Birthday: October 31, 1936
Died At Age: 54
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Eugene Maurice Orowitz
Born Country: United States
Born in: Forest Hills, New York City, United States
Famous as: Actor
Height: 5'9" (175 cm), 5'9" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Cindy Landon (m. 1983–1991), Dodie Levy-Fraser (m. 1956–1962), Lynn Noe (m. 1963–1982)
father: Eli Maurice Orowitz
siblings: Evelyn Landon
children: Cheryl Ann Pontrelli, Christopher Landon, Jennifer Landon, Josh Fraser Landon, Leslie Landon, Mark Landon, Michael Landon Jr., Sean Matthew Landon, Shawna Landon
Died on: July 1, 1991
place of death: Malibu, California, United States
Cause of Death: Pancreatic Cancer
City: New York City
U.S. State: New Yorkers
education: University of Southern California (withdrawn)
Who was Michael Landon?
Michael Landon was a popular American actor, director, and producer. Considered a legend of American television, he was featured 22 times on the cover of ‘TV Guide,’ second only to Lucille Ball. Landon, who was from a Jewish-Catholic family, grew up in a largely Protestant neighborhood, battling personal issues at home and school. Overcoming the odds, he successfully auditioned at the ‘Warner Bros.’ acting school and made his screen debut in 1955, appearing in an episode of the comedy-western series ‘Luke and the Tenderfoot.’ He landed his first leading role in the cult classic ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ in 1957. He followed it up by playing an albino in the critically acclaimed ‘God’s Little Acre.’ In 1959, he was cast to play ‘Little Joe Cartwright,’ his career-defining role, in the Western-drama series ‘Bonanza.’ He then went on to portray other memorable TV characters, such as ‘Charles Ingalls’ in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Jonathan Smith’ in ‘Highway to Heaven.’ He also wrote, directed, and produced several episodes of his various shows as well as numerous telefilms. He was also an accomplished singer, releasing several tracks over the years. In 1984, Landon received his own star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’
Childhood & Early Life
Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936, in New York City, New York, USA, to Peggy (née O'Neill) and Eli Maurice Orowitz. He had a sister named Evelyn who was three years older than him. In 1941, the family relocated to Philadelphia, New Jersey, where his ‘Bar Mitzvah’ was held at ‘Temple Beth Shalom.’ Eli worked as a studio publicist and theatre manager, while Peggy was a comedian and dancer.
Landon had a troubled childhood as his mother was emotionally unstable. Once during a beach vacation, his mother attempted suicide. Landon managed to save her, but the incident affected him deeply. The incident, which he later described as the worst experience in his life, left him stressed, which in turn caused his childhood problem of nocturnal enuresis to persist. His mother would hang the wet sheets outside his window to display them to the neighbors, traumatizing him further.
Landon studied at ‘Collingswood High School’ where he displayed prodigious skills as a javelin thrower. It even garnered him a sports scholarship to the ‘University of Southern California,’ but a torn ligament during his freshman year ended his sports career.
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Before starting his acting career, he picked the name ‘Michael Landon’ from a phone book and adopted it as his stage name. After making his debut in the episode ‘The Boston Kid’ in the TV series ‘Luke and the Tenderfoot,’ he appeared in a series of minor roles. He then played the titular character in the episode ‘The Mystery of Casper Hauser’ (1956) in CBS’ anthology series ‘Telephone Time.’
He also had recurring roles as ‘Armand De Nivernais/Jerome Juventin’ in ‘The Adventures of Jim Bowie’ (1956). From 1956 to 1957, he played roles, such as ‘Race Stevens,’ ‘Johnny Rico,’ and ‘Danny’ in ‘Crossroads.’
In 1957, he starred in the horror film ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf.’ Initially panned by the critics, the movie is now considered one of the better examples of the 1950s’ drive-in horror genre. Subsequently, he made appearances in ‘Maracaibo’ (1958), ‘High School Confidential’ (1958), and ‘The Legend of Tom Dooley’ (1959). His performance as ‘Dave Dawson’ in the controversial Anthony Mann’s film ‘God’s Little Acre’ earned him critical acclaim.
He was cast to play ‘Little Joe Cartwright’ in ‘Bonanza’ at the age of 22. Despite the show being his first major TV production, Landon held his own against industry veterans like Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker. He was by far the most popular member of the cast. His popularity later helped him renegotiate his contract with the producers, enabling him to write and direct several episodes.
He played ‘Angel Jonathan Smith,’ who is stripped of his wings and sent to earth, in NBC’s fantasy-drama series ‘Highway to Heaven’ (1984-89). The show also starred Victor French and Dan Gordon. Landon also served as a writer and director for multiple episodes of this project.
He released his first single ‘Gimme a Little Kiss (Will "Ya" Huh)’/ ‘Be Patient With Me’ through ‘Candlelight Records’ in 1957. The single came right after the success of the film ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf.’ Some copies of the single even had ‘Teenage Werewolf’ printed on the cover instead of his stage name. In 1964, he sang ‘Linda Is Lonesome’/’Without You’ for ‘Bonanza.’
In ‘Swing Out, Sweet Land’ (1970), his first television movie, he shared screen space with John Wayne and Lucille Ball. He then served as a writer and director for the short-lived romantic anthology show ‘Love Story’ (1973). Landon wrote, directed, and acted in his last project, a made-for-television drama titled ‘Us.’ The film premiered posthumously on CBS on September 20, 1991.
Michael Landon played ‘Charles Ingalls,’ the lead protagonist and narrator of the show ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ which revolved around five members of the Ingalls family who lived on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s. Premiering on September 11, 1974, the show aired for nine seasons before changing its name to ‘Little House: A New Beginning’ following Landon’s departure.
Awards & Achievements
In 1969, Landon and the rest of the cast of ‘Bonanza’ won the ‘Bambi Award’ for ‘TV Series International.’ In 1970, the show’s cast and crew was honored with the ‘Bronze Wrangler Award’ for ‘Best Fictional Drama’ for the episode ‘The Wish.’
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He was honored with the ‘International Emmy Founders Award’ in 1982.
His ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame Television Star’ is located at 1500 N. Vine Street.
For his contribution to the Western genre, he received the ‘Golden Boot Award’ in 1984.
Landon was inducted into the ‘Television Hall of Fame’ (class of 1995).
Personal Life & Legacy
Michael Landon married Dodie Levy-Fraser in 1956. Soon after their wedding, he adopted Dodie’s son Mark, who was born from a previous relationship. They adopted another boy named Josh.
After their divorce in 1962, he married actress Marjorie Lynn Noe in 1963. Besides Cheryl Lynn Landon, who was Lynn’s daughter from her previous marriage, they had two other daughters, Leslie Ann (born 1962) and Shawna Leigh (born 1971). They also had two sons, Michael Landon Jr. (born 1964) and Christopher Beau (born 1975). Landon and Lynn divorced in 1982.
From 1983 until his death, he was married to make-up artist Cindy Clerico. She gave birth to his daughter Jennifer Rachel (born 1983) and his son Sean Matthew (born 1986).
Michael Landon passed away on July 1, 1991, at the age of 54, at his home in Malibu, California. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His body was buried at the ‘Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery’ in Culver City, California.
The 1976 telefilm ‘The Loneliest Runner,’ which Landon wrote and directed, was based on his childhood experience.
He was taught karate by Chuck Norris.
His son Michael Landon Jr. wrote and directed a made-for-TV movie titled ‘Michael Landon, the Father I Knew’ (1999). Aired on CBS, the film was based on his father’s life. Landon was portrayed by John Schneider.