons.  

Cast of Bonanza, the early years left to right: Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright), Michael Landon ('Little Joe' Cartwright), Lorne Green (Ben Cartwright), and Dan Blocker ('Hoss' Cartwright)
Michael Landon as 'Little Joe' Cartwright in the TV western Bonanza

In 1959 Michael also appeared in Frontier Doctor starring Rex Allen, Alan Dinehart III and Chubby Johnson; Wanted: Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen, Wright King and Jack Tornek; Tombstone Territory starring Pat Conway, Richard Eastham and Quintin Sondergaard; Playhouse 90: Project Immortality co-starrng Lee J. Cobb, Gusti Huber, Patty McCormack, and Kenneth Haigh; The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford and Paul Fix; The Legend of Tom Dooley co-starring Jo Morrow and Jack Hogan; and Johnny Staccato starring John Cassavetes, Eduardo Ciannelli and Frank London.

Michael Landon and Dan Blocker of the TV show Bonanza

During his run on Bonanza, Landon starred in Luke and the Tenderfoot co-starring Richard Bakalyan, Jim Bannon, Charles Bronson, Edgar Buchanan, and Dick Bernie (1965); Swing Out, Sweet Land co-starring John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Dan Blocker, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Lorne Greene, Celeste Holm, and Phyllis Diller (1970); The Red Skelton Hour starring Red Skelton, Billy Barty, David Rose, and Bob Duggan (1970); The Special London Bridge Special with Jennifer O'Neill, Kirk Douglas, Tom Jones, Jonathan Winters, Chief Dan George, Lorne Greene, and Charlton Heston (1972);

Members of the Cartwright family from the TV show Bonanza: Michael Landon ('Little Joe'), Lorne Greene (Ben), and Dan Blocker ('Hoss')
Michael Landon as Joseph 'Little Joe' Cartwright in the TV show Bonanza 1959-1973

In the later years of Bonanza, Landon honed other skills by directing 14 episodes as well as writing 20 episodes.  He would put these new found talents to good use.

Lorne Green and Michael Landon reunite years after their days together on the set of Bonanza

1974 - 1983

After Bonanza was cancelled, Landon would a year later start a project of his own. He would produce, write, direct and star in the TV show Little House on the Prairie.  The show was a family western based on the book Little House in the Big Woods written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Landon would play the role of Charles Ingalls, Melissa Sue Gilbert would play the part of Laura Ingalls.  Other co-stars on the show included Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls), Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls), Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls), Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson), Victor French (Isaiah Edwards), and Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey). 

Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls of the TV show Little House on the Prairie
Michael's daughter Leslie Landon also appeared in the show through the years as various characters, but in the last couple of years she was a regular as Etta Plum. The show ran for 187 episodes over 9 years and ended in 1983.  These portion of his career may have been overshadowed by the 14 year run of Bonanza, but it was still a highly successful and popular show by all means which makes it a very memorable portion of Landon's career.

Karen Grassle and Michael Landon (Caroline and Charles Ingalls) of the TV show Little House on the Prairie
Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls of the TV show Little House on the Prairie

Having produced, directed, and written most of the shows in addition to acting in them, Landon did not have much time for other appearances.  However, he did find time to direct, write, and star in The Loneliest Runner co-starring Lance Kerwin, Brian Keith, Melissa Sue Anderson, and DeAnn Mears (1976); and the Thanksgiving "Little House" special entitled Little House Years starring the regular show cast.

Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls), Melissa Sue Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) , and Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls) of the TV show Little House on the Prairie
The Ingalls family from Little House on the Prairie. Front: Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls), Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls), Melissa Sue Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) Back: Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls), Lindsay or Sidney Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls)
Also during this time period, Landon produced, wrote, and even directed a couple of episodes, but did not star in "Little House" star Merlin Olsen's own show Father Murphy from 1981 to 1983.

After Little House on the Prairie, Landon starred in Love Is Forever with Laura Gemser, Priscilla Presley, Edward Woodward, and Jürgen Prochnow (1983); Little House: Look Back to Yesterday co-starring Melissa Gilbert, Dean Butler, Victor French, Richard Bull, Jonathan Gilbert, Allison Balson, Kevin Hagen, Shannen Doherty, and Leslie Landon (1983); Little House: The Last Farewell co-starring Melissa Gilbert, Dean Butler, Victor French, Richard Bull, Jonathan Gilbert, Allison Balson, Kevin Hagen, Karen Grassle, Shannen Doherty, and Leslie Landon (1984); and Sam's Son co-starring Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Timothy Patrick Murphy, Hallie Todd, Jonna Lee, William Bassett, and James Karen (1984).  Landon would produce, but have only his voice heard in the Holiday TV movie Little House: Bless All the Dear Children (1984).

Michael Landon

In 1984, Landon would be at it again producing, directing, writing AND acting in most episodes his new TV show Highway to Heaven.  He would star as Jonathan Smith a fallen angel sent to earth to do good.  Landon teamed up with his co-star and director of the "Little House" TV movies, Victor French as police officer Mark Gordon. His other co-stars on this hit show would be a line of weekly guest stars a few of which are established stars, however they were mostly up and coming stars including Jennifer Parsons, Mary McCusker, Robin Riker, Dennis A. Pratt, David Spielberg, Helen Hayes, Ned Beatty, Herb Edelman, Peter Billingsley, Eli Wallach, Danny Pintauro, Will Estes, Christine Healy, and Leann Hunley.  The show would run for six successful years ending in 1989.  

Victor French (Mark Gordon) and Michael Landon (Jonathan Smith) in the TV show Highway to Heaven
Michael Landon as Jonathan Smith in the TV show Highway to Heaven

In 1990, Landon would direct, write the screenplay, and act in the film Where Pigeons Go to Die co-starring Carol Barta, Richard Bull and Art Carney.

Landon's last directing, writing, and acting performance would be in 1991 in the film Us co-starring Barney Martin, Meg Wittner, Casey Peterson, David Spielberg, Deborah Benson, and Cynthia Geary.

Michael Landon in his later years

In April of 1991, Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which then quickly spread to his liver.  Michael Landon died July 1, 1991 after a four month battle with the illness.  He will be sorely missed, however, he has left a legacy of family shows and films for which he will be forever remembered.


  1. RIP Michael. Thank you for the great memories. Your talents are sorely missed, but your legacy lives forever.

  2. loved Michael, just an amazing talent. He will always be remembered. I love Little House

  3. He was one of my favorite actors and still is. Miss you, Micheal!

  4. I always thought of him as the perfect father and wished that he had been mine! Just loved little house and highway to heaven? Thank you for years and years of tears and laughter. Am watching little house repeats at the moment. Wonderful.

  5. Just watching the repeats,oh so many memories happy and sad. How i wished i was part of their family as a child. charles was the perfect father in my eyes, Michael Landon you will always be in my heart and thoughts you are the father that i wish i had, you will be forever loved and missed.xx

  6. Yes like the above, so many memories watching the repeats...again...Being the youngest of 8, I guess you could say I was the 'Halfpint' of the flock but what great entertainment Michael gave us with memories of Little house on the Prairie and Highway to heaven to name just a couple ..a part of the family..Thanks for the memories. xx


  8. one of the greatest actors ever! brilliant writer director as well, set new standards of family shows that will never been bettered, its great they are on Freeview in the UK don't miss them!

  9. love watching high way to heaven

  10. If Michal Landon were still around, we might actually have something of quality to watch on tv.

  11. Michael Landon was the best will always be the best!!! I was so in love with Michael as a family christian man!! I loved his smile his laugh his charm his heart!! So full of passion and a key eye for details!!! He is so truly missed!!! I so wish they would show Little House on the Prairie and High Way to Heaven on regular TV!!! GOD knows these generation's need family morals and christian values that are long disappearing!!

  12. I remember Michael Landen's career. From Bonanza, Little House On The Prairie,to Highway To Heaven. Those were great shows I still watch till this day. He wad great and inspired so many in the world. RIP Michael.